ACC head coaching newcomers Mike London, Jimbo Fisher face different challenges

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; D01

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was standing-room only around the circular tables where the ACC's newest head coaching attractions sat Monday during the second of the conference's two media days. Virginia's Mike London and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher -- both entering their first seasons at the helm of their respective programs -- fielded similar questions, about necessary adjustments made and circumstantial differences noticed.

But their experiences as first-year ACC coaches were not identically shared, for Fisher was asked to speak to the Seminoles' challenge of meeting expectations, while London was charged with articulating how he plans to raise them for the Cavaliers.

Florida State was selected in the conference's preseason media poll to win the Atlantic Division and play Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. Virginia, on the other hand, was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division and garnered the fewest total votes of any team in the conference.

"My emotions right now?" Fisher said. "It's excitement, but it's preparation. You have to prepare to be successful. I can't be happy just to be here. I have the job. Now what are you going to do with it?"

After serving two seasons as Florida State's head-coach-in-waiting, Fisher took over the Seminoles in January after Bobby Bowden retired following the end of last season's 7-6 campaign. Led by quarterback Christian Ponder, who was selected the ACC's preseason player of the year, the Seminoles are expected to challenge Virginia Tech for the conference crown. The Hokies were the overwhelming pick to win the ACC title.

London does not have the luxury of inheriting a program poised to compete for championships or stocked with an established signal caller. Virginia finished last season 3-9 and hired London as soon as he was done leading Richmond to the 1-AA quarterfinals.

The favorite to start for the Cavaliers at quarterback is senior Marc Verica, who started nine games in 2008 but only once in 2009. With true freshman Michael Strauss and redshirt freshman Ross Metheny competing on the depth chart behind him, Verica is the only quarterback on Virginia's roster to have taken a snap in a collegiate game.

"If I was told I was going to get good quarterback play, I'd sleep at night," London said. "But the reality of it is, you've got to go out there and he's got to play, whether it's Marc Verica or whoever it is, the quarterback position, as everyone knows, you get the ball 100 percent of the time, and he has to make decisions to distribute it to the right players. . . . There's a concern at backup, and there's a concern of: 'who?' "

And not just at quarterback. Virginia's lineup is littered with question marks, from the running backs to the offensive linemen to the linebackers. And those are just the ones London and his staff are aware of.

As Boston College Coach Frank Spaziani -- who is entering his second year in charge of the Eagles -- can attest, surprises should be expected during the first year of a new regime.

"We understand a little bit more what our problems are, and we have a little better handle on it," Spaziani said of his team, which was picked to finish third in the Atlantic Division. "We kind of surmised what the problems were going into last year, what they were going to be. We had to work our way through them."

Neither London nor Fisher shied away from the public perception of their respective squads entering training camp, and both acknowledged the challenges in front of them are considerable. But as they sat surrounded by their new peers, the ACC's two newest coaches did their best to remain rooted in the reality everyone in their profession shares this time of year.

"It's still kind of surreal a little bit," London said. "There's a lot of respect, but there's also a measured amount of, you know, I have a job to do also. I'm going to do the best job I can with recruiting the players, with developing the players, anything to do with the players. . . . You get over it real quick, that there's [coaches] that you've seen on TV and people talk about reverently -- and rightfully so. But now you're included in the circle, and I've got to get my team ready just like they've got to get their team ready."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company