Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. $12 for 12 weeks.

Jan. 19, 2008: Mike London becomes Richmond's football coach

Leading a college football program for the first time isn't that daunting. Not when you've stared down the business end of a bad guy's revolver. Not when you've donated bone marrow to your sick little girl.

And certainly not when that initial head-coaching opportunity doubles as a homecoming.

The University of Richmond introduced Mike London as its football coach Saturday. Former city detective Mike London; devoted and thankful father Mike London; UR class of 1983 Mike London.

"It's a perfect fit," he said.

Sure seems that way.

London knows the school, the city, the state and the game.

He attended Tabb High before transferring to Bethel for his senior year and graduating in 1979. He captained Richmond in 1982 and earned his degree in sociology.

London worked as an assistant coach at Richmond, William and Mary, Boston College and with the NFL's Houston Texans. He served two tours at the University of Virginia, most recently as defensive coordinator, and was hands-down the program's most effective recruiter.

"I've been trained for this," London said.

Trained by his parents - his dad is retired military - to treat others with dignity and respect. Trained by head coaches such as Jimmye Laycock, Tom O'Brien and Al Groh to value academic as well as athletic ability.

But none of those old-school types can match London's sideline animation. So brace yourselves, Spiders faithful and players, for loud yelps and aerial chest-bumping.

"I'm an excitable guy," London said with a grin.

A grateful one, too. Grateful that the burglar's gun misfired. Grateful that his 12-year-old daughter Ticynn is coping well with a rare blood disorder, Fanconi anemia, that can lead to leukemia and cancer if not treated effectively.

London's brush with death came during the late 1980s when, as a Richmond police detective, he and his partner stopped suspects in a fast-food robbery. As London - he fancied himself a Secret Service agent while attending Richmond - reached into the driver's-side door, a man raised his gun and pulled the trigger.

Nothing. Just a click.

"That can change your mind quickly about what you want to do with your life," London said.

So he became a coach. While working at Boston College in 2000, London learned of Ticynn's condition, and three years later he donated his bone marrow, a procedure that worked wonders.

Saturday Ticynn and her three younger siblings sat with their mom while their dad spoke and answered questions.

"Ticynn's doing great," said Regina London, a Newport News native. "We're so blessed."

For all of Mike's professional hopscotching, Regina never doubted he'd wear the big whistle. Not when Richmond passed him over four years ago, or when Old Dominion did the same last year.

"This day was going to come," Regina said. "I knew that. ... I just didn't know when it would come or where it would be. What you see on the football field from Mike is half of what we get at home."

It's difficult to imagine much more enthusiasm and polish than London brings to coaching. And he showed it Saturday.

"I really resent it when the football coach can speak without notes and I have to pull mine out," university president Edward Ayers said.

"I don't prepare speeches," London said.

"This is coming straight off the cuff."

Speaking from his office in Williamsburg, Laycock called London a consummate players' coach, and London, 47, vowed not to let a promotion affect his interaction with the athletes.

"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," he said.

With less than three weeks remaining until the Feb. 6 national signing day, London must quickly assemble a staff and finalize recruiting.

The good news is that former coach Dave Clawson, who resigned to become Tennessee's offensive coordinator, left London 17 starters from an 11-3 squad that advanced to the NCAA playoff semifinals.

Moreover, the university plans to build an on-campus stadium that could open in 2010 - Richmond has long played in a dingy municipal facility off campus. London's first game as a head coach will be Aug. 30 at Elon.

The 2008 schedule includes visits to two former London haunts: Sept. 6 at Virginia and Nov. 22 at William and Mary.

"I look forward," London said, "to the challenge of exceeding some of the expectations that are out there."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading