My entire childhood was shaped by spending every fall Saturday inside Lane Stadium. I can remember when the south end zone was nothing but some bushes and cheap bleachers. The first Hokies’ game I ever watched was October 14, 1995 against Akron, a 77-27 win.
“Oh so THIS is Hokie football?”
I was hooked.
It turns out, scoring lots of points was most definitely NOT Hokie football. But winning games was. And lunchpail defense was. And blocking kicks was.
Frank Beamer was Virginia Tech football, and the entire sport will never see anyone like him again.
Earlier this week I sat down in Beamer’s old office, now occupied by Justin Fuente, for a half-hour or so to walk down memory lane with the man who built one of the most unlikely college football powers in history.
Later in that same 1995 season, the Hokies won the Big East title for the first time and met up with Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Beamer says that was the moment the program turned a corner.
“I think we put ourselves on a different level that day,” Beamer said.
Four years later, a guy named Michael Vick took the program to yet another level, returning to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, only this time it was for the national championship. Vick dazzled the country on the biggest stage of his career to date, but it wasn’t enough to be Florida State (never mind the fact that Peter Warrick should never have played in the game. I’m over it, I swear…).
In the years that followed, Virginia Tech maintained its place among college football’s elite programs. It was never Alabama, USC, or Texas…but under Beamer, the Hokies were arguably the most consistent program in college football.
They were occasionally great. They were always good.
When you boil it down, college football coaching jobs essentially fall into three tiers: Bluebloods, Stepping stones, dumpster fires. When Beamer took the Tech job in 1987, it was a stepping stone teetering on the brink of a dumpster fire. With just six bowl appearances in school history, Virginia Tech was an afterthought.
Most coaches who lift a program from the brink of obscurity find themselves earning a heftier payday, a nicer office, a bigger private plane…in other words, they skip town.
Even Beamer, a Virginia Tech alum who came from nothing, born and raised in the mountains just 90 minutes from Blacksburg, was tempted a time or two to leave. The most notable was for North Carolina.
From the Raleigh News & Observer:
“Beamer and his wife came to Chapel Hill on a Sunday in late November 2000, and Beamer agreed to a deal to become the Tar Heels’ next head coach. Baddour wanted him to stay the night and have a press conference announcing the news the next day.
Beamer, though, decided to go back to Virginia Tech to tell his team he was leaving. And when he went back to Blacksburg, he changed his mind and decided to stay.”
UNC wasn’t the only one. Alabama called, so did Georgia before it hired Mark Richt. Beamer even flirted with the Green Bay Freaking Packers before opting to stay in Blacksburg.
That. Does. Not. Happen.
I’m as die-hard of a Virginia Tech fan as you’ll find but that doesn’t mean I’m not realistic, either. All three of those jobs – ‘Bama, Georgia and Green Bay – would be no-brainers for 99.9% of coaches in Beamer’s position.
“I just couldn’t leave Virginia Tech. UNC had great facilities, but I didn’t have anything to do with those facilities. I did have something to do with the facilities around here.” Beamer said.
Virginia Tech has one of the most loyal, loudest fan bases in the country. Coaches come to Lane Stadium all the time and rave of its environment. I’ve heard it compared to every 90,000+ seat stadium in the country. The passion those fans have for Virginia Tech…it comes from Beamer. He infected a community with his love for the Hokies, a love that never led him to bigger and better places.
Maybe there’s a lesson or two to be learned from Frank. Value everything you’ve accomplished; cherish the relationships you’ve built. Don’t mesmerize yourself with the shine of the unknown. Take pride in the places and people that made you who you are. Give back to them.
Frank Beamer was bigger than Virginia Tech. But by sticking around for 29 years, he made Virginia Tech bigger than it ever deserved to be.