Virginia football coach Mike London is making inroads in the commonwealth
Friday, February 12, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Mike London became Virginia's head football coach in early December and immediately started creating a blueprint for a program that has suffered three losing seasons in four years and lost prominence within its own state. London sought to recapture the commonwealth.
To start rebuilding the Cavaliers, London spent two months building. He assembled a coaching staff, added to a recruiting class and has tried to spread the message about Virginia football throughout the state -- to prospective recruits, high school coaches, alumni and fans.
London's coaching staff took longer than usual to finalize, with the final hires barely beating national signing day to the finish line. Perhaps the staff's most important hire -- offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, a former Washington Redskins quarterbacks coach -- was hired on Jan. 28 after more than a month of speculation.
London did not finish his staff until the Feb. 2 hiring of tight ends coach Scott Wachenheim, who served the same position with the Redskins last season.
"I think in taking my time, particularly with the offensive coordinator position, there were a couple of guys obviously that I would like to have had an opportunity to be here," said London, before adding that Lazor was the right fit for the job. "Maybe some people out there were a little anxious about getting everything going. I think it turned out pretty good in the end."
As expected, the Cavaliers' new staff includes a heavy emphasis on Virginia. Of the nine assistant coaches, two were iconic players for the Cavaliers (safeties coach-special teams coordinator Anthony Poindexter and wide receivers coach Shawn Moore), and six others have worked for schools within the state (defensive coordinator-associate head coach Jim Reid, cornerbacks coach Chip West, running backs coach Mike Faragalli, defensive line coach Jeff Hanson, linebackers coach Vincent Brown and Wachenheim).
Only Lazor lacks collegiate connections to the state, although he lived in Leesburg during his four years with the Redskins and occasionally visited Charlottesville. All four of Virginia's graduate assistants are former U-Va. players, including Ron Mattes and Gordie Sammis, who will work with the offensive line.
Reid is a former head coach at Massachusetts, Richmond and Virginia Military Institute and has NFL experience as linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins. At age 59, Reid expects his Virginia tenure to be his final job.
"As long as I can do a good job here for the University of Virginia and Coach London, I'd like to stay here and win some championships," Reid said. "I remember [former Virginia coach George Welsh] telling me when they redid the facility here. He said, 'We did it right, we can win a national championship.' That's the goal."
Moore, perhaps the finest quarterback in Virginia history, does not have collegiate coaching experience but has a famous name and recruiting connections in the Washington region. Moore was recently assistant headmaster at St. Albans in the District, and his son plays for DeMatha.
London said a major factor in adding Moore to the staff was to recruit the Washington region. Moore said he's already made inroads with coaches such as DeMatha's Bill McGregor and Lake Braddock assistant Bill Renner, who previously was head coach at Langley, Mount Vernon and West Springfield.
"A lot of people have a lot of confidence in me in my ability to recruit," Moore said. "I haven't done it, but I think it means something to go into an 18-year-old's living room to talk about the experience I've had on grounds [at Virginia]."
Recruiting received the most buzz since London's hire, and London inherited 13 players recruited by the former coaching staff. He kept 12 of those, with the final player (DeMatha's Kyrell Latimer) expected to come aboard in 2011 after prep school.
London added five new players to a recruiting class that includes four quarterbacks. In just two months, London's message is beginning to spread throughout Virginia.
"We wanted to recruit the state and make sure that the players in all areas that we have an opportunity to present ourselves, what we have to offer," London said. "Whether it's 757, 804, 703, 434, whatever area code it is, we're going to try to do the best in those areas."
That might best be exemplified by London's itinerary. He begins a five-city tour next week to meet with fans and alumni, and is expected to visit the Northern Virginia/Washington area after basketball season along with men's basketball coach Tony Bennett.
By the spring, London expects to have walked through the doors of every Virginia high school. And at this time next season, London hopes his in-state initiative results in a recruiting class stocked with Virginia talent.
"We've had players come up here on grounds, at basketball games, meet the new staff," London said. "We'll continue to keep doing that. The message out there is about being accessible and available."