From frat houses to practice field, London attacking Virginia job from all angles

Mike London didn't realize how consumed he had become with his new job as Virginia's football coach until his daughter asked him a question.

"Dad, are you coming to my concert?" Jaicyn asked about her elementary school performance. "You are supposed to come to my concert."

London made the concert, but "had to make some calls" to rearrange his schedule.

Then he was back promoting his program and trying to build goodwill on campus and in the community.

"This," London has said several times, "is a work in progress."

London, who was at Richmond, has been in constant motion since he was hired in December 2009 — working to turn around a Virginia program that had fallen on hard times under his predecessor, Al Groh.

It is London's third stint at Virginia, where he twice was an assistant to Groh.

Part of his plan has been to reach out to former players; he wants them to be part of Cavaliers football again.

Former quarterback Aaron Brooks, who played under George Welsh from 1996-98, welcomed the chance to get involved again. He and several other players recently attended a closed scrimmage and afterwards ate with the team.

Brooks is impressed by what he has seen.

"What makes coach London so dynamic is that he has the ability to relate to these kids, to these players," Brooks said. "I think that's something they missed with Al.

"It seems like they were not having fun. They were afraid to make mistakes," he said. "Any time you are having fun and not having an iron fist slapped on you, players will go out and do more than the coach can even imagine."

Perhaps no player appreciates the change more than quarterback Marc Verica.

He came out of nowhere to be the starter in 2008 after one quarterback was dismissed from school and another was declared academically ineligible. But last season, with Groh going with other options and a new offense, Verica went back into the background feeling like an afterthought.

This summer, as the Cavaliers' unquestioned leader, Verica led the team through optional 7 on 7 drills. He said the energy that London brings has infused the team.

"When you're here every day, you have a good feel just for the air, the atmosphere and the environment surrounding the team," he said. "There's no question it's been positive."

London also reached out to the community, inviting the Boys & Girls Club to attend practice. The team held a bone marrow drive, and London brought a benefactor to meet the team.

He visited sororities and fraternities, telling them he needed their help, and sent players to help with their fundraisers, trying to create a sense of reciprocal support.

"If you're going to ask people to do things like come to my games, you've got to show that you're interested in what they are doing, too," London said.

He visited with deans, assuring them that he was as committed as they are to having his team perform in the classroom, and was among the coaches doing class attendance checks.

"I have three rules," London said. "The first is go to class. Gotta go to class. The second is show class in all you do, and the third is treat people with dignity and respect."

On the academic side, the team he inherited had some problems.

"Some guys were scrambling to get in a position where they could breathe academically," he said. "It will be better than it was, because what it was not very good."

London has put together a coaching staff that shares his vision, meeting individually with players to lay out his expectations, and recruiting the state.

In Virginia, that means having a big presence — and a lot of success — in talent-rich Hampton Roads, where Hampton High School coach Mike Smith said Groh had "quit recruiting."

"I think Al just wanted people from a different area," Smith said.

A Hampton Roads native, London and his staff quickly began making inroads.

Smith's Crabbers this year will feature David Watford at quarterback; next season, he'll be at Virginia, the first Hampton player to commit to the Cavaliers in the past 10 years.

He chose Virginia over Virginia Tech, which has dominated recruiting in the area.

That's a step in the right direction, even if results this year might not be what Cavaliers fans are hoping for right away.