Virginia Coach Mike London says he determines what to wear to his weekly news conference with reporters based on what he has to do beforehand. Most of the time, though, he dons a suit.
On Monday, though, he complemented that ensemble with an orange tie filled with mini Virginia logos. And what soon became apparent is that after five straight losses, and less than a year removed from winning ACC coach of the year honors, London felt compelled to defend the direction of his program.
“I don’t run, I don’t hide from anything,” he said at one point. “I don’t try to duck any issues or questions. . . . I trust in the fact that as we build this thing the right way, that this program, people, our fans, administrators, will be proud.”
But it seems Virginia’s 27-20 loss to Maryland this past weekend finally convinced London – at least publicly – that many of the goals he had before the season began are no longer in play. With a 2-5 record, he conceded, “we’re not maturing quite as fast as what we’d like” and for the first time admitted, “you can’t automatically think you’re going to go to a bowl game again.”
The grumbling from Virginia’s fan base also persuaded London to stick up for his coaches. He was first asked about the play-calling of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Though the Cavaliers have dealt with a season-long quarterback controversy between Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco, they’ve actually averaged more than 490 yards and outgained their opponent the past three games.
In fact, Virginia is tied for second in the country with 34 passing plays of more than 20 yards this season. And yet it has scored more than 20 points just once against Football Bowl Subdivision competition this year.
“I know that the plays that are called are called to be successful. What happens when they’re not successful, then everyone knows it,” London said. “I think that Bill on a couple of occasions, if he could, maybe he would do it over again. But these guys go into the game with the best plans available, best options, best opportunities. They look great when they work. When they don’t, they’re up for discussion.
Discussion then moved on to Virginia’s struggling special teams. Since running back Khalek Shepherd had a 72-yard kickoff return at Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers have been a mess. They’ve missed four field goals the past three weeks and London officially reopened the kicking competition between freshman Ian Frye and senior Drew Jarrett this week.
Even worse, Virginia’s returns have been littered with holding penalties, and it’s a big reason why the Cavaliers remain the second-most penalized team in the conference. London has said this week he will look to involve more veterans on his special teams units and that perhaps Virginia will take more touchbacks going forward.
But much of the heat has fallen on safeties coach Anthony Poindexter, who oversees the special teams. But unprompted Monday, London stuck up for his assistant.
“He’s one of the best players ever played here,” London said. “People are like, ‘Maybe he’s been here too long.’ One of the best recruiters we have on the staff. Does an outstanding job of that. He wants the special teams units to perform better. So we talked about let’s just simplify things. . . .
“When you assess your team to see where you are talent-wise, execution-wise, sometimes you got to say, All right, let’s just make it simple. I think that’s to the point of where we are right now, is just making it simple.”
As for turning around this season, it has become abundantly clear that fix won’t be very easy.
“We’re not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination,” London said.