November 26, 2012

Self-Scouting Mike London

I think there are four qualities that make a good head football coach at the college level.  Very few coaches possess ALL of these qualities, other than maybe Nick Saban.

Anyway, these are the qualities I think are important, along with my grades on Mike London in each of the categories.  Let's do it.

Nick Saban: the ultimate college football CEO.

President and CEO
Does the coach improve everything within the program, from top to bottom?  Does he demand excellence?  Does he hold his players and staff accountable for their successes and/or failures?  Does he embrace heightened expectations?  Is he a leader?  Does he command respect?  Does he foster an atmosphere of collaboration among his staff?  Is he capable of attracting and hiring the right assistants?  Is he able to delegate successfully?  Does he get out of his assistants' way and let them coach, but still step in when needed?  Is he tough enough to let staff members go when they aren't performing to baseline expectations?  Is he a strong disciplinarian?  Is he properly connected to academics?  Does he provide a strong face of the program?

Mike London's Grade: C-minus
I think London is clearly in over his head at times in the management arena.  The question is, will he learn to swim or will he drown?  Will he rise to the challenge or will it eat him up?  His relative inexperience can be blamed for a lot of his shortcomings, and he has shown some nice potential with some of this stuff.  He's good at making believers of people, but there are times you really have to wonder about what's happening behind the scenes.  Is it real, or is he just a con artist?  His willingness and ability to properly shake up the coaching staff this offseason will be quite telling.  We need him to take full ownership of the product on the field, and he hasn't really done that yet.

Chip Kelly sets the gold standard for Xs and Os.
Xs and Os
Is the coach knowledgeable about football?  Is he aware of coaching trends?  Does he build cohesive and effective systems?  Can he put together effective gameplans?  Does he make smart in-game adjustments?  Does he properly develop talent?  Does he make good in-game decisions?  Is he a strong decision-maker who operates with conviction and possesses thick skin?  Does he have applicable experience as a head coach?  Is he flexible and open to new ideas and techniques?  Does he properly manage the roster and scholarship numbers?  Is he creative with the scheme?  Does he elevate the team into something greater than the sum of its parts?  Can he consistently coach 'em up?

Mike London's Grade: F
I'm still waiting for a real head coach to show up.  As it is, London seems like a rah-rah position coach miscast as the head honcho.  I feel like Jim Reid's experience level has propped up a bad - borderline negligent - performance from London in the Xs and Os area.  The debacle against Virginia Tech is the latest testament to his extreme shortcomings.  I just fear he lacks the requisite nuts and bolts of successful head coaching.

Pete Carroll did a lot of winning at USC as a rah-rah guy.
Warm Fuzzies
Is the coach a great motivator?  Does the coach clearly love and care for the kids on the team?  Does he show outward love for the town / area / region / state and clear pride for the school?  Does he revere the game of football?  Is he considered approachable and accessible?  Is he enthusiastic for his job, and show passion and heart in chasing greatness?  Does the coach inspire and instill belief in the program?  Is he good with community relations?  Does he inspire trust?  Does he maintain a consistently positive winning attitude?  Do his players "lay it on the line" for him?

Mike London's Grade: A
This is London's biggest strength as a head coach.  But unfortunately, just being a "players coach" is never enough, unless it is accompanied by at least C+ level management and Xs and Os ability.  The rah-rah stuff has a short shelf life if it is not followed up with results on the field.  When he's winning, you love the energy on the sideline.  When he's losing, you are just annoyed by it, and it comes off as frenetic and desperate.  So while the warm fuzzies is definitely an asset, it's not enough to buoy shaky performances elsewhere.

He's a total slimeball, but Urban Meyer wins championships
thanks to his recruiting chops.
Is the coach good at assessing talent?  Does he excel at making personal connections with recruits and their families?  Can he seal the deal with recruits?  Can he sell the program to recruits and reel in talent that is better than what is typically attracted to the school?  Is he able to expand his recruiting territory?  Does he build and maintain solid relationships with high school coaches?  Does he consistently deliver highly-ranked recruiting classes?

Mike London's Grade: B
Mike London is a good recruiter, but he needs to start reeling in more elite-level talent.  3-star kids are great, and they'll form the bedrock of the program, but we need more and more 4- and 5-star guys to overcome the Xs and Os deficit.  These top-25 classes need to become top-15 classes in order for Virginia to become an important team.

Overall, I think we have a C-minus head coach who is severely lacking in one of the key areas.  He can overcome that with better recruiting and hiring the right assistants.  His ultimate success or failure will boil down to that "President and CEO" area.  If he develops as a program manager, he'll find enough success to coach here for a long time.  If not... well...  We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Good luck, coach.  We're still behind you... for now.


  1. Good analysis. I have two points/lines of thought/discussion to add.

    1. I can't see all four of these criteria being equal, or equally co-dependent. For instance, an X and O's coach may make up for poor recruiting more so than outstanding recruiting overcome poor schemes. I really see X and O's as the engine of LONG-TERM success.

    2. Because of the Warm Fuzzies grade, I WANT London to succeed. We've had a football coach (and previous basketball coach), that failed in this area, and it wasn't pretty.

    You already touched on the role that number on (CEO) could play in London's success or failure. London has to find good assistants that he can trust to delegate schemes and game-day responsibilities, if he is to succeed. If I were Littlepage and administrators, I would keep an eye on this situation as well.

  2. Great feedback, Anonymous. I agree with everything you said. CEO and Xs and Os probably ultimately trump Recruiting, but without the Warm Fuzzies, it still all falls apart. The categories aren't equal, but I think they're close to being equal.

    What I really wanted to accomplish here was to not just bang on London's shortcomings, but also highlight his strengths and try to paint an objective (or at least quasi-objective) portrait of our head coach at this point in his career. We're all down on him right now after the way he coached that Virginia Tech game, but it's important to remember it's not all bad -- there's still hope.

    Anyway, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. It is greatly appreciated!

  3. This is the key piece for me, courtesy of anon: "London has to find good assistants that he can trust to delegate schemes and game-day responsibilities, if he is to succeed. " If you can't get it done, make sure someone else does.

    That is a CEO element that London can nail THIS offseason.

  4. London does not have the qualities to be a great coach,its nothing personal its just business,here is the main factor,first of you never go backwards in winning,he has had 2 losing seasons out of 3,its time for uva to fire littlepage,there is no way for i would let a coach have another year after the way he coached against vatech,as a longtime fan im sick and tired of losing to vatech,here is the major reason london needs to go 0-3 against vatech,his decision making on the field of play is horrible which makes you wonder if this spills over into recruiting,i would say it does,our first 3 years under groh was twice as exciting,London pack your bags its time to go