Virginia Coach Mike London doesn’t wear the ring commemorating his Football Championship Subdivision national title at Richmond to the grocery store, or even on a normal day at the office. But he will break it out during special events, such as last month’s ACC football kickoff event.
It’s a reminder of all the people and hard work that went into leading the Spiders to their first-ever national championship in any sport, even if it makes London “feel like Mr. T, like I should have a gold chain hanging around my neck.”
This week, though, London’s ties to his alma mater are more prominent than ever, because Virginia faces Richmond to begin the regular season Saturday afternoon. And even he admits the sheer number of connections between the two schools is “kind of weird.”
Four Virginia assistants previously worked at Richmond when London led the Spiders to a title. That doesn’t even include offensive line coach Scott Wachenheim, who served as the offensive coordinator at Liberty when new Richmond Coach Danny Rocco was there.
London began his two-year stint as head coach at Richmond with a game against Virginia. He then started his first season as head coach at Virginia with a home game against the Spiders in 2010. Now, his former colleague Rocco begins his tenure going up against the Cavaliers.
Rocco, who worked on Al Groh’s staff at Virginia alongside London, has six assistants who either coached or played for the Cavaliers in recent years. That, though, isn’t even the closest connection Rocco has to Charlottesville these days.
He’s the uncle of Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, and even served as a sounding board as Michael dealt with having to win his starting job back this summer. The two talk frequently, but there is a line they won’t cross as they prepare to face one another. So while Michael Rocco sought advice from his uncle about how to deal with the competition under center, “giving him clues . . . is not what I’m trying to do,” he said.
For his part, Danny Rocco has also tried to take any personal feelings out of the situation now that game week has arrived.
“When I watch the film, I just see number 16,” Rocco said this week. “I don’t attach any additional emotion or value to them.”
Danny Rocco, who spent the previous six years at Liberty, is part of the reason Michael Rocco ended up at Virginia. While Michael was considering Liberty during the recruiting process, Danny encouraged him to try and reach the highest levels of college football.
The Roccos are a football family. Michael’s father, Frank, Jr., is the head coach at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg. Danny’s father — and Michael’s grandfather — Frank Sr. was a longtime assistant at Penn State. Virginia faces the Nittany Lions in week two.
“It’s gonna be fun, and it’s gonna be competitive and that’s how it always is in the Rocco family,” Michael said this week.
The Spiders hit some hard times last year, losing their final eight games of the season after starting 3-0. But they still feature a number of players from London’s national championship team, including senior fullback Kendall Gaskins, a second-team preseason all-American in the FCS ranks.
In fact, Danny Rocco brings up London’s championship season frequently when he speaks with recruits about the rebuilding process he has undertaken at Richmond.
“His mark here will be everlasting, I would think,” Rocco said of London.