Mike London named ACC coach of the year

Updated at 5:50 p.m. with London quotes

On the heels of a regular season in which he helped transform a bottom-dwelling Virginia football program into a conference title contender, Mike London was named the ACC’s coach of the year Tuesday.

London, in his second year at the helm in Charlottesville, becomes the first Cavaliers coach to win the award since his predecessor, Al Groh, claimed such recognition in 2007. Groh also won conference coach of the year honors in 2002, his second season at Virginia.

“I’m truly humbled by this honor,” London said in a teleconference Tuesday. “It’s not a Mike London honor. It’s all those guys, the coaches and the players and the administration that said, ‘Hey listen, he’s our guy. Let’s go with him.’ And it’s rewarding, the fact that the people that believed in you, you have an opportunity to earn something like this or be selected for this award.

“You look at the past recipients, I mean, it’s some truly tremendous coaches and tremendous men, and to be mentioned with those men, it really means a lot.”

The Cavaliers ended their 2010 campaign with a 4-8 record and were predicted in the 2011 preseason poll to finish fifth in the Coastal Division and 10th overall in the ACC.

But after a 4-3 start that included a loss to Southern Mississippi (now ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press top 25 poll), an overtime victory over Idaho and a 14-point loss to North Carolina State, Virginia (8-4, 5-3 ACC) reeled off four straight wins to burst into the national spotlight.

Along the way, the Cavaliers became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, won in the month of November for the first time since 2007 and won twice in the state of Florida, including earning the program’s first victory ever at Florida State. Also this season, Virginia defeated then-No. 12 Georgia Tech.

Per the terms of London’s five-year, $8.5 million contract, the coach will be paid a $25,000 bonus for being named the ACC’s coach of the year. London also will be paid a $75,000 bonus for taking the Cavaliers to a bowl game. He receives annual guaranteed compensation in the amount of $1.7 million.

Update, 3:30 p.m.: London said Tuesday he has been in discussions with school officials about a contract extension. He hopes to have a new deal done within the next few weeks.

“The school has made a commitment to me, President Sullivan and the administration here,” London said. “And I’ve definitely made a commitment to the school and the players here. I believe in what’s going on here at the University of Virginia, so I’m happy to be here and hopefully I’m here for a long while.”

Virginia’s bowl destination has yet to be determined, though the payout to the university likely will not be less than $1.7 million. The three most likely bowl destinations for the Cavaliers are the Sun Bowl (payout of roughly $2 million), the Music City Bowl (payout of roughly $1.84 million) or the Belk Bowl (payout of roughly $1.7 million).

Wherever the Cavaliers end up, they will bring a defense that has made considerable strides forward from where it was a year ago. In 2010, six of Virginia’s eight ACC opponents scored more than 21 points against the Cavaliers. This fall, the Virginia defense cut the number of times that occurred in half. Only two defenses in the conference (Florida State and Virginia Tech) allowed fewer total yards per game than the Cavaliers in 2011.

Offensively, London made a decision the day after Virginia’s 28-14 loss Oct. 22 to N.C. State that proved critical. Up through and including the N.C. State game, the Cavaliers had been employing a two-quarterback system with sophomore Michael Rocco and true freshman David Watford. But Rocco and the offense struggled to maintain a rhythm throughout games, and Watford grew overwhelmed by the pressures of serving such a significant role at such an early stage in his collegiate career.

So after the loss to the Wolfpack, London announced he would scrap the two-quarterback rotation and hand the reins of the offense solely to Rocco. From that point up until the regular season finale – a 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech in which Watford ran the final offensive series – Rocco took nearly all of the snaps. Watford, meantime, played sparingly during a four-game winning streak that carried Virginia into the national rankings and to the verge of competing in the ACC championship game.

Three Virginia players were selected to the all-ACC first team, and two more were picked for the all-ACC second team this season. Three other Cavaliers were given honorable mention all-ACC honors. Virginia’s eight all-conference selections were the program’s most since 2004.

Before the Cavaliers fell to Virginia Tech on Saturday, Virginia was ranked No. 24 in the AP poll. In the program’s history, Virginia had never entered cracked the AP poll faster into a coach’s tenure than it did under London.

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