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Nov. 24, 2014

An Interview With:

COACH Mike London

Q. We’ve talked to three guys. Have you slipped some type of potion into these guys to try to treat it like a regular game and it’s not a rivalry game?
Mike London: Well, you talked to probably three guys that are kind of veterans of this team, and they understand — we all understand the importance of the game and the rivalry game and all these things that are talked about and written about. Our focus has just been on winning the football game, controlling our own destiny for an opportunity to play another one. That’s all we’ve talked about, and that’s all we’re concerning ourselves with.

Q. How satisfying was it for you and the coaching staff to see that in previous years when it kind of went south, it stayed that way, and after four losses in a row you guys kind of responded with probably your best performance of the year the other night?
Mike London: Yeah, you’re always encouraged by the type of performance that we had, and particularly because we lost some games there in a row. You are encouraged by the type of production and the improvement that were made – you always try to identify those things that can cause you issues, cause you concern, and we spent a considerable amount of time trying to correct those things.

It’s a tribute to the coaches and the players for keeping that buy-in approach that we had early on in the season, and then to play a good Miami team and see things come together in all three phases was satisfying.

That’s one game gone, and now we’re on to the next one looking for the same type of production and performance.

Q. How important is ending this losing streak to Virginia Tech and therefore getting to a bowl just in terms of the direction of the program sort of saying, obviously there’s been improvements made, but to sort of put a stamp on the improvements that have been made within this program over the last year?
Mike London: Well, you know, it’s always important to end your season on a winning note. It’s important that you play your rival game. It’s important that you compete in that and have an opportunity to win that game. It’s important for us that this particular game, also, has an opportunity to play an additional game after that. It’s important to us that the seniors that are going out, that they have an opportunity to play their last regular season game with their teammates, to be successful, so there’s a lot of things that are important to it outside of what’s already been written and talked about. But again, it’s important for us as we talked about in trying to become a better football team that we, again, show the type of improvement that was shown last week.

But that was last week, and this is this week. Who they played was last week, and this is this week. The matters that will take care of itself on the football field this Friday night.

Q. Do you like that it’s a Friday night game?
Mike London: You know, it could be Tuesday morning, whatever time they want to play. It’s our job, my job to make sure that the players are ready to play. That’s the time and that’s the day that we are playing them, so we made the necessary arrangements and practice scheduling to help our players get ready for this Friday night.

Q. Last year Tech ran sort of like a trick play, a Sam Rogers fullback throw to Logan Thomas last year. Do you expect Virginia Tech coming off a zero-point performance in regulation to run some trick plays? I know they’ve used Bucky Hodges at wildcat as well as their third-string quarterback Brenden Motley. Are you expecting some trickery from Virginia Tech this week?
Mike London: You expect everything. There’s nothing that’s off the table. You rely on the other 11 games that you’ve played or games prior to that, the type of experience and the reads and the looks and all those things, so we can’t be surprised by anything. I know you try to practice that way, to sneak up on teams, but we practice trick plays all the time ourselves.

The team that’ll be able to recognize and execute it when it’s happening is the one that’ll be successful.

Q. Virginia Tech’s offense is coming off their worst performance, your defense is coming off maybe its best performance of the season. On paper it would seem like you guys have some edge going into that, but how do you see that match-up and how confident are you guys going into this game defensively?
Mike London: Coach Beamer is an excellent football coach. He’s a guy that’s won a lot of football games, after wins, after big losses, after big wins, whatever it is, so our challenge and focus is to play another game of a three or four-quarter game with all three phases that are very competitive, highly competitive.

You know, there are emotions – there are all kinds of things that are added to these types of games. You can’t take the human nature element out of it. It’s there. It’s constant. It’s written about. It’s talked about. So now it’s about performing in the situations that are going to be presented, whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot, whatever the weather is, whoever is in the stands. It just doesn’t matter. It just matters what you do on the field and how each team responds to the other. And that’s the great thing about competition is you get a chance to play each other and see what happens at the end of the game.

Q. Your offensive line through all the changes and moving parts has done a good job of keeping Greyson and Matt Johns before that upright and clean. Is this a big a challenge as you’ll face? Tech has got like 42 sacks. They’re known for bringing pressure.
Mike London: Obviously you have to recognize their defense. They do a great job of scheming things, of not only the sacks – but getting a chance to hit the quarterback. We have to be alert and aware to the different reads, the different looks that they have given. It’s just one of those things. A football game is being played where both sides want to protect the quarterback, and the goal is to get to the quarterback.

Sometimes you can have the right kind of scheme, sometimes it boils down to just a one-on-one match-up, a guy blocking a guy or a pass rusher beating a blocker. And you can do those things and play fast and rely on your players that can help make those plays, and then we’ll see which side is more successful because they do have a good defense.

Q. You’ve been juggling offensive linemen all year; perhaps Jack English more than anyone embodies that. To go against a team such as Miami on Saturday night, you rush for almost two bills, your quarterback doesn’t get sacked. How encouraged were you by the performance up front throughout the season but especially Saturday?
Mike London: You know, going into the season, obviously you have the high hopes. It’s unfortunate a guy like Jay Whitmire who hadn’t been able to play and Sadiq Olanrewaju was hurt early on, so it kind of caused us to look at players playing multiple positions, and Jack was one of those guys that has the size requisite, has the want-to, maybe needs the weight room a little bit more, but he played, and then the game against Florida State, you talk about baptism by fire, he was in there, and he played a lot of snaps, and he was able to take that experience and use it to help him play in this game where he had a lot of snaps.

The development of the offensive line, although the guys that we thought were going to be there, it hasn’t really materialized like that, but I am extremely proud of the fact of what they’ve done, who’s done it, guys playing multiple positions, keeping the sacks down, keeping the quarterback relatively upright. But a guy like Jack is a guy that you cheer for because he’s a hometown product from Richmond, and now he’s played in some big games, and he’ll have many more opportunities to play in big games here.

Q. I know you weren’t happy about giving up the blocked punt at the end of the game, but in some ways was that good to get your mind focused on an aspect of the game where Virginia Tech has been pretty successful in the past, and what happened on that play?
Mike London: Well, no, you never want a situation like that to occur. It was a breakdown in a technique, and we’ve addressed that, and we spent a lot of time on that. The special teams part of it, again, is going to be another critical element of this game because we all know the reputation that they have with the special teams.

But at the same time, I believe we’re in the top five in the country in kickoff returns and other things like that. So it’ll be important because again, the field position battle is always critically important when you have two teams that have good defenses, you have two offenses that need to hang on to the ball and just rely on the field position that’s been set up, one, by their defense, or two, by their special teams or return teams.

It’ll be important for us to catch the ball, to advance the ball, and more importantly, just to make sure we’re protecting.

Q. I think more defensive lineman played significant minutes the other night than maybe at any time this season. Was that just a result of the development of Kwontie Moore and Andrew Brown and Wilkins, or was that a function of the opponent and their game plan?
Mike London: You know, there’s guys that have gotten better over the course of time. You always look for improvement, and that’s kind of been the whole thing for this team this year is improve. There’s no secret that we have no multiple units in terms of base, regular, nickel, dime, dollar, whatever you want to call it, which allows guys to get in the game and get on the field. The way you hold players’ attention and guys wanting to play and be involved with the preparation is you might have a team that they’re responsible for playing on, and that keeps everybody involved, everybody motivated to make sure that when they go in that they’re going to have an opportunity to be successful.

Q. I asked this to Henry. If you guys win, when you win, however you want to look at it, get that sixth win and what that means, will that deem the entirety of the season a success?
Mike London: You know – you always want to have opportunities to be at your competitive best. When we started the season out being competitively — playing games and winning games, then we got in kind of the middle of it and were up and down. Outside of the Georgia Tech game where things got away from us, we’ve been in every game, been competitive in every game. We want to end up this point of the season the same way, very competitive. Started with the last game with Miami and we want to continue that.

You always look to the improvement that you make during the course of the season, course of the year, individual units, groups – we keep score. There are records. But the main focus is for us to improve as a team, and then this would be obviously an accomplishment for this team, this program at this point because it is a rival game, and it is a game that can determine if you have postseason opportunities.

Q. What’s Kevin Parks’ outlook for this game?
Mike London: You know, I believe Kevin — I’m not a doctor, but I’ll just say – I play one on TV, but I believe Kevin’s prognosis for being able to play looks good. Again, our doctors do a great job of taking care of our players, and there is an opportunity for us to get a lot of our players back at this point, so we’ll see here as the week progresses.

Q. And the way that game ended offensively with you guys really just imposing your will, running the ball, and Conner sort of mentioned sort of maybe getting back to an offensive identity that you maybe had towards the beginning of the year, did you feel like you guys kind of rediscovered maybe a ground and pound identity just offensively over the course of that game on Saturday night?
Mike London: You know, in the course of implementing the game plan in the first half, obviously we all saw that throwing the ball was something that we were successful doing, and then running to kind of try to keep things even.

But Greyson was I believe like 72 percent, his completion rate was 72 percent, which has been pretty good, pretty good for any quarterback. And then the search to try to find other opportunities for other players, the running game kind of put itself together, as well, and our guys came on the sideline, said, coach, I can block this guy. It’s a 3-4 defense, some elements of allowing a guy that’s head up on you, allowing you to do some things technique-wise to be successful and let your backs cut off of the defenders.

In the second half, that’s what started coming to fruition was the linemen felt good, the running backs were finding the holes, I believe we had over a four-yard average, per carry, and that kind of became the theme of the second half.

In order to be a good football team, you have to be able to run the ball, as well, and we seem to have found that aspect of it the second half.

Q. The last three years in the ACC, punt return and kickoff return touchdowns have been 19, 20 and 20, and this year there’s been two punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns. Do you have any idea why it’s fallen off so much? Has something changed to make it that much more difficult?
Mike London: You know, not really. I know you’ve seen over the course of the years the formation of the punt teams now, as they call it, the shield punt, where everybody is spread out over the field, and basically in the NFL they have two guys outside that are the gunners. Now in college football you see guys spread out like that, you have maybe four, five, six, seven gunners outside of the three guys that are the shield back there, and a lot of times that allows for one-on-one match-ups and open field blocking, and it’s hard to block a guy in the open field when you’re one-on-one and he’s running.

Again, it might be an anomaly, or it just may be that the defensive teams or the covering teams have gotten real good in their techniques. We’ve gotten close a couple times on a couple returns, but it would be nice to return one back to the house.

Q. You’re obviously a guy who — a big part of your coaching is based on relationships. I don’t know how much of a sense you get of this from your players, but there seems to be a sense from some that in some regards they’re kind of playing for you, too, as well as for themselves. What does it mean to you to have your guys kind of behind you like that and supporting you like that?
Mike London: Well, I mean, it’s always — to me it’s always been relationship-oriented. I’ve sat in front of you guys before – people don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care. I care about the development of the player from A to Z, everyone that touches them in the program, from academics to sports psychology to nutrition, whatever it is.

That’s part of developing a bond or relationship with guys. Having been a police officer and a bone marrow donor and a young father in college, those are some things that happened in my life that players could come to you and sit down and have a conversation about issues that they may be having. That’s relationship driven, as well.

I go back to the fact that I care about these guys, they play hard, and I understand — I always ask them who do they play for. I don’t want them playing for me, I want them playing for that individual or that cause or that person or that thing that said they couldn’t be here or they couldn’t succeed here, they couldn’t make it here. Play for those things, play for those relatives, those people that are long gone or missed. Play for those type of ideas.

But I’m very much humbled and appreciative of the fact that if I’m part of that equation, that small equation, then I’m grateful for that.

Q. Getting back to the running game a little bit, how important was it for those jet sweeps to work the other night, and how did that help loosen things up maybe between the tackles?
Mike London: That’s part of it. When you look at the spread offense in and of itself or the read offense as people call it, it’s about attacking spaces, spacing. It’s about stretching the defense out with the jet sweeps or the inside runs or even the bubble passes. It’s about making defenders defend the whole field, the width of the field as well as the length of the field.
If you have success in both, it’ll allow you to continue the success because then also the element of it is the play action passes that are off of that. I know some college offenses are strictly based on that premise alone, but it’s something that we’ve used in the last few games to, again, try to get the ball in some playmakers’ hands, and this past week it was Darius Jennings.

Q. I’m not sure when the last road game you won, it may have been that time you beat Coach O’Brien down there in Raleigh. As you look at your road play over the last couple years, is there anything you’d like to change in terms of how you approach the game, or we’re just not as good as those other teams on that day?
Mike London: You know – we lost the games, so obviously we weren’t good enough that particular day. This is a new team. This is a new year, and our approach about playing on the road is one that has gotten better. It needs to improve to get better if you’re going to get Ws on the road, but we’ve traveled a couple places now, and we’ve played well but not well enough to win.

This is another road game and another opportunity for us to play well.

Q. Is there anything you would like to change in how you approach a road game?
Mike London: Not really. The approach to playing at home or playing on the road is still a 100-yard field that you’ve got to defend. Again, you can’t control sometimes the weather or who’s going to be there and all that, but the focus has got to be on just the performance and the production and the execution more than anything else, and maybe we haven’t done that as well as what we needed to, and we’re going to need to do it well this Friday night against Tech.

Q. When your predecessor was here he talked about the team meeting the night before, what could be the last game of the season, and having guys stand up and say something and all that stuff. Do you kind of follow the same pattern, and how do you expect the Friday night thing to be after a week, make them believe that this is just another game?
Mike London: You know, with so many guys playing in their last season, fourth or fifth year, I’ve given each guy an opportunity to do that throughout the whole season, so Friday night won’t be any different than what they’ve been experiencing or doing all the other games.

But like you said, the part of it being their last regular season home part, the part of it being their last Saturday home game, those things were realized, and the life of a football player is not very long. The shelf life is not very long, particularly when you have an injury, a guy like Tim Cwalina. There’s another offensive lineman. George Adeosun, an offensive lineman that are no longer playing football. Their careers were cut short. And to really embrace the fact that you’re on a team, whether you’re playing or not, that this school offers you an opportunity to get a degree and an opportunity to become an educated man, and for you not to hinge yourself-worth on you being a football player.

There’s a lot of things that the guys share with each other, but more than anything else, it’s about just the family and the camaraderie that they have their time here and to cherish it, because like I said, sometimes it doesn’t last long for some young men.

Q. I don’t know how much you get shielded from fans’ emails or phone calls or stuff like that, but over the years have you caught more grief over the Virginia Tech game than other games? And I know there’s nothing funny about losing, but has there been a humorous thing that happened along the way?
Mike London: You know – I appreciate people that are passionate about their schools, their alma maters, the scores, what happens, how you play, and that’s just part of the profession. I’m a big guy. I can handle whatever is being said. I mean – that’s all part of this profession. You sit in this seat.

But I do know that every game, and particularly with this approach for this game, for this group of seniors, we’re 100 percent all-in for the opportunity to win a football game. Until you do that, then you’ll just have to try to make sure that whatever you do, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win. That’s been the focus of the coaches, the players, what we do, finishing strong, playing another four-quarter game, have all three elements play strong and go a second week of doing that and be consistent as we start building this program and moving forward.

Q. Your players are pretty adamant about being in a bubble and not letting outside noise get in. They talked about it after the game on Saturday, talked about it today. How have you been able to do that, and how do you do it particularly this week?
Mike London: Well, the job is to get the players ready, to get the coaches ready, to get the plan together, to understand they’re also students, to understand there’s a lot of social things that are going on around them. The plan is to talk about the things that are relevant to what’s going on and happening right now. That’s my focus. My focus is 100 percent on this game, this week, on these players, and their opportunities. It’s relatively easy when you focus on those things, the people that are significantly important to you. With Thanksgiving coming up, your families become important to you, as well, and you understand that it’s a game that’s about to get played, but also that this week people are celebrating Thanksgiving, have a lot to be thankful for, and everybody in this room should be thankful for a lot of things that have happened to them and for them.

So that’s always been my focus is just take care of the here and right now.

Q. What do you do for Thanksgiving?
Mike London: We’re going to have a Thanksgiving lunch with the team, and then we’ll travel on the road, and we’ll probably have a Thanksgiving dinner with my family, my daughter coming back from ODU on Wednesday, with all the trimmings. The lunch will be just kind of like — but Wednesday’s dinner will be nice.

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