When longtime William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock called it a career after 249 wins and 39 seasons at his alma mater, the university athletic brass turned to a former rival.
Mike London, an alum of Richmond and former Spiders head coach, returns to the Colonial Athletic Association after a decade away. London spent two seasons at the helm of his alma mater, which included a national championship in 2008 and spending most of the 2009 season ranked No. 1.
London spent six seasons at the University of Virginia and two at Howard before accepting the rare vacancy at William & Mary, replacing a legendary coach who London once faced as an opposing player.
The CAA landscape has evolved since London was a coach at Richmond, and certainly in his playing days, pre-dating the conference’s existence. But a constant from that championship run a decade ago is the league’s depth.
“The CAA is the strongest FCS conference there is,” London said at CAA media day. “Five of our opponents are preseason Top 25.”
Such a stacked deck makes a breakthrough in Year 1 a tall order for the new staff. However, a bevy of returning experience on defense could make William & Mary the surprise spoiler in a competitive conference race.
Head Coach: Mike London (first year at William & Mary; 11th season overall, 62-61)
Offensive Coordinator: Brennan Marion
Defensive Coordinator: Vincent Brown
2018 Record: 4-6 (3-4 CAA)
2019 Preseason Poll: 11th, 58 points
Vincent Brown takes over defensive coordinating duties at William & Mary with a resume as a player few can match. He was a star for the New England Patriots from 1988 through 1995. As a coach, his legacy in the NFL continued with two of his former UConn Huskies, Byron Jones and Obi Melifonwu, going in the NFL Draft's first and second rounds, respectively.
Brown’s NFL and FBS experience should translate nicely for a defense with big-time potential. Safety Isaiah Laster is a pro-caliber playmaker coming off a 2018 in which he recorded 65 tackles, picked off four passes, and deflected five passes. The talented Laster headlines a secondary also returning Corey Parker, a Preseason All-CAA honorable mention nominee.
The Tribe also have an All-CAA honoree up front in Bill Murray, a big-bodied presence on the line (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) who made 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He’s joined by Will Kiely, a starter in all 10 games of his sophomore 2018, and promising third-year sophomore Carl Fowler.
Add a deep linebackers corps with Arman Jones and last season’s leading tackler Nate Atkins, and the Tribe defense should have William & Mary competitive throughout the Colonial season.
With William & Mary finishing 2018 ranked last in the CAA for scoring offense—at 13.6, by a considerable margin from No. 11 New Hampshire at 17.1—one of London’s first objectives was injecting more life into that side of the ball.
“One of the things we want to do is be high-tempo, uptempo, run a lot of plays,” London said at CAA media day. “We want to stretch the defense vertically and horizontally … try to create mismatches.”
In 2008, the national championship-winning Richmond team posted 31.6 points per game. In 2009, the Spiders averaged a shade below 30 points per game.
Now, a decade is a veritable lifetime in college football, and schemes change dramatically. That’s why one has to like London’s hiring of the young Brennan Marion to oversee William & Mary’s offense. A former standout wide receiver at Tulsa, Marion played in the wide-open attack Todd Graham made a hallmark of his coaching career.
Marion later worked as an assistant with Graham at Arizona State, before coordinating the offenses for London at Howard. Marion’s system fostered the dual-threat playmaking of Caylin Newton, younger brother of 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Returning William & Mary quarterback Shon Mitchell wouldn’t exactly qualify as dual-threat—he rushed for -99 yards in 2018—but his two touchdowns on the ground were tied for most on the team. That speaks to the need William & Mary has for a more consistent ground game after finishing 2018 ranked No. 123 out of 124 FCS programs in rushing yardage (55.3 per game).
All-CAA defensive lineman Bill Murray’s length causes problems in the pass rush, as well as on special teams. He blocked three kicks in 2018, tied for fourth-most in the nation and tied for best in the CAA.
On the flipside, punter Will Michael had three kicks blocked. He also pinned opponents inside the 20 nine times, however.
London said at CAA media day that the plan is for the Tribe to be “unconventional” on special teams in 2019. What that entails is one of the more intriguing developments to watch in the Tribe’s first few weeks of competition.
Lafayette, Aug. 31 | Watch Live: The Tribe played Lafayette four consecutive seasons from 2012 through 2015, going 3-1 in that stretch. The only loss came in the first contest.
@ Virginia, Sept . 7: This year’s meeting marks the fourth of the decade between William & Mary and Virginia. The Tribe lost a 35-29 heartbreaker in 2015, London’s last season with the Cavaliers, and won the 2009 meeting, 26-14.
Colgate, Sept. 14 | Watch Live: The standard-bearer of the Patriot League in recent years, Colgate’s used a physical brand of football to become a viable title contender. William & Mary is one of three CAA teams to face the Raiders in 2019.
@ East Carolina, Sept. 21: First-year East Carolina head coach Mike Houston helmed William & Mary CAA counterpart James Madison from 2016 through 2018, reaching the FCS Playoffs all three seasons; finishing as national runner-up in 2017; and, in 2016, winning the Colonial’s first national championship since Villanova’s 2009 title. The Tribe finished 0-3 against Houston’s Dukes teams.
@ UAlbany*, Sept. 28 | Watch Live: A pair of Shon Mitchell touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- one via pass, the second via the rush with 50 seconds remaining -- powered William & Mary to a 25-22 win over UAlbany in 2018. Although the Great Danes joined the CAA in 2013, last year’s meeting was the first between the programs.
Villanova*, Oct. 5 | Watch Live: The Tribe held off a fourth-quarter rally from Villanova last season, in which a 24-7 advantage was nearly wiped out, to score their final win of the campaign. William & Mary seeks it third consecutive win in the series.
James Madison*, Oct. 19 | Watch Live: William & Mary seeks its first win over James Madison since a 44-41 thriller in 2015. The Dukes won the last two by 32 and 51 points.
@ Maine*, Oct. 26 | Watch Live: A 90-yard Arman Jones pick-six and Jalen Christian’s 30-yard touchdown reception were two critical scores in William & Mary’s marquee win over CAA champion Maine last season. The Tribe handed the Black Bears their sole conference loss, and last loss until the national semifinals.
@ Elon*, Nov. 2 | Watch Live: Hurricane Florence led to the cancellation of last season’s scheduled meeting between these two programs. Elon won the 2017 encounter, 25-17.
Rhode Island*, Nov. 9 | Watch Live: William & Mary’s only touchdown came via a scoop-and-score in last year’s 21-10 loss to the Rams. The two programs last played previously in 2013.
Towson*, Nov. 16 | Watch Live: Reigning and Preseason CAA Offensive Player of the Year Tom Flacco went for more than 100 yards both rushing and passing against the Tribe a season ago. Slowing the electrifying Towson quarterback this time around will be critical for William & Mary — particularly if the Tribe are in the Playoffs hunt at this juncture of the season.
@ Richmond*, Nov. 23 | Watch Live: The Capital Cup dates back to 1898, and 2019 marks the series’ 130th meeting. The programs are remarkably tied over that stretch, 62-62-5, with the Spiders grinding out a 10-6 win last season.