Mike London, Michael Rocco, Penn State, and the game of, ‘What if?’

Well before Bill O’Brien’s name was publicly linked to the Penn State head coaching vacancy, one name kept popping up as someone many thought would be a great fit: Virginia coach Mike London. 


Various reports suggested Penn State reached out to London, the 2011 Atlantic Coach Conference's coach of the year who led the Cavaliers to an 8-4 record and their first bowl appearance since 2007. 


London apparently wasn’t interested. In the offseason, the 51-year-old signed a two-year contract extension with Virginia and earned a raise, increasing his annual salary to $2.1 million. He denied any contact with Penn State.


Either way, as the Nittany Lions face London’s Cavaliers this weekend in Charlottesville, many fans will be asking: Could we have, should we have and would we have signed London? If so, how would things be different?


London has dramatically improved the Cavaliers since taking over in 2009. Most notably, he has upped recruiting, particularly with in-state products. A good example is with quarterback Michael Rocco, who attended Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Virginia.


Rocco is another person Nittany Lion fans might be wondering, “What if?” about.


Rocco’s father played quarterback at Penn State and was a member of the Nittany Lions' 1982 National Championship team. His grandfather was a longtime administrative assistant for the Nittany Lions and coached the tight ends in 1985.


Rocco committed to Louisville out of high school, but when the school changed coaches, he opened up recruitment. 


Penn State presented Rocco with a grayshirt offer. On a teleconference call on Monday, Rocco said the offer came after Rob Bolden (now with LSU) and Paul Jones (No. 2 on the depth chart behind senior Matt McGloin) had committed. 


"It was one of the top five schools,” Rocco said. “But I became a Cavalier.”


Rocco was immediately impressed by London’s pro-style offense, which was similar to what Rocco played in high school. 


“Play action, drop back passes, something I’d been doing my entire life,” Rocco said.


Rocco also loved London’s character, calling him “a man of faith,” which was important to the quarterback.


Rocco accepted London’s full scholarship offer, something Penn State could not offer right away. 


So this game has a little extra meaning for Rocco, who has memories of going to Penn State games when he was little. The last time he went to Beaver Stadium was his junior year of high school. 


"I'm really just treating it as another game," Rocco said. "Even though it's a childhood memory of mine, I'm at UVA now."


Indeed, Rocco is at UVA now. So is London. And no matter what happens on Saturday, fans will have to keep wondering if things would be different if either chose to be a Nittany Lion. 


--Emily Kaplan