Hokie Football Annual 2012: The Marshall Plan

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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.

A link to the digital version is here.

This excerpt comes from Chapter One, a story about the influence of former University President T. Marshall Hahn on the Hokie athletics program.


They were in South Africa about 12 years ago. Two local hunters flanked T. Marshall Hahn; a third professional hunter followed a few steps behind them, with an unarmed photographer. In the early morning light they emerged from the brush. Fifty yards away they faced three male lions staring at them. The biggest was “Five hundred pounds, all muscle and mean,” Hahn said. With profane curtness, one of the local hunters quickly appraised their situation.

“Hurry up and shoot,” he said to Hahn. “But you better not miss. If you wound him, all three will charge, and somebody will get killed.”

Hahn thought, “That does not exactly steady your hand.” Quickly he chose the five-hundred pounder and fired.

The lion dropped. The remaining two retreated into the jungle. We tell this story because it took a man with that kind of steely nerve to change the face of Virginia Tech as a university.

Today Virginia Tech pulses with spirit and energy, a diverse research university replete with world-class programs and a nationally-ranked football team. Hokie Stone structures rise up all over campus and the gleaming skyboxes overlook one of the nation’s finest football stadiums. A dazzling network of roads and ramps lead traffic in and out of town.

But when T. Marshall Hahn became president in 1962—a half-century ago—it was simply VPI, a largely military institution that focused on engineering and agriculture. The student body was predominately white male and the school played football games in a creaky 20,000- seat stadium. Nothing more than two-lane roads led into campus.

Tech’s motto now is “Invent the Future.” But in his tenure from 1962-74, T. Marshall Hahn reinvented the school, transforming it from VPI to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and his efforts laid the groundwork for the school’s unprecedented football success…

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, Marshall understood the importance of athletics to the overall academic image of a top-flight national university.

“The image of a university lags behind in time the actual strength of the institution at that time,” Marshall said. “You really don’t know about the quality of resident instruction until you can follow the path of its graduates.

“In research, results are published, but often time passes before you realize the significance of the findings. With the outreach programs, it’s the same thing. You apply the knowledge in the field and it might take a few years to see the benefits.

“Here was a university that was emerging rapidly in national distinction, but its image was back here. I took the position that anything we could do to link the image of the university with comparable institutions, the better off we were. That meant we had to be involved in big-time intercollegiate athletics just as we recruited big-time scientists and engineers and the finest scholars in the humanities.”

Miles Stadium had become outdated; that was clear. Along with the efforts of athletics director Frank Moseley and administrator Stuart Cassell, Marshall oversaw plans for a new football stadium.

Construction of Lane Stadium began in April 1964. A year later, Tech announced it would withdraw from the Southern Conference. Marshall explained that Tech wanted to schedule schools with larger athletics programs.

This was a far cry from the philosophy of longtime Tech president Julian Burruss (1919- 45), who presided in another era and believed the primary aim of athletics was to develop physical fitness and moral character, and that the “score of the game makes only minor difference.”

It also differed from President Walter Newman (1947-62), whom Marshall succeeded. Newman shared Burruss’s view of athletics, and even led a Southern Conference vote to ban schools from participating in bowl games because it conflicted with academics.

When both Clemson and Maryland ignored the ban, the Southern Conference barred both schools from league play for one year. Frustrated, Clemson coach and athletics director Frank Howard led the charge to break away from the Southern Conference (SoCo) to form a little something called the Atlantic Coast Conference. When Virginia Tech later applied for admittance to the ACC, Howard didn’t forget Newman’s role in the SoCo policies and blocked their invitation.

A decade later, though, the Tigers were on Tech’s side when Marshall made another run at ACC membership in 1965. Along with Moseley and athletics council member Wilson Bell, Marshall toured ACC campuses pleading Tech’s case. He flew officials from ACC schools into campus on a private plane. Marshall worked them hard: Can’t you see the changes we’re making? Can’t you see we’re transforming ourselves? Can’t you see what a special place this is?

Clemson’s R.R. Ritchie backed Marshall’s cause, and in early December 1965 the ACC convened and considered the Hokies for membership. But when it was clear they didn’t have the six votes they needed, Ritchie withdrew the motion.

“The University of Virginia wasn’t saying much on our behalf,” Marshall said. “They weren’t any help at that time.”

Neither did support come from media, particularly the local newspaper, The Roanoke Times. This was 1965; internet and cable were nothing more than science-fiction ideas. Newspapers carried far more clout than they do in today’s cluttered market, and the lead sports columnist, Bill Brill, was one of just a handful of people writing regularly about Virginia Tech. To a large degree his words influenced public opinion.

And Brill hated the Hokies.

“Hate” is a strong word, but it’s true. When Brill died in April 2011, his good friend, author John Feinstein, wrote, “Brill worked in Roanoke from 1959 to 1992 and hated Virginia Tech. He got along fine with most people who worked there but just didn’t like the IDEA of the school.”

In his blog Feinstein related a story from a Saturday in 1984, when he sat with Brill on press row during a Duke-North Carolina game. Word came that Florida State just beat the Hokies in the Metro Tournament. “That’s great news!” Brill said. “That makes my whole day!”

“How can you say it makes your whole day?” Feinstein said.

“What if Duke loses this game? You love Duke.”

“I know!” he said. “But hate’s a stronger emotion than love!”

Marshall clearly felt Brill’s bias. While Marshall worked to gain ACC admittance, he said, “Bill Brill laughed at our efforts.

“I never expected him to be a supporter of the University. But in his professional role, he should’ve strived for a little more neutrality.”

Despite those obstacles, Marshall forged on. He wanted only the best for Virginia Tech, and that included a world-class football venue.

He loved Cassell Coliseum’s cozy design, with its steep aisles and tight sidelines. He wanted to capture the same feeling for Lane Stadium.

“We told the designers we wanted the sightlines as steep as possible,” he said, “as long as the people didn’t fall out of their seats… The whole guiding principle was to put the crowd on top of the game.”

The steepness of the stands precluded the idea of double decks, which are common in most large stadiums.

On November 7, 1964, Marshall had bulldozers in place for the last game at Miles Stadium. He needed that land to build dormitories to house Tech’s burgeoning enrollment.

Marshall worked to procure private donations for the new stadium and they built it in segments. Only the west side stands and pressbox tower were completed for the first game, October 2, 1965.

The initial phase of the stadium, 35,050 seats, was completed in 1968 for a total cost of $3.5 million.


At his recent Northern Virginia “Chalk Talk” with Bud Foster, reader Carl Verboncoeur of Potomac, Maryland came up to Colston. “Your latest HokieFootball Annual is the best yet,” he said. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I’d pay $25 for it.”

Reader Jim McDonald of Phoenix called Colston and said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever read about Virginia Tech. I’m learning things I never knew, and I’ve been around a long time.”

For the cost of a good hamburger, you get hours of great Virginia Tech reading and a quality publication to keep for years to come.

In addition to the full story on Dr. T. Marshall Hahn and his impact on the Virginia Tech football program, this year’s book includes:

How Frank Beamer turned his program around * A revealing profile of defensive coordinator Bud Foster plus a fun Q&A* A detailed look back at the most important season of Frank Beamer’s career, the 1993 Independence Bowl season * A round table preview of the season with Daily Press columnist David Teel and “Inside Hokie Sports” editor Jimmy Robertson * Game-by-game predictions * Detailed insider position-by-position analysis* Q&A’s with such Hokies stars as Logan Thomas, Bruce Taylor, James Gayle and Kyle Fuller * A fresh personality take on Tech’s assistant coaches * An analysis of Virginia Tech’s recruiting class, with a look to 2013. PLUS MUCH MUCH MORE.

In all, Colston tells the story of Virginia Tech football with the perspective of someone who has studied the program for over 40 years.

A link to the digital version is here.

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8 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Showing my age, I had T. Marshall Hahn as professor in a graduate course in Nuclear Physics. His notes for any class did not ever exceed two 3×5 cards. Yet, he lectured for an hour and filled the board with math and diagrams. He was an incredible intellect, as history as shown. He reinvented Virginia Tech and laid the basis for its incredible growth.

  2. What was it that created such a cold hearted man as Brill? It is one thing to dislike certain components, practices, and fans, it is a whole other thing that creates a hate that rules your whole life.

    Hope Brill has found a little peace where he is now, and he is not too busy rolling over.

    Whole lotta love for Hokie Nation.

    1. It’s a funny thing how hate destroys the person who hates and the not the person/thing he hates and how forgiveness heals the one who forgives as much if not more than the one being forgiven.

      Brill genuninely hated VA Tech…little good that did him in the end. When VA Tech received admittance to the ACC, he proclaimed VA Tech would compete for wrestling championships. He got to bear witness to 5 ACC Championships in 7 years of football play. Virginia Tech also was the first school in the new ACC to beat every school in both basketball and football.

      Having grown up (and still living) here in the Roanoke valley, I can tell you he sold a lot of newspapers because of his strong opinions. He probably had more detractors than fans.

      Bill Brill was a smart man, but hate gets you nowhere. God rest his soul, but for a man so bent on hate for a SCHOOL, I can only imagine how painful these Duke basketball losses must have been for him.

      Go Hokies!!

      1. I agree with you. I really thought our first win over duke or uncheat would have done him in. But he lived long enough to actually see us beat them a few times .I know hate is a bad thing , but I felt the same way about him as he felt about V.P.I.

  3. The politics that existed at that time and up to 2004 are disgusting. T. Marshall is a winner. I attended during his watch. This book is a must buy!

  4. If it hadn’t of been for Hahn’s efforts and the construction of Lane Stadium, we’d probably be a 1AA team today.

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