Mike London has been confronted with the business end of a gun and with a grim diagnosis for the health of his child.
He has spent time around men who would have carved out his heart for a nickel and with medical professionals and patients whose knowledge and strength and humanity brought him to his knees.
So, it's a safe bet that London is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the moment when he steps onto the field for his first game as head coach at Virginia.
Even in his current profession, he has experienced more compelling scenarios. He snatched victory in the final seconds of a playoff game and watched helplessly as the same thing was done to him. He hoisted a national championship trophy at his alma mater.
Not to say that London is blasé about today's debut against his previous employer, the
, or about the opportunity he's been given.
On the contrary, he is all-in with the program and his players, and he famously displays not only his cortex but his heart — a marked contrast to his predecessor.
"I wouldn't be human if I sat here and said it's another game," London said earlier this week. "It's not another game. That's my alma mater. I spent years there as a coach, as a player and I won championships with that team. There are coaches on that staff that I was unable to take when I came here. But I have a lot of respect for those coaches and the players."
London is quick to remind people that it was UR president Edward Ayers and athletic director
who gave him the chance to be a head coach, for which he is eternally grateful and without which he wouldn't be wearing the Big Headset in Charlottesville.
There are, in fact, so many connections between London's previous positions and his current one that it nearly defies belief. He recruited and coached players on both sidelines. He will compete with and against men he considers friends and brothers.
He has walked into Scott Stadium as challenger, as favorite and now as program savior. His memories are vivid of his visit in September 2008 in just his second game as the Spiders' head coach following his second stint as a Virginia assistant.
"Pre-game, they may not want to talk to me," London said, referring to the Richmond contingent. "I understand that. After the game, hopefully, I remember when I was here before and left and went to Richmond as the head coach, before the game was kind of chilly because you're getting ready to play.
"But after the game, it's a sign of mutual respect and love that you have for the people you spent a lot of time with, that (there are) the embraces and the well-wishes. So hopefully, it'll be the same type of atmosphere before and after the game."
London's counterpart and successor, Spiders head coach Latrell Scott, understands the dynamic in play and know more than a little about the man he replaced.
Scott helped build Richmond's remarkable three-year run from 2007-09 as an assistant under London's predecessor, Dave Clawson, before he served one-year assistant's gigs at Tennessee and last year at Virginia (gets confusing, doesn't it?).
"Mike London is one of the classiest people that you'll ever meet," Scott said. "Obviously, not many people can say bad things about Mike, if you know the man. He's proven himself as a really good football coach. He came into a situation and took Richmond somewhere that we didn't take them before we left, so obviously, hats off to him. Mike's a class act and I look forward to playing against him."
It was the collegial nature of athletics and the opportunity to impact young men's lives that attracted London to coaching and away from his job as a Richmond undercover cop — not to mention the absence of gunplay on the football field.
It was his daughter Ticynn's illness and ordeal that affirmed his emphasis on faith and family. She suffered from a rare
that likely would have stolen her life had he not been deemed a match as a bone marrow donor.
Ticynn is now a happy and healthy teenager thinking about a driver's license and beyond. Her father is a head football coach in a major conference anticipating what he hopes is the first of many games at a school he reveres.
The preparation ritual is unlikely to change, London said, whether it's his first game or his 100th.
"Still the night before, Nervous Nellie, all the stuff like that," he said. "Stay up 'til one o'clock, watch SportsCenter, drive my wife nuts, stuff like that.
"As a coach, you still feel those anxieties of, have you done enough, have you prepared enough, should I have put in the triple-reverse throwback pass or something like that. I mean, after a while, it's like, hey, listen, let's go, let's play."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at