Beamer and the Hokies: A relationship meant to last

By Darrell Laurant  |   Friday, December 16, 2005  |  Comments( 0 )

Virginia Tech Hokies
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If we demonstrated the same patience with our marriage partners as Division
1A football programs bestow upon their coaches, the divorce rate would be 98
percent instead of 50-50.

"You forgot to take the trash out again? You're gone."

"That's the second time you've overcharged our card. I'm calling my lawyer!"

One down year can be enough to send a football coach packing. Two bad
seasons, and he's likely to find a moving van in his driveway, a thoughtful
gift from the booster club.

That's what makes the relationship between Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech Hokies
so refreshing.

Although Beamer has undoubtedly turned Tech from a nobody to a national
power in the 18 years of his coaching tenure, it didn't happen overnight.
Not even close.

Bill Dooley, Beamer's predecessor, had moved the program forward and into
some middle-tier bowls, but he left the cupboard bare when he departed.
Beamer's first Tech team went 2-9, the second 3-8. Seasons of 6-4-1 and 6-5
followed -- recognizable improvement -- but then the Hokies backslid to 5-6
and 2-8-1. There was talk of axing Beamer at that point, but somehow he held
on.

The rest is Hokie history. Beamer shook up his coaching staff and introduced
an attacking, aggressive defense that ultimately morphed into Beamerball.
His next team went 8-3, and Tech was on its way.

Why did the school stay with Beamer so long? For one thing, he's an alum,
having started at defensive back in the late '60s, when the school was still
known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI). For another, Tech had a young
team and led going into the fourth quarter in seven of its eight losses
during that shakiest of years, giving at least some hope for the future.

Now, one could make a strong argument for Beamer as the top college coach of
the 21st century, even when measured against the likes of Bob Stoops, Pete
Carroll and Mack Brown. Since 1998, his teams have gone 59-16, and Tech made
it into the BCS championship game in 2000 behind Michael Vick before losing
to Florida State. And there are other factors.

1. When athletes from a lot of top programs go to the NFL, they become
better pros than they were college players. With a few notably exceptions,
like Vick and DeAngelo Hall, it's the opposite with Beamer's boys. Corey
Moore was National Defensive Player of the Year under Beamer, then flopped
in the pros. Cornell Brown was in the running for that award, as well, and
has played only sparingly for Baltimore. This is a backhanded compliment for
Beamer, because it means he wrings the most out of these players while they
suit up for him.

2. If you were a blue chip high school player, where would you rather spend
your college days -- Miami, Southern California, or Blacksburg, VA? Sounds
like a no-brainer to me. The only player Beamer has recruited outside of the
Commonwealth of Virginia who was considered among the top 5 at his position
was RB Kevin Jones (now with the Detroit Lions), of State College, PA.

Rather, Beamer looks for regional players (Virginia and the Carolinas,
mostly) with speed and aggressiveness (but perhaps a lack of polish), then
sends them to the weight room. And however they do it, he and his coaches
seem always to instill a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps more
suited for a military school (perhaps a holdover from The Citadel, where
Beamer coached under Bobby Ross).

3. Beamer brought about a genuine innovation in the way college football is
played and strategized. Prior to "Beamerball," most coaches used their spare
parts for special teams, the third and fourth stringers who were expendable
in case of injury. But Beamer not only employed some of his starters, but
the quickest and most nimble ones, irrespective of size. The result was a
host of blocked punts and field goals.

The nice part of all this is that when Beamer started to become nationally
known and other schools came calling, he stuck with the Hokies. True, it
didn't hurt that the school kept upping his contract, but a lot of coaches
would have regarded the Tech situation in 1999 and 2000 this way: "OK, I've
built up the program, and we've had two great years. It's probably going to
be all downhill from here, so I'd better bail out while I can."

When Virginia Tech comes to Jacksonville to meet Louisville in the Gator Bowl, the
Hokies players know that whatever happens, Beamer isn't going anywhere. That
has to be a comforting feeling.
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