Mike London is upbeat about his uphill battle to rebuild Howard University football

By Harry Minium
The Virginian-Pilot

As a Richmond police detective, Mike London escaped death only by chance. He was working an undercover beat, wearing a beard, long hair and an earring when he jumped into a van full of young men suspected of pulling off a series of robberies.

A juvenile put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed. That’s the only reason London is alive today.

In 2003, when London’s daughter, Ticynn, was 7, she was suffering from a rare genetic blood disorder called Fanconi anemia. Without a bone marrow transplant, she would almost certainly die, doctors said, adding there was one chance in 10,000 that Mike London’s bone marrow would match hers.

He beat the odds, donated bone marrow to her at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and his daughter is now a senior at Old Dominion University.

London, a Hampton native and graduate of Bethel High School, has seven children and two grandchildren. He won a Football Championship Subdivision national title at Richmond in 2008. He’s mentored hundreds of football players who have become successful businessmen and fathers.

So don’t feel sorry for him that he didn’t quite cut it as head coach at the University of Virginia, where he resigned in 2015 after winning just 27 games in six seasons.

Wins and losses don’t mean nearly as much to London as life and death and family.

“I had a great time at U.Va.,” he said Friday. “I was very blessed in many ways there.

“But more important than anything else that happened there, my daughter is living. Whatever went on there, she’s a senior and I was the donor.”

At that point, his voice trailed off as he choked up with tears, as it often does when he speaks of Ticynn.

Nearly two years after being forced out at U.Va., London is starting over again as a coach at a very different level.

He was safely ensconced as Maryland’s associate head coach with a salary and guaranteed bonuses of $400,000 this season. Then officials from Howard University called and asked him to come help the Bison rebuild one of the MEAC’s worst programs.

It was a hard sell. He would take a big pay cut, although severance from U.Va. would help. Howard has had just one winning season in the past 12. The Bison have gone 1-10 three times and 2-9 twice. Their facilities are ancient, including a stadium that hasn’t seen a significant refurbishment in decades.

But he was intrigued by the school’s academics – Howard is ranked by some publications as the nation’s best historically black college – and its location in urban Washington. And after wresting some concessions, including a promise to begin upgrading facilities, he took the job.

On Friday morning, dressed smartly with a Howard tie and pin on his lapel at MEAC media day at the Waterside Marriott Hotel, London was upbeat even though coaches picked the Bison to finish ninth out of 11 teams.

He’s assembled one of the MEAC’s most distinguished coaching staffs, one that includes former U.Va. and ODU assistant coach Chip West, former U.Va. assistant Vince Brown and his son, Michael Jr. Last winter, the staff quickly pieced together a 23-player recruiting class that was ranked first in the MEAC by recruiting services.

Recruiting was always a strong point for London, who dominated in that department in South Hampton Roads when he was at U.Va.

Asked about his record at Virginia, London said he prefers to look forward and not back.

But suffice it to say, his hands were tied by the school’s administration. The Cavaliers played an unrealistically difficult non-conference schedule that included UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State in his last season.

Perhaps worse were the controls administrators placed on the hiring of assistants, especially his offensive and defensive coordinators, who were hand-picked by others.

He doesn’t have an indoor practice facility nor much of a TV profile at Howard, but at least he has a free hand to run his program the way he thinks it should be run.

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