brought his "A" game Monday. His Virginia football team needs to be even better Saturday at
The Cavaliers share last place in the ACC's Coastal Division and are concluding their third consecutive losing season. They've fallen to their state rivals six consecutive years and 10 of the last 11.
The Hokies have clinched the Coastal and are on the brink of their seventh straight season of 10 or more wins, a national best. They dump-trucked Virginia last November, and many expect the same Saturday.
Yet five days before kickoff, London preached like
in his prime and sold like
in "Glengarry Glen Ross." He was confident, self-effacing and resolute.
Can he revive U.Va. football? Regardless, it won't be for lack of enthusiasm and charisma.
"I'm not going to walk around uptight," London said. "It's hard enough as it is to win games. The main thing that I always keep thinking about is they're 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old bodies, but inside of those bodies beat the heart of somebody's child. It does me no good and them no good to ridicule or belittle them. … If you're a step slow in making a play, then that's what you are."
Make no mistake, the Cavaliers' shortcomings, record and recent failures against Virginia Tech gnaw at London the coach. In his first season running the Virginia program, he plots daily how to reverse those trends and insists he's making progress.
But this team has touched London the father with its academic diligence, community service and camaraderie, especially in the wake of family deaths that struck players Colter Phillips and Corey Mosley.
"So wins and losses, that's important," London said. "But right now I've got to deal with guys staying focused about who they are, about school work, about maintaining their eligibility, about still being good teammates to guys who have lost relatives. …
"So this is a game you want to win. But the bigger picture for me right now is educating and embracing the guys who need someone to put their arms around right now. And that's my approach to the whole thing. I want to win the game, but I also want to train up and be a mentor and role model to players that when something bad happens, and it's happened a lot this year, that we're not looking to run and hide.
"We're not looking to hang our heads. So why wouldn't I want to make practice engaging and fun, and make it so these guys have a positive experience, even though the record indicates otherwise?"
If London's players are discouraged by their 4-7 overall record and 1-6 ACC mark, they hide it well.
"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world," junior safety Dom Joseph said. "We're not down. The team is very encouraged. We approach every day the same way."
As does London. He's always in sales mode, knowing and/or hoping that every public remark might find the ear of a prospect, parent or high school coach.
But he has a lighter side, as when he revealed Monday that as a
assistant he interviewed for a position on
's Virginia Tech staff following the 1995 season.
"I'm always joking Jim Cavanaugh, because that is the guy that Coach Beamer hired," London said. "So I can't stay mad at Cav because his wife taught my wife at
The mind spins pondering how different college football in the commonwealth would be had Beamer hired London. But London was comparably green then, and Cavanaugh, an ACC institution with stops at North Carolina State,
, Virginia and
, has been an invaluable recruiter for Virginia Tech.
London was a Cavaliers assistant the last time they beat the Hokies, in 2003. But Saturday is his first time in the rivalry as the head coach.
Daunting odds aside, he remains the eternal optimist, much like his father.
"The determination and resolve," London said. "That's all I know. Wilson London was 30 years Air Force, retired Air Force. … So I'm going to continue to coach my guys positive. It will catch. The light will come on. I'm sure of it."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at