CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia defensive end Eli Harold knew the easy answer would have been to gloss over whatever motivation Coach Mike London’s ever-present hot seat may provide the 2014 Cavaliers. That’s what many of his teammates and coaches have done publicly for months as London’s tenuous job security became a bigger topic of discussion than the upcoming season.
But at Virginia’s annual media day Friday, Harold decided not to hold back.
Even though London doesn’t want the coming months to be about his own future, his players have begun to think that way, well aware a repeat of last year’s 2-10 campaign — or perhaps anything less than bowl eligibility — could mean the man who recruited them all to Charlottesville will be looking for work come December.
“It bothers me a lot because day in and day out, we play for him,” Harold said. “He came in here with the mind to win games . . . and to now being on the hot seat, on the way out — if we don’t produce, it’s on us. It’s not on him. He’s done everything he can do for us to be successful, and if we don’t produce this year, he won’t be around.
“Obviously, he’s going to [play it down], but it’s reality. It’s in the light. You can’t avoid it now. It’s up in the air, and it’s real.”
More so than the emergence of redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert as the team’s clear-cut starting quarterback, the comfort of being with the same coordinators for a second season in a row, the arrival of two five-star recruits — safety Quin Blanding and defensive tackle Andrew Brown — or a schedule considered one of the toughest in the country, the urgency of London’s situation has been the galvanizing force for these Cavaliers.
Senior linebacker Henry Coley said there was a movement this offseason to ensure players spent more time with those on the roster they wouldn’t normally be around, and the result has been a tighter collective bond than past years.Harold said veterans have been determined to spend more time focused on football and less time drinking at the bars around campus.
The goal is to give London, who many on the team consider a father figure, a sixth season at the helm next fall.
“I still haven’t woken up yet and seen on ESPN: ‘Mike London has gotten fired.’ He still has a job,” Coley said. “I have it in my mind that we’re going to ensure he gets an extension or keeps the job now. If he gets fired by the end of the season, it’s on the players.”
Despite the negative rumors — wide receivers coach Marques Hagans said this week, “Everybody asks the same question: ‘Do you think you’re going to get fired? Are you going to lose your job?’ — London has managed to keep the program moving forward.
Eight 2015 prospects have given verbal commitments to Virginia since July 1, and this week London continued to cultivate his Virginia Beach pipeline when linebacker Jahvoni Simmons, considered the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country by Rivals, pledged to become a Cavalier.
London insisted Friday these developments are no more meaningful given his precarious long-term status and that “it’s about some of the players that are already here that say, ‘You need to come.’ ”
But London understands that, armed with a more veteran-laden core than the previous two years, tangible progress on the field this season is his only recourse against mounting job speculation. His players already have embraced this notion.
“We all got one goal in mind,” sophomore tailback Taquan Mizzell said. “To change everybody’s opinion on U-Va. football.”