A 23-20 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday marked London’s final game, his sixth loss to the Hokies in as many seasons heading Virginia’s program. The Cavaliers ended the year 4-8 after starting with a daunting nonconference schedule in which they lost to UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State and tallied a lone win against lower-division William and Mary.
“Mike London has been an outstanding representative of the University of Virginia,” Athletic Director Craig Littlepage said in a news release. “During his tenure, Mike created a positive culture for our student-athletes to develop as young men, who improved each year in the classroom and represented us very well in the community. Mike was a tremendous mentor for his players and many of our coaches. His ability to inspire others helped our program establish great relationships among the high school football coaches in the state and he has been a tremendous ambassador for the University. We are thankful for Mike’s numerous contributions representing the University and Virginia athletics.”
London, who led Richmond to a national championship in the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision in his first season as head coach in 2008, was brought to Virginia after Al Groh was fired in 2009 but led the Cavaliers to just one winning season and one bowl appearance. In 2011 Virginia went 8-5 and ended the year with a 42-24 loss to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl after finishing second in the ACC’s Coastal Division, but failed to win more than five games in any other season under London. His ends his tenure at Virginia with a 27-46 record; at Richmond, he went 24-5.
“I appreciate the opportunity to have been the head football coach at the University of Virginia and for the relationships that have been formed during my time in Charlottesville that will last for years to come,” London said in the release. “I took this job to make a profound difference in the lives of young men and to re-establish Virginia football as one of the best programs in the ACC. While we were successful in the development of our players in many areas, I would have liked to have won more games for the student-athletes, coaches, fans and everyone that’s a part of the University of Virginia.”
A former Richmond police detective raised in Hampton, Va., London, 55, preached quality of character throughout his tenure at Virginia. It’s the reason his team is so close and why late in the season, when confronted with questions of London’s future, players speak of being prepared for life beyond football.
After Saturday’s loss London gave what turned out to be a farewell speech.
“The character that those guys have shown over the season, the things that they’ve dealt with, I’m so proud of them,” London said of his team. “Today although there’s a loss, it’s about them, it’s not about me. It’s important that they understand this is a tough game, you win, you lose, you try to get better, you try to move forward, but it’s a tough game. There’s consequences for a lot of things. I just told them, you’re going to be a husband, a father, a son, an employee, an employer, much longer than you’re going to be a football player. Your identity is not tied into being just a football player. I get it, we’re graded on wins and losses, I understand that, but you’re so much more than that.”
Despite the final record this season, the Cavaliers won three of four conference home games against Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Duke. During London’s tenure the team also set cumulative grade point average watermarks for the program, once in the spring semester of 2010 and again in the spring of 2014.
Most notably, even in the face of hard-to-ignore speculation, London never lost his locker room.
“It’s so much bigger than football for him, and that’s why we’re all here,” junior quarterback Matt Johns said Saturday. “One day, this game is going to be over for all of us and all we’re going to have his relationships and memories. I love that guy to death and can’t thank him enough.”
London’s contract ran through Dec. 7, 2016. According to a press release from the school, Virginia will pay him the $2.7 million remaining on his contract.
After graduating from Richmond in 1983 the Dallas Cowboys signed London as a free agent before he returned to his alma mater to start his coaching career. Following stops at William & Mary and Boston College, London came to Virginia in 2001 as a defensive line coach and then recruiting coordinator before a stint as the defensive line coach for the Houston Texans. He returned to Virginia in 2006 as defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at Richmond.
Now Virginia will begin the task of finding London’s replacement.
“In our search, we will look for a coach who’s demonstrated the ability to implement his system and achieved a consistent level of success,” Littlepage said in the press release. “The coach will have experience recruiting and developing student-athletes who fit his profile for success on the field and in the classroom. We expect our football program to compete for the Coastal Division title on an annual basis, which puts us in a position to win the ACC championship and be competitive nationally. This is consistent with the expectations for each of our sport programs.”