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A Former Police Detective, Mike London Makes Mark as Richmond Coach
And yet in the face of this, London laughs. Maybe because he has never seen himself as a football coach in the mold of so many others he has known, designers of great schemes who deal with their players on only a formal basis.
London freely admits he is no master of college football's hottest new trend, the spread offense. He chuckles at the thought of becoming a mastermind of great schemes. He can't stand any distance between him and his team, constantly calling his players and their parents to check on grades, inviting them into his office to sit in the two high-backed leather chairs across from his desk to talk about their lives, their dreams, their fears, their hopes.
"People don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care," he says.
He is certain he has something to give beyond football. If three years on the front lines during one of the city's worst crime periods can't provide inspirational material, what can? If telling the story of the trigger going "click" doesn't lock a young man's gaze on the man talking, what will?
"It's like having a big brother or a mentor for your football coach," says Patrick Weldon, a junior linebacker. "He's the most emotional person out here."
London's pregame speeches are like nothing his players have ever experienced. A self-described "faithful person," he has a preacher-like cadence that can fill a room: his voice normal at first, then rising higher until it grows into a bellow, his eyes on fire and his words rattling off lockers, a tide pulling the players with him until the whole room is alive with the howls of frenzied football players.
"When you get a coach who matches your intensity and emotion, you can just look at that person and know that at some level that coach is going to be with you through the thick and the thin," said St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, who played under London when he was a defensive line coach and defensive coordinator at Virginia. "When he got that job at Richmond, all I could think was, 'What a steal for them.' "
'I Can Call It a Miracle'
Mike London loves to tell stories.
He tells how he was raised in Hampton and played on some of the worst teams in Richmond history. He tells how he married his girlfriend in college and how they had their first child while he was still in school. And he tells of how he joined the police after being released by the Dallas Cowboys in 1983 in part because he wanted to be in the Secret Service and in part because he and his wife had three children at that point and he needed to work. He tells too of how he was divorced a few years later, meaning he was a single father for a time. And he tells of how he remarried and now has four more children, a family almost as big as a football team.
"I think I know about people," he says. "I do know about being a parent. I know about being a police officer. I do know about being young and married. I know about being divorced.
"There isn't much [his players] will face that I haven't experienced in some way."
One of his favorite stories comes from when he was a detective and was sent to a house to serve an arrest warrant on a man. The home was filled with the man's relatives, all of them angry, suspicious. Sensing a riot about to break out, he resisted the urge to drag the man from the door and instead calmly talked him into walking outside with him and invited the family to follow along to provide their support. When the man agreed, London was stunned.