Mike London Monday Press Conference Transcript - Nov. 14, 2011
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the opportunity that major collegiate athletics and a game like this affords for raising awareness of causes and diseases like this?
COACH LONDON: When you have an opportunity that’s presented with a platform such as this, with a guy like Coach Fisher-a well-respected coach in college football and throughout the Tallahassee community-and myself having lived in this community, in Virginia for a long time…We have shared the different experiences with our families. As a head coach and assistant coach, your personal lives a lot of times are put out there. We talk about the successful times of it, but also try to bring a human face and human story to other issues. We also want to talk about the tragedies, the things we have to overcome-our children and sickness-just different things you try to make people aware of.
What happens with Coach Fisher and myself, both having children who have been diagnosed with Fanconi anemia…the news at first is devastating as soon as you get it as a parent. Your first reaction, ‘Why me?’ Your next reaction is, ‘What do we have to do to beat this? What do we have to do to educate ourselves and make the right chance for our children?’
By the grace of God, we-I, Ticynn, my wife-were able to go through this process. On the other end, post bone marrow transplant, we were able to watch Ticynn as she celebrated her 16th birthday a couple days ago. When I first found out about Coach Fisher’s son, it was at the ACC coaches meeting. He wasn’t there. I was talking to Tom O’Brien. Coach O’Brien mentioned, ‘He’s in Minnesota somewhere. His son has some kind of rare disease.’ We stopped talking, then we started talking some more about it. I said, ‘Fanconi anemia?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’
It’s a rare blood disorder, like I said, that affects your body’s ability to fight off infections. When I found out that his son, Ethan, was diagnosed with that and that they were out trying to do whatever they could to find out more about it-to find out about the opportunities and research, what they needed to do-I immediately reached out to Coach Fisher. We talked not as two football coaches but as two fathers, two fathers whose children-one who had gone through and one who is about to go through the process. It provided some comfort in knowing that when we did Ticynn’s bone marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I believe the success rate was in the high 60, 70 percent. Talking with Coach Fisher I believe now it’s in the high 80 percentile.
You talk about things like that. My wife, Regina, and his wife, Candi, have talked a couple of times also and started a foundation called Kids First, which speaks to the research and the fundraising element of Fanconi anemia.
My wife and I and Ticynn will soon be starting a foundation ourselves. We’re going to deal with the bone marrow registry or the bone marrow drives that take place in order to educate people-for people to sign up, for people to perhaps become donors, and perhaps to get involved with being a match.
Marrow.org will be the match our family will heavily get into since Ticynn’s post-transplant. Either/or, there are a lot of families out there. Whether it’s blood disorders, cancers, leukemia, whatever it may be, the awareness needs to continue to be raised.
I’m sorry for the long answer to your short question. Using the opportunity and the platform that both of us have been provided not only to talk about our own children but other people’s children, other people’s loved ones, friends, whatever it may be, it makes the cause well worth it.
QUESTION: You mentioned Ticynn had her 16th birthday. How is she doing physically?
COACH LONDON: She’s doing fantastic physically. There’s still things that she has have checked every year because your susceptible to certain things. When I was here at UVa before, there were some great doctors that were her primary care physicians that have since moved on. They still know of her because we were here when the transplant took place at Johns Hopkins. But she goes back every year. She just finished playing volleyball at St. Anne’s Belfield. She’s doing well.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you had somebody like yourself to comfort you like you have done to the Fishers. What do you think it has meant to them?
COACH LONDON: We’re not relatively close, but we’re in the same profession. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Anytime you’re with a family member or friend when their first diagnosed, you want the comfort of somebody being able to put their arm around you, pat you on the back, tell you it’s going to be all right.
I think because we have been through the whole process, every time your son or daughter gets sick with a cold you’re frantic because you know what that could lead to. We talked about different things that we did, that we experienced, and that they’re going through. That provided them a sense of comfort, a sense of understanding. They know that our phones are always open; we’re always available.
There’s also a sense of urgency, for us and for them I’m quite sure, to find and raise the awareness. Knowing he and his wife started the foundation and having Ticynn go through the process successfully rekindled a desire for me personally to be involved with the bone marrow awareness and donor programs because, like I said, it’s not just Fanconi anemia. There’s a lot of things out there-cancer, leukemia, so many different things out there that people are susceptible to.
There’s a need for about 10,000 bone marrow transports every day. You look at it nationally, you look at it worldwide, and it’s quite daunting. Like I said, Coach Fisher and his wife rekindled an inspiration in myself and my wife Regina to get back in the forefront of trying to use our resources-this platform and its opportunities-to raise the awareness out there among people who may want to get involved.
QUESTION: Is Ticynn going on the trip this weekend to meet Ethan?
COACH LONDON: We’ll have a private family meeting between everyone. We’re doing that, but there are a lot of other things going on. There’s a public service announcement that Ticynn, my wife, and myself did that we’re trying to tie in. I know they have plans to do bone marrow drives. We did bone marrow drives when I was at Richmond and then the two years I’ve been here. We talked to Trevor [Grywatch] who was a match, and another player who is no longer with us. We have a student on grounds, Joe Lashell, who was a match also and actually did the procedure through his hip. He and I have been in contact. He’s now been actively involved in raising awareness also.
So it’s turned out to be great, not only for the players because of the community service aspect of it but also for the two players who have had the opportunity to save someone’s life and for the student here on Grounds who has done it. The commitment, like I said, is to continue to keep raising the awareness in that regard.
QUESTION: What year was Tycinn diagnosed?
COACH LONDON: 2001. She was about seven years old when we first got here. We had lost to Boston College. She got sick and was diagnosed at Boston College Children’s Hospital. Coach Groh got the job here. We set it up to try to find the nearest and best facility-at that time, that was Johns Hopkins. I know Duke University had one. We could have gone out to Minnesota. It just worked out, coming here to Virginia, that Johns Hopkins was the closest and the best.
QUESTION: You mentioned a foundation you started. Where are you in that?
COACH LONDON: We’re in the planning stages of it, so we’re not ready to talk about it publicly at this point in terms of details. There are some things, some loose things we have to tie together, to make sure everything is compliant with the university and with myself. As soon as those issues are cleared, then we’ll hopefully have something else we can talk about and kick it off.
QUESTION: We talked about this a bit before, but what is the advantage of having smaller running backs behind a larger offensive line?
COACH LONDON: The size of our backs isn’t because we specifically went out and looked for those size of backs. It just happened to be that when Kevin Parks was being recruited, he was one of the best running backs in the country. He liked Virginia and he chose Virginia. It was the same with Perry Jones when he was coming out of school.
There were some backs here that were decent size but that, through other reasons-whether it be academic or administratively-are no longer here.
Clifton Richardson is a size back.
We’re a zone. It plays into the fact that Perry and Kevin are sized backs, the way they are. They like to hit it downhill. They like to jump cut. They like to find the creases and the holes that the line provides for them.
It wasn’t by design. It was, ‘Okay, we have these type of backs, let’s run these type of plays.’ We have the plays we run based on the offensive line we have and the backs we have that fit the scheme because of their size. Clifton Richardson does a nice job also. Everyone sees Perry and K.P. have done a really nice job of finding those holes and those creases.
QUESTION: The last two games will be on national TV. Is that a goal you set heading into the season?
COACH LONDON: The goal is always-if you want to raise the profile of your program-to play on national TV and play well. That’s the other thing. You want to play well on national TV because of the implications it has on recruiting-the young men sitting in their living room watching you. It’s as much of a motivation for them also.
It’s even more of a motivation because we’re away, it’s their homecoming. There are a whole lot of things going on there. Again, it’s an opportunity to show what type of team we are, what we can be. If we play well enough, it creates an opportunity for people to look at Virginia and say, ‘That’s a school I’m very interested in.’
It’s great that that opportunity presents itself.
QUESTION: Did you anticipate the transition on defense from the 3-4 to 4-3 being as bumpy as it was last season?
COACH LONDON: That was very much the issue last year, as everyone saw. You were seeing guys that are two-gappers or safeties, undersized, moving to linebacker. They have to learn linebacker fits. It was a tough learning curve for all that.
Another season, another spring practice, another early August camp, guys are getting bigger and stronger. It’s the same terminology, same coaches. You get better at the technique with your hands, with your feet, with communicating. I think that lends itself to the improvement-the consistency of teaching the type of techniques that are needed-of guys being able to play this defense like you’re supposed to play it.
QUESTION: Were you surprised that the transition was as rough as it was for the players?
COACH LONDON: You always go into a season optimistic. I’m an eternal optimist, but we did have to deal with some issues where guys weren’t quite ready or big enough or skilled enough. You just keep believing in what you’re doing and you spend time doing it. As you see this season, we’ve kind of seen the benefits of sticking with the plan, practicing it, developing the players, having continuity and consistency. You see how the guys are playing. I think they’re playing really well.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on Florida State?
COACH LONDON: They look like the Florida State of old. They’ve got guys flying up the field. You look at them defensively. Greg Reid is on the Paul Hornung watch list; he’s a Jim Thorpe Award candidate. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is pre-season All-ACC and on the Nagurski Award list. Brandon Jenkins, the defensive end, is a pre-season All-American.
You look throughout their defense. You see guys that are vertical players up the field. They are take off and aggressive players. They don’t do a whole lot of blitzing. They say, ‘Here we are, we’re attacking you, now block us.’ They have a lot of speed and athleticism; they just play sound, fundamental defense. You see why they’re number one in the ACC, fourth overall in the country, in total defense.
They have good players all over the place. As I said, our work is cut out for us. It’s a tremendous challenge. We’ll have to play our best game to date, no question about it, when we go on the road and play these guys in the type of atmosphere that I’m quite sure will be created.
QUESTION: What are you thoughts on Thursday night’s Virginia Tech-North Carolina matchup? That means Virginia Tech will have more rest coming into the game against you two weeks from now.
COACH LONDON: You always look for a very competitive game. I know that we’re playing on Saturday night. We’ll get in early Sunday morning. I know their game is being played Thursday night. It is what it is. We’ll have to prepare the way we need to.
Again, first things first for us, which is going down to Tallahassee.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on what Coach Cutcliffe said about Chase Minnifield after Saturday’s game?
COACH LONDON: That is going to remain in-house-how I handled that. My response to Coach Cutcliffe was exactly what I said, what I meant by it. What I also said was that there are a lot of emotions, passion, and energy that goes on out there.
I talk to my players about what they do, how they act, how they react versus calls and versus things that happen inside a game.
As I said, we’ll handle that internally and we’ll move on from there.
QUESTION: Given Perry Jones’ success returning punts Saturday against Duke, will you continue to use him in that role?
COACH LONDON: We’ll practice tomorrow. Our work days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. As I said, Perry does a lot of things for us. Going down the stretch here with opportunities to be very competitive, it’s important that we try to put our best players in the best position to help us.
Could you see Perry back there? You very well could.
QUESTION: Have you heard back from the ACC about the interference call in the end zone against Duke?
COACH LONDON: All I’ll say is that I’ve been reassured.
QUESTION: How much better does Florida State look now, on this five-game winning streak, than they did at the start of the season?
COACH LONDON: You look how they do vertically, up the field, and how attack-minded they are. Their corners, their kick return-they do a lot of things. I just think they’re playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, the way Florida State of old played. They’ve won some games here. The quarterback, EJ Manuel, has been productive. They’ve done a tremendous job on special teams. Defensively, when you’re number four in the country and number one in the ACC, you play with a certain amount of confidence that actually lends itself to the way these games are being played and the turnout, the end result of it. You can see they’re playing with a tremendous amount of confidence, for sure.
QUESTION: Does having won three games on the road already this season, including one in Florida, give you any added confidence going into Saturday’s game?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know if you get credit for going down to Florida and winning once. It doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically go down there and win again.
With a team that hasn’t won on the road before like that, it’s always significant. It’s always important to point out what can happen, what the possibilities are.
All you do is say, ‘Here we are with another road game with another very, very good team on national TV.’ Those are the things that we have to be alert to and try to take care of-not the streaks, the wins in Florida.
We’re going to have to play our best game. They’ve played well the last five games, extremely well. We’re going to have to do that also.
QUESTION: Justin Renfrow was a guy that played early in the season. What have you seen out of him as of late?
COACH LONDON: He’s okay now. Obviously going down the stretch here, we’re going to have some opportunities for a big guy like him to get in and provide some depth for us.
The other thing that Florida State does is they two-platoon. When you have all those All-Americans, you bring one wave in, then the next group of All-Americans comes in. They do a lot of that. We’re going to have to be substitute-conscious ourselves because you’re going to have guys getting after you play after play. Justin can provide that type of relief.
QUESTION: What is the status of Chris Brathwaite?
COACH LONDON: He’s just getting back to being in shape. When you’re 300 pounds plus and you have a knee issue, being able to run, change direction, lift, torque your body, is always important. I think he’s getting back to where he’s practicing well. Over these two games, plus perhaps a third game, we’ll continue his development. He’s squatting again. He’s back to being 100 percent.
With the three-way rotation we have with Will Hill, Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath-between Renfrow and Brathwaite-it’s important that we get reps for the fourth guy so they can continue their development.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on the offensive line’s performance recently?
COACH LONDON: In the really clutch moments when we had to run the ball, get first downs, try to knock them off the ball, what really struck me was that, in the latter part of the game, Oday Aboushi was running down field to get a block on a defensive back. As the game wears on, when you see bigger guys running down the field to block, that stands out. It talks about their conditioning level. It also talks about hopefully the mindset we’re trying to present here. I think Perry Jones is close to being a thousand-yard rusher. They talk about that.
There’s different things that motivate them. We call them the big lovelies. I won’t get into all the things that motivate them. Watching them play into the fourth quarter and block down field has been something that’s been really neat to look at.
QUESTION: EJ Manuel is from the Virginia Beach area. Did you have any connections with him?
COACH LONDON: He’s a heck of a player. Bayside High School-that’s where Demetrious Nicholson is from. There are some other things going on that we like at Bayside High School.
I remember EJ when he was coming out of school. I wish he was up at Virginia. That didn’t work out either. But he’s gone off and done well for himself. He’s become his own quarterback, his own man, and developed his own identity. You see him playing well for them.