Virginia head coach Mike London chatted with reporters at the ACC Media Days in Pinehurst, North Carolina earlier this week about the upcoming season ahead, exceeding expectations this fall, and managing the tough schedule the Cavaliers face. All quotes below courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Q. Don’t know whether you saw the news, but the ACC media picked you to finish last in the ACC Coastal division this season. What makes you believe that you’re going to be better than a lot of people think?
COACH LONDON: First of all, the players that you probably have talked to already, David Dean and Canaan Severin, are a fair representative of our group of players on this team, very confident. Our players are very excited about the opportunities that are presented to us. We’re talking about opportunities of who we play. We’re talking about players that stayed, players that are on our team that came to the program. We’re talking about results. It’s important for us to have positive results this year. But the mindset of the leadership that are on this team currently are guys that have a can-do attitude. That’s probably the biggest thing. We focus on the positive. We let the negative speak for itself. We don’t focus on those things. This is a very focused and determined football team.
Q. Looking at this team and looking at what your expectations are, you’ve been somebody that on and off the field has taught how to handle adversity and handle it well. What can you say about whether you’re picked last, things you can’t control, what you’re doing to control what you can?
COACH LONDON: That’s a great point. Not only one of the things with the players, but myself, my job is to make sure we’re successful. My obligation is to make sure the program is successful. It’s to operate within our strengths. Not only with the players, but even the coaches. To operate in the things that will make us a better football team. We talked about some of the negative things that might be out there. Life is full of negativity. It’s how you respond to it. It’s how you model the type of behavior, what comes out of your mouth, actions, things like that that are important. We focus on the positive. We focus on the can-do. We focus on the opportunities that are in front of us. Whether as a police officer or a bone marrow donor, whatever that is, my dedication to this sport, the young men that I serve, is very much involved with that. Our eyes are moving forward.
Q. You’re going to call them opportunities, but looking at your schedule, the first four names looks like murder’s row. Maybe your program is ready for this. What do you think?
COACH LONDON: The schedule is the schedule. You look at the glass as half empty. I look at the glass as half filled. I look at it as what does it need? It needs to be filled. My goal is to get this team, this program, players, coaches, alike, to buy into the fact that there are opportunities for this team. We’re not afraid to play anybody. You look at the schedules over the course of the time that I’ve been here. We’ll travel. We’ve brought teams into Charlottesville to play. We have a winning record at home. We talked about the can-do attitude. That’s the mindset. So our players are excited about this. You can characterize the schedule as teams as who they are, they’re very good teams. But you can’t characterize young men that believe in themselves, and this group of young men believe in themselves. That’s our focus. We’re looking forward to the opportunities not only on the road, but at home.
Q. Mike, you made a decision on the quarterbacks. You chose Matt Johns. Can you explain a little bit what went into that. Will that decision help you get over the hump, so to speak, and win these close games?
COACH LONDON: Matt did a tremendous job in spring practice. Obviously we looked at every rep. We graded every rep, every seven-on-seven, every one-on-one, every mental error, every opportunity, every alignment issue, everything he could correct as far as not only his play, but directing the football team, offensive football team. I remember a game against UCLA where Matt went in the game. He was going in the game. I grabbed him before he went out. I said, Are you ready to go? Matt grabbed me by my arm and said, I’ve been ready for this my whole life. As a coach you want those players to have that type of confidence in themselves. Matt is a leader that our players embrace, support, want on the field, is a guy that’s going to be out in front for us. We’re excited about Matt and his opportunities to lead this football team. I believe Matt will do so.
Q. Coach, 2011 was the last time Virginia went to a bowl game. I know that’s been a thorn in the side of UVA fans. What gives you the confidence that this year you’re going to break through and go bowling again?
COACH LONDON: We talked finishing and things like that. 2011 we won four games literally on the last play of the game. It’s just how close you are in games that you can win or lose. The fact that our team is an older team. I believe we have 13 graduates on our team, which is most in the ACC. The addition of two key staff members, Dave Borbely, Chris Beatty, have had tremendous impact on our football team collectively, and recruiting-wise as well. Again, just the opportunity for guys like Canaan Severin and David Dean, that have kind of been in the fray of things, and the things that they have demanded from their teammates. It’s important for all of us to operate within our strengths, not to worry about the things you can’t control, but control the things that you can. We’ve seen that this year. We’ve seen it coming out of spring practice, one of the best spring practices we’ve had since I’ve been there. It’s important that we continue that on.
Q. David and Canaan had a lot to say about those four games where you lost very close late in the season. How much of that has given the leadership an edge and how much gives it confidence in terms of what they can do, but also what they saw themselves lose?
COACH LONDON: It talks about how close you are, literally being one play away, a possession away, a series away. The ability of how important it is to finish. As I said, I have to make sure that our team is operating in its strength, but each individual has to operate in their own strengths. That’s one of the things that’s been a focal point for us. Finish, as we talked about, and results, which is important. It’s been discussed about the schedule, it’s been discussed about a lot of things. The only way you can confirm or take care of those things is finishing and operating on things you know you’re capable of doing. I believe this team, this staff, is capable of giving us opportunities to be in post-season play. That’s important.
Q. When camp opens up in the next couple of weeks, what’s the first thing that has to happen within the first couple days of camp to set that tone for you guys?
COACH LONDON: One of the things will be to define our linebacker situation. You look at our linebackers, we have one linebacker that’s had a career start. That’s Zach Bradshaw. Our secondary defensive line has over 120 starts. That’s strong. Offensive line is strong. Four starters returning. Jay Whitmire, a guy that started two years ago, looks like he’ll be back. So kind of defining that linebacker position for us will be key, will be critical. Having a chance to evaluate Connor Brewer who is coming in as a quarterback from Texas by way of Arizona. Corwin Cutler, who is a redshirt, very talented guy, find out who that guy will be. But particularly probably the linebacker position is one that we’re going to have to decide on quickly.