Now that the Athletic Department has made it official and shown Mike London the door, Virginia fans are left to look back at what was and wonder what could have been. Danny covered some of the stats of London's tenure already. This is meant to be more of a subjective look, giving credit where it's due but not sugar-coating the past six years either.
Mike London is a hell of a recruiter. He was when he was an assistant under Groh and proved his worth quickly as the head man at U.Va. According to 24/7's recruiting class rankings, Virginia averaged about 7th or 8th in the ACC (as currently composed) during Groh's last six years, with a marked dropoff after 2005. Discounting the 2010 class that suffered through coaching turnover, London's classes have averaged about 6th. Not a huge difference overall, but London's strongest classes were right at the beginning of his tenure, restocking the cupboards that Groh's tenure had left bare.
Go back and watch the last few episodes of The Building of a Program. Watch London read the statements he had asked his players to write, about why they play football and for whom they were playing. I wanted to run through a brick wall for the man and for the program, and I was experiencing it on YouTube weeks after the fact. The reports around the program were that Groh had run morale into the ground, and London inherited a team that didn't think it could win. Mike London turned around the attitude of the program.
Groh's final years were also marred by repeated incidents of player misconduct, like the Peter Lalich debacle that derailed the 2008 season. Those things haven't happened during London's six years. But more than just the absence of bad, London's Cavaliers have been an active good. His coordination with Jimbo Fisher to support bone marrow donations, and the team's en masse registration for bone marrow drives every year, have been an exemplar of community service.
One thing that didn't change from Groh to London was the topsy-turvy quarterback situation. While QBs changed frequently under Groh, under London they would leave the program and flourish elsewhere. As a result, Virginia's quarterback play has been some of the worst in the country over the past ten years. This recurring theme reemerged this spring when Greyson Lambert left a Virginia team that hadn't made a bowl game in four years and started for a preseason top-ten SEC team.
Nothing doomed the Cavaliers, especially in 2015, like big plays—both the ones they gave up and the ones they couldn't get. A win against Notre Dame evaporated with Will Fuller's ability to get behind the defense. In the final game against Virginia Tech, the Hoos gave up 141 yards on three plays but only 163 on the other 56. When a UVa opponent could struggle for the vast majority of a game but get points with one or two outbursts, the Hoos often couldn't respond.
Virginia is 113th this season in penalties per game, averaging 7.5 a game. Over the last six years, we've taken to calling an illegal substitution or illegal participation penalty the Mike London Special—who can forget KHALEK GET OFF THE FIELD? London's teams never seemed to display the mental discipline that kept them from committing silly errors.
0-6 against Virginia Tech. 1-5 against North Carolina. London inherited a six-year losing streak to VPISU but extended it another six years on his own. The Carolina results were even more disheartening, as the Hoos lost by more than 20 points in three games under London.
Entering Saturday's tilt, the Hoos were 104th in FootballOutsider's FEI special teams rankings. This is familiar territory, as Virginia consistently rated among the bottom half of the FBS (including a second-to-last finish in 2012). The inability to make correct decisions on returning kickoffs out of the end zone seemed to put UVa behind the eight ball more drives than it helped them.
How many games were piddled away by decisions that made absolutely no sense? The 2012 loss to Tech, when London didn't use his timeouts to give the Hoos the ball back with time to do anything in favor of icing the Hokies' kicker, was the crowning mal-accomplishment in this regard.