RB coach London calm, collected on field

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
2:06
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Charles London carries his rolled-up notes like a newspaper. He strolls through much of practice without even glancing at them.

It's instinctual. The running backs coach points and directs with the papers like a teacher might use a pointer on a blackboard or map. The assistant doesn't yell, doesn't raise his voice; he just tries to guide his tailbacks much like the professors on campus.

"I think players really see your personality, so I'm a bit of a laid-back guy," London said Thursday. "I think if I was to go out there and rave and holler, I think guys would see through that. Guys know your personality, and they expect to coach to your personality."

So maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise when the calm coach dismisses talk of panic when four of his tailbacks fell to the turf earlier this season. In Week 4, a cruel spate of injuries forced London to plug in his fifth-stringer -- last year's third-string fullback -- in Zach Zwinak.

London just continued to coach, advise and go to the next guy .. and the next guy ... and the next. And, as much of the Big Ten now knows, London cooly coached up Zwinak -- who accepted his role and developed into a team-leading bruiser.

"Coach London is a great coach," Zwinak said. "He's really a great guy. He communicates well with us, and he's had a hand in all aspects of my game. He's definitely helping me become a better back."

The bald, clean-shaven coach speaks in an even tone during the 30 minutes practice is open to the media. While Bill O'Brien and Mac McWhorter's voices sometimes carry across the field, London sounds more as if he's carrying on a conversation with his players.

He's loudest during the position drills as his runners weave through tackling dummies or he claws at the pigskin to knock it loose.

"Attaboy, Curtis!" he says, still holding those notes. "That's the way, Billy!"

London, a man in his mid-30s, treasures his time on the field with this staff -- even between the incessant Southern sayings from McWhorter and the shouts from the head coach. London pledged his loyalty to O'Brien in 2006 when the head coach first promoted him to Duke running backs coach -- and he hasn't forgotten who partially gave him his start.

London jumped to the NFL once O'Brien bolted from the Blue Devils, and he figured he'd remain in the league and fight through the ranks. Then O'Brien came calling. And he couldn't refuse the dimple-chinned coach's pleas to take over Penn State's tailbacks.

"One day would I like to be a head coach? Certainly," London said. "But, right now, I'm very content and happy coaching the running backs."

Words pour out of the soft-spoken London's mouth like water from a silver pitcher; he's quick and smooth, whether he's at practice, over a teleconference or waiting to go home after a game. He never stutters, barely pauses, but it's difficult to imagine his mind can be moving as fast as his lips. London has a lot to say, a lot to do, and he doesn't waste time.

When his tailbacks lick their wounds and walk back to their apartments after practice, London doesn't just drive home and click on Sportscenter. He reaches out to recruits. Last Friday, he was in Fork Union (Va.) to see 2013 commits Christian Hackenberg and Tanner Hartman.

And when he's not on the road, he's on the phone. Lancaster (Pa.) Catholic tailback Roman Clay doesn't even hold an offer, but London speaks with him every week.

Maybe it's the teacher inside him -- or the motivated man working toward a head-coaching job -- but London doesn't take time off. He just rolls up those notes, directs his players and does everything he can to find new ones.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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