Written by Virginia Tech insider and award-winning writer Chris Colston, the HokieFootball Annual 2012 is “The Book of Tech.” Colston presents 11 information-packed chapters on the past, present and future of the Hokie football program. We challenge you to find a single more comprehensive piece of literature about Virginia Tech football, and it’s just $9.99 for the hard copy, $7.99 for the digital edition.
This excerpt comes from Chapter Two, a chronicle of Frank Beamer’s hiring, his early troubles and how he eventually turned the program around.
When new athletic director Dale T. “Dutch” Baughman announced Frank Beamer as Virginia Tech’s new head coach on December 23, 1986, a significant number of Hokie fans were disappointed.
They wanted Bobby Ross, a big national name who had led Maryland to four bowls in five years and had the Terrapins ranked in the Top 20 three times. He had resigned from Maryland and was seriously considering several opportunities (California, Arizona, assistant with the Buffalo Bills), including the one in Blacksburg. Baughman (pronounced “BOCK-man”) interviewed Ross, who hemmed and hawed about taking the job. By the time he decided he wanted it, Baughman had made his decision to hire Frank Beamer.
The morning of his first press conference, Beamer picked up a copy of the Roanoke Times. Columnist Bill Brill wrote that alumni reaction to Beamer’s hiring “was comparable to what you used to feel on Christmas Day. Remember when you would go to grandmother’s, expecting the latest in toys, and you got a nice sweater instead? And then you said politely, ‘Gee, that’s great.’ But you wondered if somehow you had been handed the wrong package.”
…As August drills began, a rash of personnel losses hit the Hokies, severely depleting the roster. By mid-October, seven players in the two-deep had failed to play a down because of injury, and five more were academic casualties. In all, 22 players in the two-deep missed time. Later that month, the NCAA handed down sanctions incurred because of Dooley’s scholarship finagling. Beamer had nothing to do with it, but he would pay the price, losing 33 possible signees over the next three years.
Beamer also faced some internal resistance. “Before he took over, 99% of the players did not want him there,” says Erik Chapman, the returning starting quarterback. “I had written a letter requesting (Dooley assistant) Pat Watson be our coach.
“It was nothing personal toward Coach Beamer. We just wanted the continuity of the staff we knew.”
Running backs coach Billy Hite, the one holdover from the Dooley staff, did his best to make the transition smooth.
“I would tell the players, ‘This guy is remarkable,’” Hite says. “I didn’t know him from Adam, but I could see, while recruiting with him in January and February, that the guy was genuine.”
But some kids, you just weren’t going to convince. They felt Dooley had been unfairly ousted and wanted little to do with this new regime. It became even tougher after the team lost nine of its first 10 games, most of them blowouts.
“I wouldn’t call it a divide in the locker room, but there were definitely Dooley guys and Beamer guys,” says offensive tackle Marc Verniel, who played from 1989-92. “The Dooley guys would tell stories about how things used to be.”
Chapman doesn’t recall any outright defiance. “But many players, particularly the defensive linemen and defensive backs, questioned some of the techniques they were being taught,” he says. “Those things might have worked at Murray State, but they weren’t going to work at this level.”
Now we pick up the story in November of 1992, shortly after the Virginia Tech football team finished 2-8-1 and Frank Beamer’s job was in jeopardy…
Those inside the program realized Frank Beamer wasn’t the problem. But he needed help. He was trying to do too much, spreading himself too thin. On top of working on special teams and handling the speaking engagements of a head coach, he was also trying his best to guide his assistant coaches through their duties. On Tuesdays he’d watch film with the defensive staff and make suggestions. On Wednesday, he’d meet with the offensive coaches and give them 15 plays he thought the team should run.
“But by then, the hay was in the barn,” (Tech administrator and former assistant Billy) Hite says. “We used to fight him all the time about it. We said, ‘We can’t have this.’ Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is when you have to get your play repetitions in; how many reps can you get in for 15 plays on a Thursday?”
The disorganization was showing on the field. At West Virginia, Tech sometimes had 12 men on the field, other times 10. In that same game, Tech’s three best playmakers, Antonio Freeman, Vaughn Hebron and Bo Campbell, only touched the ball a combined 16 times from the line of scrimmage.
Beamer needed help, and some of his assistants simply weren’t providing it. I worked in the Hokie Huddler office at the time and I saw it. He had some coaches who, honestly, would’ve been better in different careers; they just didn’t have the work ethic, or the mindset, or the discipline, to be football coaches, not at that level. It’s a tribute to Frank Beamer’s loyalty and compassion as a human being that he gave them a chance. Several chances.
“You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with,” Hite says. “I was a friend of those coaches, too. But some of them… I’d walk by the defensive meeting room. The staff would be watching film and I’d see one of the assistants reading the newspaper. Another one would go out recruiting, drive back in, play in a pickup basketball game and then drive back out the next morning. It just made no sense.
“That’s why (defensive coordinator) Ron Zook left after that first year (1987). He looked around and realized it wasn’t going to work with that group.”
TO READ THE ENTIRE CHAPTER, plus 10 more chapters packed with unique perspective and information, order your HokieFootball Annual today. The HokieFootball Annual is just $9.99 ($7.99 for the digital edition), a bargain price. It’s the perfect summer read for any true Tech fan.
A link to the digital version is here.