In 1987 Frank Beamer took over a Virginia Tech football program that had been to precisely six bowl games in a history that dates back to 1902, and none of those bowls were marquee invites. Virginia Tech was off the national radar, a lonely independent in the South, overshadowed by other independents like Miami, Florida State, Penn State and of course Notre Dame.
Beamer put the football team in Blacksburg on the map. They’ve gone to a bowl game every year since 1993 and eight of those have been invites to a major. Beamer played for the national title in 1999 and led Florida State after three quarters, before it got away and he’s played in the Sugar Bowl as recently as 2011. But a run of three mediocre seasons, two of them 6-6 and other at 7-5, has put the head coach on the hot seat.
There’s a new administration in place at Virginia Tech and no one knows for certain what they’ll want to do. Normally I would find this outrageous and put Beamer in the “he’ll retire when he’s damn good and ready” category, in light of what he’s done for this program. But recent years have changed my thinking and undoubtedly emboldened more impatient administrators in light of what’s happened to other legends.
Florida State pushed Bobby Bowden out the door and ended up with a national championship under Jimbo Fischer. Penn State didn’t push Joe Paterno out the door and ended up with a scandal.
While I find the smearing of Paterno for the crimes of someone else to be rooted in ignorance, I’d also say this—leaving an 85-year-old head coach in charge of a collegiate program invites problems, and a great book by John Bacon, Fourth And Long, covers Penn State’s 2012 season (the year after Paterno) and says that the real cover-up taking place in Penn State was hiding just how disengaged an oft-fatigued Paterno was from everything.
That’s relevant in this case because Beamer is now 68-years-old and I would agree with the proposition that Virginia Tech can’t let him stay too long and sometimes in this circumstance, an AD or president has to play the bad guy. But before we jump the gun, let’s first ask if it’s necessary and what Virginia Tech needs to do this season to keep a future Hall of Fame coach in his job.
Las Vegas sets the Over/Under on Hokie wins this season to be an even 8. The odds for winning the conference championship place them fourth overall and second in the Coastal Division behind Georgia Tech (Florida State and Clemson are the top-heavy co-favorites). So let’s set a reasonable standard of 8-4 and a second-place divisional finish as the baseline season that Virginia Tech needs.
The talent is in place to do just that. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Beamer’s long-time lieutenant and widely considered one of the best in the business has an exceptional front four, including defensive tackle Luther Maddy. Foster likes to blitz and when he does, corner Kendall Fuller is more than capable of playing lockdown man coverage. Fuller is a contender for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Virginia Tech’s offense often stagnated last season, but with Michael Brewer in his senior year at quarterback and having played efficient football in the second half of last season, Tech should at least be able to run a no-mistakes offense that fits neatly into a team with a defense-first identity. That won’t be enough to compete for a conference title or a New Year’s Six bowl berth, but if eight wins is the standard, just steering clear of turnovers will be enough.
We can probably assume that Virginia Tech will start 1-1, with Ohio State and Furman in the first two games. Although given the Hokies’ history of following big wins with maddening upset losses, maybe we shouldn’t assume that the 1-1 will follow the expected path. But either way, the real tests begin on September 19.
The remaining non-conference games are on the road at Purdue and East Carolina—both where Virginia Tech will likely be favored, but neither a gimme. The entire ACC Coastal Division is more of the same. If Georgia Tech is the favorite, VT is more than able to win that game. But if the worst team is Virginia, the Hokies can lose that one. Consistency, rather than cherry-picking schedule spots for wins is what will define this team.
I’m hoping they do it, and that Beamer can leave one day on his own terms. And I also hope the administration will be reasonable and not demand a major bowl berth as the price for staying on. Eight wins should bring Frank back and I think VT will do at least that.