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London Facing a Sense of Urgency

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Patience may prove to be a virtue in most walks of life, but in the college football universe, it is a non-existent myth.

“We’ve got three new coordinators and three new systems, and with spring practice 15 practices, I mean, that’s how many we’ve got, so early in August camp it’s going to be critical for the overall development of those systems.”
~Virginia head coach Mike London

Despite averaging fewer than five wins per season over the past four years, and producing just one winning season in the past five years, things are beginning to look up for the Virginia Cavaliers.

Most of the optimism currently surrounding the Cavalier program stems from head coach Mike London’s recent exceptional efforts on the recruiting trail.

Remarkably, Virginia is the only program in the nation with two verbal commitments currently ranked in the top 10 of the ESPN 300: defensive tackle Andrew Brown (No. 5) and safety Quin Blanding (No. 10). Both prospects play their high school football in the state of Virginia, making for an even sweeter recruiting victory for the Wahoos.

Even with legitimate cause for optimism in Charlottesville, one pressing question still remains: will London be there to see his recruiting efforts actually pay dividends?

Replacing Al Groh after the Cavaliers won just three games in 2009, not much was expected out of London in his first year on the job.

Stuck with a severe dearth of talent on the roster, London’s first squad in Charlottesville went on to win just four games, with two wins coming against FCS opponents (Richmond and VMI) and a third win coming against an Eastern Michigan team which finished the year with just two wins playing in the MAC.

Painfully aware of the need to increase the talent pool at his disposal, London set out to make his mark in recruiting. His efforts were immediately rewarded as well, as Virginia’s 2011 recruiting class is widely regarded as one of the best in program history.

Floating on cloud nine off of the momentum generated from an unexpectedly solid recruiting class, Virginia was the surprise team in the ACC in 2011. After being picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division during the preseason, the Cavaliers went on to win eight regular season games. Included in Virginia’s triumphs that fall were victories over previously-undefeated and 12th-ranked Georgia Tech, at Miami and at 23rd-ranked Florida State, the program’s first ever win in Doak Campbell Stadium. The Cavaliers even entered the final week of the regular season with an opportunity to win the Coastal Division title, although they were thoroughly dismantled by Virginia Tech in Virginia’s worst game of the year.

Following his team’s resurgence to respectability, London was named as the 2011 ACC Coach of the Year, easily beating out Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer for the award. At the time, it certainly appeared that his initial five-year contract which paid him $1.7 million annually was more than justified.

Any momentum generated from the surprise success of 2011, however, would come to an abrupt halt in 2012.

Struggling to find consistent play under center, Virginia limped its way to a 4-8 record, missing out on postseason participation for the second time in London’s three years.

In the current “what have you done for me lately” culture of college football, such a drastic decline was not taken well. Now a year-and-a-half removed from his ACC Coach of the Year honor, London finds himself squarely on the hot seat as fall practice gets geared up.

Unfortunately for London, the schedule does not provide him with the luxury of picking up a couple of easy wins early to deflect some of the attention surrounding his job security. The Cavaliers start the season against a talented BYU team which won eight games in 2012, and follow that up with a home game against perennial power Oregon.

In spite of that brutal stretch to start this critical campaign, London is not focusing on his upcoming opponents as much as he is focusing on improving his own squad.

“We’ve started the preparation for taking care of ourselves first,” London responded in an interview with ESPN when asked about how he was getting ready for the Cougars and Ducks. “We’ve got three new coordinators and three new systems, and with spring practice 15 practices, I mean, that’s how many we’ve got, so early in August camp it’s going to be critical for the overall development of those systems.”

The first priority for London when it comes to internally addressing his football team is figuring out which player will be his starting quarterback in late August.

Given the recent history of quarterback carousels at Virginia, London is relatively used to having an open competition under center heading into fall camp.

However, whereas in the past he has opted to wait until deep into fall camp to name his eventual starter, London plans on naming his starter – likely either Greyson Lambert or David Watford – well before the Cavaliers’ season opener.

“The plan is early in August camp is to say ‘listen, this is the guy we are going with,’ and we’ll have No. 2 back him up and get him reps, but we’ll have a quarterback early in camp,” London said of the highly-anticipated position battle. “There will be no quarterback issues or controversy. We feel good about David Watford and Greyson Lambert, two very talented young men that our team can rally behind.”

Regardless of which player ends up under center on August 31 against BYU, London has to hope for an improved all-around effort from his team this fall.

Though London’s ACC Coach of the Year honor will undoubtedly look good on his resume for the remainder of his career, the administration at Virginia has already forgotten about his recent accomplishment.

Patience may prove to be a virtue in most walks of life, but in the college football universe, it is a non-existent myth.

Virginia’s future may look bright right now, but if he is not able to lead the Cavaliers to bowl eligibility this season, London may have the lights go dim mush sooner than he originally anticipated.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.