When ACC commissioner John Swofford called Monday, Virginia football coach Mike London anticipated a reprimand for his criticism of officials. Far from it.
Swofford informed London that he is the conference's 2011 Coach of the Year.
After Tuesday's public announcement, London said he was "humbled" by the award and credited his players and staff.
"More than anything I am extremely proud of the performance by our players and coaches this season," he said. "This is really a reflection on their efforts this year. Quite honestly, I do not think there were very many people outside of our locker room who felt we could go into the final week of the season with a chance to advance to the ACC championship game. As a coach, you live for the kind of moments where your team buys in, puts in the work and the effort and sees the positive results that come from it.
"We accomplished so many things this year and grew into a team that believed in itself and was confident about what it could achieve on the field. We went from just trying to win a game to managing to win four on basically the last play. That builds a lot of character."
Virginia is the ACC's most-improved team this season. With upsets of nationally ranked Georgia Tech and Florida State, the Cavaliers (8-4, 5-3 ACC) remained in contention for the Coastal Division title until Saturday's 38-0 loss to Virginia Tech. This following a 4-8, 1-7 finish in 2010, London's debut season.
Virginia is poised to reward that progress. London said that he and the school are negotiating a contract extension that will keep him with the Cavaliers "for a long time."
London's original deal was for five years with annual compensation of approximately $1.7 million. He said university president Teresa Sullivan has made a "commitment" to him and that he is equally committed to Virginia.
While U.Va.'s administration appears willing to bump London's salary, I don't believe the school will repeat the mistakes it made with former basketball coach Pete Gillen and former football coach Al Groh. Virginia overpaid for both, saddling itself with considerable buyouts when those programs bottomed out.
Nor do I believe London is job-hunting -- ESPN floating him for Penn State notwithstanding. He's a Virginian, and neither he nor his family wants to relocate again.
Beamer’s Hokies (11-1, 7-1 ACC) overcame a rash of defensive injuries to defend their Coastal title and reach the conference championship game for the fifth time in seven years. Swinney’s Tigers (9-3, 6-2) won the Atlantic Division for the second time in three seasons.
A Bethel High graduate, London joins Bill Elias (1961), George Blackburn (1968), George Welsh (1983, ’84, ’89, ’91, ’95) and Al Groh (2002, ’07) as Cavaliers coaches to win the honor. Like London, Welsh and Groh received the award in their second years at Virginia.
In 2008, his first season as a head coach, London earned national Coach of the Year honors from the American Football Coaches Association for guiding Richmond to the Championship Subdivision national title.
London is the first African-American to win the ACC award. Conference football programs have employed only three other black head coaches: Wake Forest’s Jim Caldwell (1993-2000), Miami’s Randy Shannon (2007-10) and North Carolina interim Everett Withers (2011).
This season media picked Virginia to finish fifth among six teams in the Coastal Division. But thanks to marked progress, especially on defense, the Cavaliers used a four-game winning streak late in the regular season to vault into title contention. They tied Georgia Tech for second in the division.
Virginia is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007, and its most likely postseason destination is the Music City Bowl, scheduled for Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn. The Cavaliers defeated Minnesota in the 2005 Music City.
For what it’s worth, I voted for London. Beamer, who won the award in 2004 and ’05, did another outstanding job this season, but coach of the year honors often go to those who most exceeded expectations, and there London had no equal.
"I am both honored and humbled by this selection," London said. "I greatly respect the coaches in our conference and you could argue there are others who are deserving of this recognition."
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