Coach Mike London's Plan To Revive Virginia Football
It's a brand new day in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Usually when a team wins three games the previous season, it's hard to feel optimistic about the future.
Particularly given the question marks surrounding the Cavaliers in 2010.
A new defensive scheme, an inconsistent quarterback, inexperienced running backs, and an offensive line that needs to be perfect if the Cavaliers are going to compete in the ACC are all causes to make Virginia fans apprehensive about their prospects this fall.
However, despite all the questions entering 2010, one man is quickly instilling confidence, not only in the players, but, in a fan base that has been gripped with apathy and anger for years.
Head coach Mike London knew the challenge he had before him long before he took to the podium to accept the job as head coach of the Cavaliers.
Sure, he has to worry about the talent, schemes, recruiting, media relations, and everything else under the sun that comes with being a head football coach.
However, London knows one of the most important things he can do is bring the fans back to Scott Stadium.
Even though it may have looked like a library last season, Virginia has enjoyed quite the home-field advantage over the years. It may not get the publicity or credit of Lane Stadium just down the road in Blacksburg, or Death Valley with the Clemson Tigers, however, the numbers speak for themselves.
From 2002-2005, Virginia lost a grand total of four games at home. Two of those losses came in the last possession, the three ACC losses were to teams that had a combined record of 29-9 for the season.
In other words, the Cavaliers were able to take advantage of an intimidating environment.
However, as the overall quality of football has gone down, so has the atmosphere. The Sea of Orange that former coach Al Groh helped create when he arrived has turned to a small creek.
Last season, Virginia took on Boston College in the next to last home game of the season. Just over 44,000 people showed up to that game, nearly 20,000 short of capacity.
By comparison, in 2004, 57,868 people showed up to watch the Cavaliers take on the mighty Akron Zips.
In the words of Bob Dylan, "The times they were a-changing."
London knows that the best thing he can do to get fans back in the seats is to win. However, that's pretty hard to do when you still have three weeks until the football season starts and ticket sales are lagging behind projected totals.
Winning and fans may go hand-in-hand, but it's also a chicken or the egg situation. Ravenous fans help you win, but it's hard to get 60,000 people to tailgate and paint their faces when you won three games last year.
Coach London, instead of sitting around and waiting for September, has been actively recruiting.
No, not football players, although he has organized several commitments for 2011. His biggest recruiting job has been for fans.
Fortunately, it appears to be working.
It first began with a scrimmage at Old Dominion University. Shipping his team's practice out to the hotbed recruiting territory of Hampton Roads not only helped revive the Virginia Cavalier brand, it helped bring past Virginia players from the area, like former quarterback Marques Hagans, back to the sideline.
These connections help build ties, relationships, and re-create pipelines that had burst under the previous regime.
Then came Virginia Football: The Building of a Program. This television series, hosted by NFL great Howie Long, documents the transition that has taken place and developed features stories on many of the Virginia playmakers.
Their own version of Hard Knocks, this program has broadcast throughout the dog days of summer on Comcast Sports Net. It helps get the Cavalier name out there, whether it's inspiring a reticent fan or intriguing a potential new one.
No matter how big or small the impact has it helps Virginia emerge from the relative anonymity it has experienced lately.
This past week, coach London once again demonstrated just how well he understands his recruiting job.
Picking up 100 tickets in section 117, London offered the tickets for the entire season free of charge.
That's right, free tickets for up to four people depending on your family size.
Although it does come at a cost. Contestants had to write an essay explaining why they were a passionate and loyal fan of Virginia football.
It didn't end there, though.
They then will have to commit to attending every single home game that season as well as acting as a leaders for the section.
Rewarding the "super fan" is very rare, particularly in college athletics. Most of the time, the diehard must sit in the nose bleeds while the million dollar donor uses his or her one ticket a season and leaves that seat empty the rest of the year.
Now there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both concepts, but it certainly is nice to see a change of culture at Virginia.
There's no better way to say it, Mike London "gets" it. He knows what he has to do to be successful, it comes from the experience of being a two-time coordinator here.
Virginia may not be for everyone, but it's a relationship that London was built for.
London has a plan, now it's time to execute it.
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