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London, Sidbury Making Richmond Football History
The national championship wasn’t the only first for the 2008 University of Richmond football team.
In addition to the football team winning its first NCAA Football Championship Subdivision National Championship in 2008, two members of the team achieved firsts for the school.
Head Coach Mike London was voted the American Football Coaches Association’s FCS Coach of the Year, and senior defensive end Lawrence Sidbury Jr. was invited to the National Football League Combine and two senior bowl games.
London is the first Richmond coach to win the prestigious coaching award, which is determined by all of the active head coaches in the five divisions of college football. The rookie coach led the Spiders to a school record 13-win season and the school’s first NCAA national championship in any sport.
London said his coaching staff was the best in the country and credited the coaches for his success this season. The organization was also meticulously well run from top to bottom, he said.
“[As a head coach], you try to surround yourself with people that are passionate,” London said. “You want guys that really care and establish relationships with these players. If a guy is in a bad mood and isn’t hustling, we don’t blow the whistle and make him run laps. We talk to him and see what’s wrong and, most importantly, we do everything in our power to help him get through it. These guys aren’t super-human. They’re like you and me and when you show compassion, you earn their respect.”
London’s principal philosophy is that every year is a fresh start and no matter how many returning players and new players there are, he treats them all as if it’s the first day of their college careers, he said.
“You come in and you try to change a culture,” London said. “The only two rules we have are go to class and show class. Showing class is the way you react to success and failure, good grades and bad grades, fellow students and players. It is really gratifying to hear commentators and analysts say we showed class on the field.”
London also credits the team’s success to all of the adversity players overcame on and off the field, he said. This year, many players dealt with family illnesses and deaths, he said. After a shaky 4-3 start, the players treated each game for the remainder of the season as a one-game playoff, he said.
London graduated from Richmond in 1983 with a degree in sociology and played defensive back for four seasons. He also spent five years —1988-89 and 1994-96 — as the outside linebackers’ coach and recruiting coordinator for Richmond. Knowing the school’s history and having been a student enabled him to do well in his first season as head coach, he said.
London had a brief NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys after graduating from Richmond. In 1984, he graduated from the Richmond Police Academy and from 1985 to 1987, served as a detective for the street crimes unit.
Between his two stints coaching at Richmond, he coached the defensive line at the College of William and Mary. After leaving Richmond in 1996, London coached the defensive lines at Boston College and the University of Virginia for four years each. He returned to the NFL for one year as the Houston Texans’ defensive line coach and then returned to Virginia, where he was the defensive coordinator for two years. At Virginia, he grabbed the attention of Richmond athletic officials, who considered him for the head coaching position here. On Jan. 19, 2008, Richmond hired London to replace coach Dave Clawson.
London is busy working on recruitment for next season, he said. He would love to win another national championship and even another coach of the year award, but his expectations are sensible, he said. Asked if he felt pressure to succeed next year, London replied with a quick no.
“Pressure is staring down the barrel of a gun,” London said. “I don’t feel stress or pressure when it comes to football, because I have had enough experiences of life and death. When you put it in perspective, winning and losing and playing to people’s expectations isn’t worth stressing over.”
The other history-making member of the Spiders this year was Lawrence Sidbury Jr. He was invited to the NFL Combine, played in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 17 in Houston, Texas, and played in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.
Sidbury was only the seventh Spider to play in the Under Armour Senior Bowl, which has long been the nation’s most prestigious bowl. He is one of only five FCS players to be invited to the game this year. The game featured the best of this year’s NFL draft class. Sidbury, part of the South team, played with some of the finest seniors from across the nation. This year, the staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars coached his team.
Although former Spiders have been to senior bowl games — running back Tim Hightower represented Richmond in the Texas vs. The Nation All Star Game last year — and have been invited to the NFL combine before — wide receiver Arman Shields competed in the NFL Combine last year — never has one been invited to both a senior bowl game and the NFL Combine in the same year. Sidbury played in two senior bowl games at that.
Sidbury had 11.5 sacks this season, which ranks third on the Richmond all-time single season list. His 20.5 sacks in his career rank fourth all-time at Richmond. Sidbury had four of the seven total sacks in the national championship game, where the Spiders defeated the University of Montana 24-7.
“Lawrence only started playing when he was a senior in high school,” London said. “He got here as a raw, untapped talent that had not yet realized his full potential. His first two years he had injuries and multiple assistant coaches that each tried to teach him something different. And then all of a sudden he bursts on the scene. And the best part is that he still hasn’t peaked. He is going to get better and better for a while.”
London said he thought Sidbury had a promising career in the NFL, but thought he would do well in life no matter what he did.
“Tim [Hightower] and Lawrence and all of the other fine players that have come through here represent what the Richmond football player is,” London said. “These guys go to an academically rigorous school and they leave with the tools to do well and succeed at anything in life.”
London, Sidbury making Richmond football history
By Nick Mider, The Richmond Collegian