Normally this space is reserved for coverage of Virginia Tech’s home football games. By now, if you don’t know the Hokies lost 45-43 in four overtimes to Duke on Saturday, you probably won’t care enough to read further anyhow.
Instead, I want to address Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and how his tenure in Blacksburg seems to be coming to a close. First off, I need to go ahead and admit I am an unabashed, unashamed Virginia Tech homer. If you know me at all, then you knew that anyway. However, that is a critical point of this column you need to understand.
Simply put, Hokie fans should be ashamed of the way they’ve been behaving lately. Yes, Virginia Tech’s slide into football mediocrity has been swift and continual over the past four seasons. And with each loss, the groans grow louder. The whispers have turned into roars. The silent minority is now the vocal majority. A large portion of VT fans want Beamer fired or to retire. Be careful what you wish for.
If the rumors coming out of Blacksburg are true, there could be an announcement within the next week or so that this will be Beamer’s final year at the helm of the Hokies. If it’s true, I just hope the decision is that of the Carroll County native and not one forced upon him by the athletic department. If anybody deserves to go out on their own terms, it’s Beamer.
That may be hard to understand for younger Virginia Tech fans or those that have jumped on the bandwagon since Michael Vick led the Hokies to the national championship game in 1999. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make it any less true. There was a reason I mentioned earlier I was a self-proclaimed VT homer. As the nephew of someone who played high school football with Beamer at Hillsville High and the son of one of Beamer’s HHS Class of 1965 classmates, I have been attending Virginia Tech home football games for as long as I can remember.
I think I was about five years old when I attended my first Virginia Tech football game. That would have been around 1980 or 1981. For those who have just started following the Hokies in recent years, it would be impossible to describe how much VT football has changed in that time.
Back then, Lane Stadium barely held 50,000, was rarely more than half full, and there was one extremely outdated scoreboard. In those days, there was no conference affiliation, a game against East Carolina or Southern Miss was a big deal, and a 6-5 season was reason to celebrate. Finding any Virginia Tech merchandise outside of Blacksburg was next to impossible.
Since that time, Frank Beamer has taken VT football from the level of a Connecticut- or Central Florida-type program to a football-crazed town on par with SEC fanbases. Before Frank arrived in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech had gone to six bowls in its 94-year history. Last season, the Hokies went to their 22nd straight bowl, the longest current streak in the nation. Just think about it in those terms and let it sink in what the man has meant not only to the program, but to the school as a whole.
When Frank took over a program Bill Dooley left on probation, Wade’s Supermarket or Kroger’s were about the only spots to stop for tailgating supplies on the way from Fancy Gap to Blacksburg. Thanks in large part to the Hokies’ football rise in Beamer’s 29 years, not only has the town of Blacksburg exploded, so too has neighboring Christiansburg.
Prior to Beamer, Virginia Tech won three conference championships in the history of the school – the Southern Conference in 1963, and get this, the South Atlantic Conference in 1916 and 1918. Under Beamer, the Hokies have won seven conference titles, three Big East championships and four ACC crowns. To put that in perspective, the Hokies won four ACC titles in their first seven years in the league – three more than Clemson has won since 1992 when Florida State joined the ACC. That’s twice as many ACC titles as Virginia has won in 62 years as an ACC member and one less than North Carolina has won in the same time frame.
Simply put, the Virginia Tech fans calling for Beamer’s head are acting like spoiled, petulant children. Winning does that, especially in a day and age when winning, and winning big, are the only things that matter. It’s easy for fans to become spoiled and forget where they came from. And sure, there have been some questionable coaching decisions (the onside kick Saturday in the third quarter, poor clock management at the end of regulation, and a 67-yard field goal attempt), but it’s not like the man just up and forgot how to coach.
Without Beamer, Virginia Tech football would most likely be playing in the American Athletic Conference today, taking on the likes of Central Florida, UConn and Temple on a weekly basis. Games against UVa and UNC would be the best the Hokies could hope for, not the norm.
Yes, the Hokies have been trending downward the past four seasons. Now at 3-5, Virginia Tech must win three of its last four games just to go to a bowl this year. But during that time, one must also take into account almost everything that could go against the Hokies has. Last year, Beamer’s club knocked off Ohio State in their own house 35-21. Since that time, the Buckeyes went on to win the national title in 2014 and have won a national-best 21 straight games.
A win like that just doesn’t happen by accident. Things looked promising for Virginia Tech after the win in Columbus, but that particular Hokies’ team floundered after suffering through one of the worst injury-plagued seasons a Beamer-coached team has ever seen. Those types of things can’t be controlled. Even this year, the Hokies led the Buckeyes at the half until the injury bug struck again, with quarterback Michael Brewer breaking his collarbone, forcing him to miss most of the next seven games and helping send Tech on another downward spiral.
Even on Saturday, the Hokies couldn’t catch a break. A sure touchdown for Isaiah Ford in the first half was blown dead when the officials failed to notice his knees never touched the ground on an apparent tackle. The TV announcers even commented how Duke seemed to get all the calls Saturday. When it rains, it pours, but that is how fine the line can be between winning and losing, between being a 9-win team or a 5- or 6-win team. And lately it has all gone against the Hokies.
So just how did Virginia Tech get here? In a way, Beamer has been a victim of his own success. The Hokie faithful grew tired of 10-win seasons during an incredible eight-year run of 10-win campaigns from 2004-2011 (the longest such streak in the nation at the time) because the team just never could seem to get over the hump and win the big game. Now, VT faithful would give an arm or leg for a 10-win season.
Somewhere along the way, Virginia Tech’s recruiting started to slip. Many of those factors were out of Beamer’s control as well. Like it or not, North Carolina stole away many of the state’s prized Tidewater recruits under Butch Davis. And soon, Davis was out the door as his program was found guilty of several of its top football players taking illegal benefits and money from agents. Later, a massive academic scandal showed many of UNC’s athletes were taking “no-show” courses basically tailored to allow student athletes to beef up their GPAs. It’s hard to recruit against free gifts and not having to go to class. Sorry if that makes some of my UNC friends mad, but it’s the truth.
Likewise, UVa head coach Mike London began to take away many of the top Tidewater recruits as well through a pact with a controversial 7-on-7 football program that called itself the Thoroughbreds. Basically all that accomplished for the Cavaliers was to bring the Hokies down closer to their level. It sure didn’t raise UVa’s level of play.
But through it all, Beamer continued to recruit the right way. He never stooped to that level. He just went about his business and tried to go after players he felt would be good representatives of the team and school. Sure, there were several hiccups along the way (the Vick family’s struggles have been well documented, for instance), but Beamer never intentionally tried to skirt the rules. There is something to be said about doing things the right way and trying to win with honor.
Which leads us to some of Beamer’s rumored replacements. Chief among that list is said to be University of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. “Rich Rod,” as he is better known, would bring a high-octane spread-type offense to Blacksburg the Virginia Tech faithful have clamored for. Rodriguez has had plenty of his own issues, however, including leaving his alma mater, West Virginia, high and dry when Michigan came calling. From there, he quickly led the Wolverines into their own troubles with the NCAA as part of an investigation into attending unofficial scrimmages, an NCAA violation, and requiring players to work out more hours than NCAA rules permit during the offseason.
Contrast that with Beamer, who during his tenure turned down offers to coach at such high-caliber programs as Alabama and Clemson. No matter what direction Virginia Tech goes in the future, it will never find another coach that has done more for the program or who has cared more about the school than Beamer did for his alma mater. Simply put, Frank Beamer deserves better.