The word of the day is surreal. Frank Beamer won’t be our football coach after the 2015 season. He’ll end his legendary career after 29 years on the sideline, and for many of us who have never experienced a Virginia Tech football game without him on the sideline, it’s going to be a very surreal moment.
I came to the conclusion about a month ago that Frank Beamer wouldn’t be returning for the 2016 season. I tried to sit down a couple of times and start writing this column so I could post it immediately after the announcement was made, but I couldn’t find the proper words. Now that the moment is upon us, I still don’t feel like I possess the proper vocabulary. Nevertheless, here goes nothing.
I’m a little bit surprised at the emotions I’m feeling today. I’ve had a good month to emotionally and mentally prepare myself for this moment. My parents were going to visit me today, but I told them to stay home because I thought there was a good chance Frank Beamer’s retirement would get announced the day after the BC game and I’d have to spend all day working. That’s how convinced I was that today would be the day. I don’t consider myself to be an emotional person either, but that still didn’t prevent me getting a little bit of a lump in my throat when the news was announced. I knew it was coming, and I still couldn’t help it.
You’re going to see a lot of numbers thrown at you in the following days. I’ll go over a few of them now…
277 career victories (and counting)
22 bowl games (and hopefully 23)
41 wins vs. the AP Top 25 since 1995
7 Conference Championships
93 NFL Draftees
136 Blocked Kicks
But in the end, his true impact on Virginia Tech, the town of Blacksburg and the surrounding regions can’t be measured in numbers. His accomplishments on the football field are secondary when compared to the lives he impacted. He recruited boys and turned them into men. There are hundreds of former Virginia Tech football players who will tell you that they wouldn’t be where they are today were it not for Frank Beamer.
Many recruits go to college knowing nothing but football. At Virginia Tech, they were not only developed into good players, but they were put in a position to succeed in their lives after football. Here’s a number that you might not be aware of: 100% of Virginia Tech’s seniors have graduated since 2012.
He not only built a football program, but he provided the foundation for what has become a strong athletic department across all sports. In the early days of the Beamer era, the athletic department was strapped for cash, they weren’t a member of an all-sports conference, and they didn’t have much of a reputation. Then the Hokies got into the Big East, and Beamer’s program flourished. All those wins in the 1990s set the stage for VT eventually getting into the ACC.
Once in the ACC, the rest of the athletic department grew in a hurry. Back in 2002-03, in the next-to-last year of Big East membership, Tech finished 129th in the Director’s Cup (given to the school with the best overall sports program). Last year, the Hokies finished 35th. That type of improvement was made possible by Frank Beamer. All those new facilities you see popping up around the athletic complex were directly or indirectly funded by Beamer’s football program.
But this is more than just athletics. Beamer was the face of the entire university for years. When our football program was at its peak, if you asked a stranger to play a word association game and you said “Virginia Tech” they would have responded “Frank Beamer.”
The school itself has grown so much since he first started having success. When people say that he put Virginia Tech on the map, they aren’t talking about the football program. They are talking about the school itself. If Virginia Tech had a Mount Rushmore, Frank Beamer’s face would be the first one chiseled into the rocks.
His football program provided a big boost to the local economy as well. Look at all the hotels, apartment complexes and upscale housing developments that have popped up in Blacksburg in the last 10-15 years. There are folks around here who have jobs simply because of the program he built. I know. I’m one of them.
But what really sets him apart is the way he treated people on a day to day basis. Everybody has a Frank Beamer story. Whether you were walking through the Merryman Center and he came out of his office to say hello, or he shook your hand and talked to you for five minutes in some restaurant, he had a way about him that put you at ease. I think Jeff Snook summed it up best in his book “Let Me Be Frank”…
“Beamer is just the type of guy to make coffee for the office secretaries, move his car so an elderly person could have a better parking spot, take a campus visitor to lunch, buy a gift card for a staff member who became engaged a day earlier, drive 80 miles round-trip to spend an hour with a friend dying of cancer, stand up five times during dinner to have his picture taken with fans, smiling and laughing each time as if he had known those strangers for a lifetime, or a tip a waitress 50% of the bill because he overheard her say she was struggling to pay off her student loans. You know what makes the man special? I witnessed him do all of those things in one day – February 11, 2013, to be exact.”
Suffice to say that we could all learn a little bit from Frank Beamer about how to treat people. He has a natural ability to make you feel special, if you ever had the pleasure of meeting him. That’s not a gift that most people possess. It wasn’t his wins that made him beloved by the Virginia Tech fan base. It was the fact that he won and treated people so well. Not to mention that he’s a Hokie. He’s one of us. There have been very few coaches who meant so much to their school, and there probably won’t be another like him. This isn’t the end of Virginia Tech football by a longshot, but it is the end of Virginia Tech football as we know it.
When reading over today’s official press release, this quote stood out…
“I have always said that ‘I want what is best for Virginia Tech,’” Beamer said. “Because of my love and passion for this great university, this program and our tremendous fans, I have decided after 29 years that it’s time. Today, I informed Dr. Timothy Sands and Whit Babcock of my decision to retire at the conclusion of the 2015 season. I was going to wait until the end of the season to make this announcement, but I’ve always believed in being open and honest with my players and coaches.”
He was thinking about the people around him, and what was best for them and the university, to the very end.
Frank Beamer has been our leader for 29 years. From the very day he set foot on campus, he’s lived by the Virginia Tech motto: Ut Prosim…That I May Serve. He served us to the best of his ability, and he took us to heights that we could never have imagined, and he did it in a humble, classy manner that endeared him to us all. You can bet that he’ll continue to serve Virginia Tech to the best of his ability after his retirement.
There’s really no way that we can pay Frank Beamer back for all he’s done during the course of his career. The best way to honor the man is to show up for the UNC game, fill every seat, make a ton of noise when the Tar Heels have the ball and help send him out with a win in his final home game. See you there.