Richmond coach Mike London stays true to his principles amid Virginia rumors

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Mike London loves this time of year. Rivalry games. Postseason drama. Championship stakes.

Life as a college football coach doesn't get any better.

But London is learning to detest this time of year as well. Back-channel contacts. Back-stabbing colleagues. Media speculation.

Life as a principled and successful college football coach doesn't get more squeamish.

This afternoon, London guides fourth-ranked Richmond against fifth-ranked William and Mary in the South's oldest rivalry. It is the regular-season finale for both, rich in conference and playoff implications.

But as London and the Spiders prepare to defend their national title — they are a lock for the playoff field that will be revealed Sunday — another story looms:

London's future.

Shortly after its season concludes Nov. 28, the University of Virginia will dismiss Al Groh after nine years as head coach. London is a logical candidate, and the Cavaliers could not hire a more stand-up gentleman to revive the program.

But how to approach the courtship? How to answer questions from reporters, recruits and superiors?

More to the point, how to inspire players and staff to pursue a championship when everyone in the room knows you may soon exit?

London, 49 and a Bethel High graduate, doesn't ride the turnip truck to work. As a Richmond detective, he confronted bad guys and loaded guns. As a dad, he donated bone marrow to his daughter — she's now healthy. As a head coach and assistant, he's navigated every imaginable game storm.

This is different.

In his second year as a head coach — the Spiders are a sterling 22-4 on his watch — London is new to the machinations that drive marquee searches at major universities, machinations that offend his senses of integrity and commitment.

To wit: Many schools retain search firms to approach potential candidates and/or their representatives, the better to cover backsides and allow all parties to deny direct contact. This third-party communication often occurs with the current coach still in place.

If there's mutual interest, head-hunters often encourage candidates to speak with schools during the season. Many have no qualms.

I believe London does.

He respects his peers. He appreciates the Richmond brass. He considers his players family.

Interviewing for a position that's not yet open? Pursuing another job while his team still is playing?

That may be how others operate in the cut-throat coaching world, but not London.

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