In late 1987, Dave Braine took the job as Director of Athletics at Virginia Tech. On the surface, it looked like a move that would make Wayne Campbell of “Wayne’s World” fame blurt out “Are you mental? Get the net!”
Virginia Tech was coming off a horrendous athletic year, one that had resulted in football and men’s basketball landing on NCAA probation, and the collateral damage had been significant. School president Bill Lavery, athletic director and head football coach Bill Dooley, and men’s basketball coach Charlie Moir had all lost their jobs. During months of controversy, Virginia Tech even burned through an additional athletic director, Dutch Baughman, who held his post for only five months before resigning over a dispute with the Tech administration over how an in-house investigation into the basketball program was being handled.
(Note: TSL covered the year in-depth in our 2005 series The Year of our Discontent.)
In the fall of 1987, Virginia Tech had an interim president, men’s basketball coach, and athletic director. Only head football coach Frank Beamer, who had been hired by Baughman, was operating without the title “interim” next to his name. The athletic department was deep in debt and running in the red.
What sane man would take the job of Director of Athletics at Virginia Tech, with an athletic department that was a wreck, no boss, a football coach that someone else had just hired, and an interim men’s basketball coach?
Answer: Dave Braine, who had just finished serving two years as the AD at Marshall, which was still a 1-AA football program at the time. He was the only one crazy enough to step into the maelstrom that was Virginia Tech athletics.
Ten years later, in 1997, when Braine left Virginia Tech to take the same position at Georgia Tech, the Hokies were members of the prestigious Big East Football Conference, and they had gone to four straight bowl games and two straight Alliance Bowls. The basketball program had won the NIT and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986. Braine had spearheaded facilities projects such as the $10.6 million Merryman Center, a new outdoor track, and a new softball field.
Thanks to Big East membership, which Braine engineered in 1990, the athletic department was running solidly in the black.
Dave Braine helped rescue the Virginia Tech athletic department from rock-bottom, and he set the table for athletic and financial prosperity that continues to this day.
Braine, a native of Grove City, PA, was a good athlete who excelled in baseball and football. (“I was a high school quarterback, and I had really good speed,” he says without modesty.) He wanted to go to Georgia Tech, but that wasn’t in the cards, and instead, he wound up at UNC, where his high school coach had gone to school. Braine started at defensive back for three years for the Tar Heels, and he earned a BA and a Masters from UNC.
From 1967 to 1978, Braine coached football at Manatee High School (Bradenton, FL), VMI, Richmond, Georgia Tech and the University of Virginia. In 1978, he made the jump to athletics administration at UVa, where he served until taking an assistant AD job at Fresno State in 1983. Braine took the AD job at Marshall in 1985 and was there just two short years before being offered and accepting the Virginia Tech job in late 1987, with a January 1, 1988 start date.
Braine was Virginia Tech’s AD until he left Blacksburg in the summer of 1997 for Georgia Tech. He retired from Georgia Tech in January 2006 due to failing health. Crohn’s Disease was making his life miserable and taking its toll on him, and it was time to quit.
Braine now makes his home in Blacksburg, the place he says he liked the most in his distinguished career. These days, he is in good health, and he recently sat down with us for an interview, answering questions that spanned his tenure at Virginia Tech and beyond.
You were born and raised in Grove City, PA. How did you get interested in UNC?
My high school coach was a UNC grad, and he piqued my interest. My mother was from Georgia. Basically, I really wanted to go to Georgia Tech, so it’s funny that I ended up being the AD there for 10 years.
The coach who recruited me from Georgia Tech was a guy named Marvin Bass. He left and went to South Carolina after my senior year of high school, and I never heard from Georgia Tech after that. So I ended up going to North Carolina, and it was a good decision.
What was your football career like?
I was a high school quarterback, and I had really good speed. I went to North Carolina and started three years as a defensive back. I was also a place kicker, returned punts, and all of that. Once I went to college, I never picked up a baseball again. Back in those days they wouldn’t let you play two sports.
What years were you an assistant AD at UVA?
1978 through 1983. Ralph Sampson was the big guy then. Seth Greenberg was an assistant there for one year while I was there.
What did you do at Marshall that made you an attractive candidate for the Virginia Tech job?
Well, remember Marshall had the plane crash. It was in 1970. They hadn’t had a winning season there. My first year, that was the first winning season. The coach there was named Stan Parrish, and he left and went to Kansas State. Then I hired a guy named George Chaump, who led us to our first National Championship Game. And we had a very good overall program.
I wasn’t the first choice here [at Virginia Tech]. There was another gentleman, Larry Travis at Kansas State, who was the #1 choice, and he ended up turning the job down, and that’s when I got hired.
They were on probation. Bill Lavery was the president, but he was in the process of retiring. It was a better job than what I had. They had restructured the situation. Minnis Ridenour and Ray Smoot were overseeing athletics, and that made it a much more attractive situation.
That’s a tough situation to come into. Both major programs on probation, you’ve got an interim basketball coach, Beamer had already been hired, there was a lot of debt … on the surface, I want to ask you, “What were you were thinking?”
Well, the thing was – and still is today – it’s hard to succeed someone who has been very, very successful. Most of those people fail. The best jobs are the bad jobs that can be turned into a good job. And I felt like this was one of those jobs. We were happy at Marshall, and we were doing a lot of good things. But this was a chance to get back to Virginia. It turned out to be a great decision.
How much did money play a factor? Did you get a significant raise?
I was making $55,000 at Marshall, and they offered me $65,000 here. But I knew that Dutch Baughman was making $75,000. I was dealing with both Minnis Ridenour and Ray Smoot. I said “Look, I really want the job, but I think you need to pay me at least what you pay Dutch Baughman.” And they did.
When you came in, most of the concerns were pressing and immediate.
Ray Smoot had been the interim AD. He and Minnis had done a pretty good job of knocking down all the barriers and putting everything out on the table and letting me know what the opportunities were going to be. They had established a pretty good foundation. The obstacles weren’t insurmountable. I don’t think I ever walked into any situation that I wasn’t told about before I took the job.
So what was your vision for the athletics department?
Everybody has a plan, and those plans change from day to day. The first thing was to get the football program built up and put off probation. That was the hardest thing. Having to go in front of the NCAA, especially for something you didn’t do, and how you are treated by the Committee on Infractions …
Was that a guilty until proven innocent situation?
Exactly right. It was a unique experience to say the least, especially for somebody who had never been through anything like that.
Did you sense any animosity from that committee that you would say was out of the ordinary?
No, I didn’t. I think they were just doing their jobs. But you have a bunch of “academicians” questioning you, why did you do this, why didn’t you do that … I felt like we were being chastised and all we were doing was trying to make it right.
Frank Beamer had been hired by someone else. Was he a guy who had to grow on you, or were you in his corner from the get-go?
I would say no, I was not in his corner to begin with, but I wasn’t against him either. I came in with a very open mind. I had coached at VMI while he was playing here. I knew Frank Beamer from when he was playing. It didn’t take long to know. And hey, I was still green, too. I had only been an AD for three years.
What was the budget when you started?
Oh … I don’t have any idea. If I had to say, somewhere between $6 million and $8 million I would say. You’ve got to remember, we weren’t even selling 8,000 season tickets for football at that time.
What were your thoughts on the basketball program at the time?
I came in right after Frankie Allen had upset Georgetown. John Thompson was very high on Frankie. We gave him ample opportunity to be successful, that’s for sure. Once Bimbo left, things continued to go downhill. They didn’t get any better.
On conference affiliation … just kind of walk me through what happened.
Well, we were in the Metro, and we were independent in football. We were trying desperately to get into the ACC. I went and visited all the schools. Obviously I had worked with [then-ACC commissioner] Gene Corrigan. He gave me my first job at UVA. I visited with him and he suggested that I go talk with all the ADs. He wasn’t discouraging; he wasn’t encouraging. He just said it was the ADs and the presidents who made the decisions.
I’ll never forget. I was point blank told – and I can say who it was now, because the AD isn’t there anymore – by the Duke AD [Tom Butters] that Virginia Tech would never be in the ACC and that I was wasting my time. He maybe spent five minutes with me. Some of the other schools treated me very, very well.
Who was most open to you, if you could pick one?
Clemson. Bobby Robertson was the AD at Clemson. He was very friendly and cordial. Gene Hooks was very nice at Wake Forest, too. But for the most part, I was told that Virginia Tech to the ACC would never happen.
We were lucky. Miami at that time was looking for a conference affiliation. They joined the Big East in everything, but the Big East didn’t have football at that time. Sam Jankovich, the Miami AD, once they got into the Big East, he got Mike Tranghese to form a football conference. So there was a Big East conference, but there was also a Big East Football Conference. Some schools were members of the Big East in everything, and others were not.
We worked very hard at putting together a presentation for the Big East.
Did you feel that of the eight original Big East football schools that Virginia Tech was #8?
I’ve always felt that if Penn State had been interested that Tech would have been marked off the list.
Maybe. If only for location, rather than anything else. You know, it still has the reputation of being hard to get to. I tell people, “you tell me that we are hard to get to, when you can fly into Roanoke and be in Blacksburg in 45 minutes, and you can fly into Newark and it takes you two hours to get to Rutgers, but Rutgers isn’t hard to get to? It doesn’t make sense.”
Who initiated that process? The Big East or Virginia Tech?
We approached Mike Tranghese. None of us had ever made a presentation like that before. Sharon McCloskey, Danny Monk, Jeff Bourne and I sat down and spent about two weeks coming up with a slide presentation. When we went up there, it went very well. We were well-received, and it ended up working out.
At that time, it was a big thing for Virginia Tech.
I imagine what was one of the most satisfying events of your career.
It was. There were quite a few, but it was. But I’ll tell you, one of the most disappointing was the day we were turned down for all sports affiliation.
How did you pitch Virginia Tech back then?
It’s been so long, but I remember there was a long list of plusses. More than anything else, there was the history of Virginia Tech and what Virginia Tech had done in the state of Virginia. It was kind of like we were recruiting the Big East. It was like Coach Beamer telling a football recruit all the good things about Tech, all the degrees, the alumni base, all those kinds of things.
I had no idea [whether Tech would get in or not]. We were kind of holding our breath. But when it was all over with, basically it was just a formality. We had to go through that process, but Miami wanted us. If it hadn’t been for the University of Miami, Virginia Tech’s athletic history would be a whole lot different. I’ve always said that Sam Jankovich, Miami’s AD, played a very big part in what happened here. The other man was Mike McCarthy, who headed up the Independence Bowl. They took Virginia Tech in 1993 when they didn’t have to.
Tell me about the 2-8-1 season. I imagine there was some sort of come to Jesus meeting between you and Frank.
See that’s the thing … I don’t think fans know exactly what happened between you and Frank during that time.
Frank and I have never had a cross word. Ever. Here’s what happened. At 9 o’clock in the morning on the Monday after the UVA game, I had a meeting with [Virginia Tech President] Dr. [James] McComas. Minnis Ridenour was there. Dr. McComas always called me “Mr. AD”. He said, “Mr. AD, do we need to change our football coach?”
I had spent that whole season going to coaches’ meetings on Sundays after games. I couldn’t go to church on Sundays. I always had one guy come up behind me, tap me on the shoulder and say “when are you going to get rid of Beamer?” So I quit going to church and started going to coaches’ meetings with coffee and donuts. We’d watch the film, and then I visited with Frank.
Frank was a good coach. I had coached football. I thought I knew a little bit about it. Whenever I questioned something, never once did he get riled up or upset.
What did you think was missing?
Oh, I knew what was missing. He didn’t have a good coaching staff. I hate to say that. Some of those guys were friends, and some still are friends, but the coaching staff was lacking. It needed to change. I talked to Frank after the meeting with McComas. I told McComas, ” no sir, we don’t need to fire the coach, we need to give him the money to get some good assistant coaches.”
He worked that out, by raising the student fees, we were able to pay more money. I made suggestions to Frank about what I thought needed to be done. I never told him he had to get rid of anybody, but I said “this isn’t going to work, you need to do this, this and this.” And he did more than what I said.
There’s a perception that you might have told Frank “it’s either you or your assistant coaches”.
No. I told him what I thought he needed to do, and he did more. The one thing we did agree on, we both felt like he needed to bring in Phil Elmassian, who was a very, very big key to the turnaround of the program. I had known Phil ever since he played at William & Mary. He brought the lunchpail mentality that’s still here today.
It changed everything. He is unbelievable. Tough and hardnosed. He was the right person at the right time at the right place. I put him up there with Sam Jankovich and Mike McCarthy.
Do you feel like Mike McCarthy went out on a limb?
Oh, he did. Nobody wanted us. We still weren’t a good name. Remember, there had been problems before when Tech went to the Independence Bowl, with Bruce Smith and his eligibility. Attendance in Lane Stadium still wasn’t good. We had no idea how many fans would travel, and so forth. He went out on a limb and took us, and we took more people down there than we thought we would. That bowl was the catalyst that made everything else go.
Coming Tomorrow: Part 2, in which Braine talks about the 1994 Big East rejection, his decision to leave Virginia Tech for Georgia Tech, and whether he’d do anything differently, given the chance.