Emotions Run High in Merryman

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Frank Beamer and his wife Cheryl
Frank Beamer and his wife Cheryl

Yesterday was a tough day for a lot of people in the Merryman Center.

Virginia Tech has undergone a tremendous amount of change in the last couple of years, inside and outside athletics: a new school president, a new athletic director, a new basketball coach, a new director of development, a new head of the Hokie Club, and other administrative and staff positions too numerous to list here.

Frank Beamer was the last man standing, the last of an old guard that had led the university for literally decades in various capacities. And soon, he’ll be gone, too, from the position he has held for 29 years.

So when they tell you it’s “the end of an era,” it’s larger than just Frank Beamer and the way he has run the program. Winds of change have been blowing with hurricane force, and every corner of the university has been affected.

It’s necessary, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Of all the people present in their official capacities yesterday, only a few of them were around during Frank’s long career, to accompany him and Virginia Tech on its arc of the last two to three decades, which have brought tremendous change and accomplishment, not just in the football program, but university-wide.

But in the audience were a lot of people who were a part of it all, some of whom are still a part of it, and for them, this day brought a range of emotions.

Those emotions began with Shane Beamer’s struggles to hide his tears as photos of his father’s career went across the big screen right in front of him, just a few feet away from his front row seat. Many of the photos included Shane: posing for an early family photo shortly after Frank had been hired; carrying the headset cord for his father on the sidelines; hugging his father in the postgame victory celebration.

Photographers snapped away as Shane struggled to keep his composure. Of all the pictures taken, this one by Nathan Warters of The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star framed the moment best:

Then came Frank, to the podium with his wife Cheryl, both of them their eyes wet. As Frank spoke, his voice broke a few times, and when it did, it threatened to take everyone in the room with it.

But he was there to pull us back, just as we were getting ready to go over the precipice with him, with a well-timed joke.

“Coach Beamer will now take questions,” Pete Moris said after Frank’s opening statement.

“Do I have to?” Beamer cracked, releasing the tension in the room.

Frank made his way through it with grace and composure, and if it was possible, we all respected him even more afterwards for his candor, his good humor, and his impeccable sense of timing. As the losses mounted in the last few years, Frank had been getting further away from many of us, but yesterday, he yanked us back, and everything was okay again. We could appreciate him for who he is, perhaps for the first time, without filtering everything through the lens of wins and losses.

Afterwards, as reporters filtered around the room to interview anyone and everyone, emotions ran high. You might think all of those emotions were sad, and many of them were, but when I interviewed Dave Braine, Tech’s athletic director from 1987-1997, I found a man in high spirits, excited for the decision Frank had made and what his future holds.

Dave Braine
Dave Braine

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bittersweet for Braine.

“Personally it’s a very sad day for me,” he said, “just to come in here and watch the history of 29 years of where the program was and where it is today, and for anyone who understands it, this is the end of an era. In your wildest dreams, I don’t think you can ever imagine a coach lasting 29 years at a university today.”

But Dave has a different perspective than most of us. As he chronicled to us in our lengthy interview with him three years ago, he struggled with stress and his health after he left Virginia Tech to go to Georgia Tech over 18 years ago. So for him, retirement was a release, and a new beginning.

“I was fortunate. I knew it was time for me to go. I had some health issues, and it was more of a relief than anything, for me. My wife will tell you, I never look back. I’m very fortunate to be here, and I hope Frank can tell you the same thing.

“I hate it in one sense, because I hurt for Frank and his family, that this day came. But at the same time, I’m happy for him, because I found out about ten years ago, retirement’s not bad,” he said, breaking into a smile.” So I’m hopeful that his health stays good, and he’s going to enjoy the fruits of what he’s worked really hard for.

“Every time I see him, I tell him, you’ve got to learn how to use that fly rod and start fishing with me now. The good thing is that Frank does have outside interests. He’s got his place in Georgia, he loves to play golf, he’s got his grandkids and everything. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Outside in the hallway, Bryan Stinespring was surprisingly by himself. Here’s a guy who owes his entire professional career to the man who just announced he’s retiring. I wondered if he might be avoiding reporters, hoping that he could just be a fly on the wall.

That’s not Stiney, though. When asked if he could answer a few questions, he readily agreed.

When and how did he find out?

“I was in early in the morning yesterday, for special teams,” he answered, “and I was in the special teams room, and he asked me to step into his office, and he wanted to speak to me for a second. We went into his office, and he told me what is intentions were, and what he was planning to do.

“I told him … I thanked him, because I’ve been honored and privileged to have a front row seat to a great story. For an old boy from Clifton Forge, Virginia … ”

And here his voice broke.

” … To be able to come and be a part of this. It’s a dream. Dreams happen.”

As more reporters gathered around, and a couple TV cameras arrived, Stinespring told us that he didn’t know Frank’s retirement was coming. “I watched him on the practice field, his approach to the game, his approach to getting this football team ready to go … it’s not really something you sit there and think about day in and day out. It’s on to the next opponent, and on to the next opponent … so, no, I didn’t see it coming.”

His thoughts on the timing? “He makes great decisions,” Stiney said of his boss and mentor. “I think this was a good decision on his part, to do it now, and I’m thankful that he actually did, because I’m going to sit back and appreciate every time we come out of that locker room, and make that walk to the practice field, and the moments in that staff room, the opportunity to talk the game of football. I’ll appreciate that walk down the tunnel with him, and to stand on the field during warm-ups with him, to be in that locker room, and get a chance to try to appreciate …  (voice breaks) … these last few games, these last few weeks.”

When asked to describe what Frank Beamer has meant to him, his career, and his family, Stinespring had to collect himself for a moment. His voice quavering, he said:

“He took me, a chubby, blond-haired kid from Clifton Forge, and helped him be a good football coach, and a good husband, and a good father. I told him yesterday, I thank you for this opportunity, and I thank you for making me a better person, a better coach, and just better overall.

“You know what? There’s a countless number of young men who have walked these hallways who can say the same thing. Because it’s what he does.”

Further down the hall, Dave Smith, Virginia Tech’s long-time Sports Information Director who retired last year after a career with the Hokies that spanned exactly 40 years, was taking it all in.

Dave Smith was promoted to Sports Information Director and became the primary point of contact for the football program in 1998. From that point on, he was around Frank Beamer a lot. In all those on-field post-game pictures of Frank Beamer, Dave is often visible in the background.

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A lot of memories. A lot of memories,” he said, when asked what the press conference brought out in him. “From day one, I wasn’t involved with Coach as much at the beginning, as I have been over the last 15-20 years, but I was with football, and I was with him, a lot. I don’t think there’s been anybody who retired recently that I’ve been as involved with as Coach.”

Smith was at Virginia Tech for twelve years before Frank Beamer arrived in 1987, and he embodies everything that Frank was and stands for: treating people with grace, class, and respect.

Like Dave Braine, Dave Smith is completely happy with his decision to retire last year. I asked him, if he had known that Frank only had one more season left in him, would he (Dave) have waited another year to retire? “I made my decision then, and I couldn’t be happier. I picked the exact right time. It worked out well for me, it worked out well for the new administration. I had no way of knowing when Coach’s day was going to be.  I did the right thing, at the right time for me.”

Like Braine, Smith has retirement advice for Frank Beamer. “Just to take it in, enjoy it. Take a little time, decide what you want to do. Everybody’s different, and it should be different for everybody. Somebody told me, don’t commit to a bunch of stuff right away. Take your time, look around. He’s obviously going to have a lot of people coming to him, for speaking engagements, endorsements, what you have you.

“But you know, I don’t know whether to say I’m happy for him,” Smith said, and then laughed. “He handled that really well, as I knew he would, and I just hope that that team is able to get him some wins here, down the stretch.

“I want him to be happy, he’s an incredible person.”

Here, suddenly, Dave Smith loses his composure. He pauses, looks at me, and his lip quivering ever so slightly, he places a hand on my shoulder and waits.

We stand there for a moment.

“We all know that he’s a Hall of Fame coach,” he says finally. “That gets talked about a lot. People in the media know that, the fans know that. But the thing is, he’s a Hall of Fame person.”

His voice breaks. “I did pretty well till now,” he says apologetically.

That’s okay, I think to myself. There’s a lot of that going around. I thank him for the interview, and turn off the recorder.

And I walk away. Because if I don’t keep moving, it’ll get to me, too.

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46 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Top shelf work, as always, Will. Change tends to be difficult and this one will be much more so than most. I’ve spent the past several days searching for words that sum up what I am feeling but they just won’t come to me. Those of us who have been through this entire journey with him are struggling more than most, I think. Thanks for your words – to those of us that are far from Blacksburg, they mean a lot.

  2. End of an Era! Happy for Coach is this is what he wanted to do. It is going to be tough next year not seeing him where he is suppose to be. I wish him the best!

  3. Will…..I said a couple of weeks ago that when it was time to write “the article” that you’d nail it. This one proved me right. Great writeup, excellent choices on the pictures to include and the interviews to include.

  4. TSL … one of life’s great values. Thanks, Will and Chris for sharing this incredible journey with your readers.

  5. Will. awesome article. I have spent alot of time the last couple of years defending the record the last two years but it is obvious that FB needs no defending when it comes to integrity and class. what an imprint.

  6. All I can think of for some reason right now is Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”…”I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.” Just sorta struck me. Actually its almost like the entire song was written about Coach Beamer.

    I remember what Will wrote about Jim Weaver to the affect “right man, right time” when he stepped down. We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have quite a few “right men, right time” at Tech over the last last 30 years. That tradition continues with all the new hires. I am grateful for Whit and Doc Sands and all the folks they’ve brought on board. They are impressive, their time is rising and they’ll do well for VT. This time it’s just harder to accept though. Thanks for everything you’ve done and meant to the Hokie Nation, Frank…for being the right man, right time.

  7. WOW, so it really happened…..just WOW

    Thank you for the perspective Will.

    Thank you for EVERYTHING Frank!

  8. Will, thank you for what we have come to expect from you and Techsideline (and its predecessor Hokie Central). Coach Beamer is not larger than life-but he leads a principled life, which is what is so hard to find today.

  9. For the love of Holy Baby Jesus, would whoever is cutting all those onions please just stop already? It’s too much!

    Thank you, Will. Thanks, Coach Stinespring. And thank you most of all, Coach Beamer. “A Hall of Fame Person” hits the nail squarely on the head.

  10. I watched the press conference live and felt proud and happy for Frank but never teared up. The quotes from Stinespring just got me though…nicely done Will.

  11. Powerful, Will! Extremely well done…you captured the essence of yesterday and today beautifully. No question Frank is a Hall of Fame Person!!

  12. Damnit! This has been a hard few days.

    Thanks for the article Will. Having been to every home game since 1999, it is going to be very hard to not break down at the UNC game.

  13. Will,

    Great article as always. I look forward to, and at the same time dread, the UNC game. It will truly be a special occasion – I expect a lot of tears to flow both in Lane and in places all across the U.S. and world where the Hokie Nation is watching.

    Thanks for the great photos too.

  14. Will: As a member of the “media”, I know that you need to temper your emotions. This article was a fantastic way to present how we all feel about the departure of Frank. Nice work!

    I came to Tech in 90′ from PA, so Frank was all I ever knew, firsthand, regarding Hokie Football. We have truly lost a legend and more importantly, one who did things the right way. Let’s take some time to celebrate Frank’s career before we move on to who is next…..plenty of time for that.

  15. Will, thank you for a wonderful article. It makes me proud to see what people say about Frank, about how he has affected their lives, and what an incredibly good person he is. I hope we get a wonderful coach to step in, but I don’t know that anybody can truly replace Frank Beamer…he truly is a Hall of Fame person. Dave Smith is so correct about that.

  16. Beautifully done, Will. You described the emotions all of Hokie Nation is going through. Anyone who has been around the football program knows the feeling. Sad, like losing a loved one. Thank you.

    1. I’m glad someone said this, because I feel the same way. I’m in my mid-fifties and I lost my father @19 and my mother before I was 30 and this retirement seems a lot like that. I feel like I’m losing a dear loved one, and I’ve never met him. It seems strange in one sense and perfectly normal in another sense that I feel so emotional about “losing” my old friend, the coach. I will miss looking down on the sidelines and seeing Coach Frank Beamer or in the tunnel, “that claustrophobic tunnel”, focused, steely eyed and ready for another game.

      But you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way, in the end, because it shows he meant something to me, to us Hokie fans.

      Thanks again for a fine piece, Will.

  17. Thanks Will, that’s about as real as it gets. I for one would have not done well having to be there in person. Thanks for continuing to help your Hokie family deal with the emotions that are inevitable when a man we have cherished for so many years says goodbye.

  18. What a mixed bag of emotions. Frank Beamer was true to his word. When he saw the fan base being divided by his tenure, he did the only thing he could do, as someone so aptly wrote above, to unite the Hokie Nation once again. He did what was best for VT, just as he said he would.

    Yesterday when I was watching the press conference, tears started running down CFB’s face, then Cheryl started crying because Frank was, and I couldn’t hold it back any longer. Glad I was in my truck on my lunch break. No one wants to see a 57 year old man cry. Lol.

    But I am excited for the future. We Hokies don’t know what it will hold, but you can bet we will be behind it all the way.

    Thank you, coach Beamer. College football in general has lost one of the great ambassadors of the sport with your retirement. Nothing but love for that family.

    GO HOKIES!!!

  19. We all knew that this was coming some day but now that it’s here it sure is bitter sweet. Will, thanks for a great article, you nailed it.
    Coach Beamer will always be #1in the hearts of Hokie Nation. One heck of a coach but even a better man.
    Enjoy your retirement Coach, you’ve earned it.

  20. Great, great job. Please let us know how we can access your article in the future. I will want to re-visit it again and again as a reminder of how lucky Tech was to have Coach Beamer as the head of Hokie football and the lasting impact he has had on the entire Hokie Nation. I sure hope that the team closes out the season on a high note, garners a bowl bid, and sends Coach out with one final bowl victory.

  21. Will, really, really wonderful perspective, including the photos inserted within. For me, you captured it beautifully right here:

    Frank had been getting further away from many of us, but yesterday, he yanked us back, and everything was okay again. We could appreciate him for who he is, perhaps for the first time, without filtering everything through the lens of wins and losses.

    Well done, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

    1. Yeah, that was a particular good way to phrase that and it described exactly how I’d been feeling before the announcement.

  22. I do worry about guys like Beamer, they do the same thing for 29 years, it’s not trivial making the transition. There are folks who go back to work saying “you can only play so much golf.” For that reason I appreciate the comments by Braine about retirement and mentioning that Beamer has outside interests, Especially about fishing as in I expect him to really – no kidding – pin down Frank on a day and go fishing. (and hope he accepts.) Sounds like they may end up spending a little time together and be best of buddies.

    1. When John Moody started “The Hackin’ Hokies Too” at the Homestead in the early 1990’s, Dave Braine would come, and visit with all the alums. But, he did not play golf and would go fly fishing. I asked someone from the Hokie Club Staff why Dave did not play golf, and the answer was that Dave said “if this is as well as I can play this game, gonna go fishing”. Gotta love Dave Braine, and without his input & support in 1992, Frank may not have survived to write history. I sure hope they get together, because their first 10 years were special in so many ways.

      1. I remember Braine but did not know that much about him, Now I’m learning all these tidbits that well, he’s a cool guy. I liked the fact that he moved back to Blacksburg. I’ve read that what keeps old guys alive is not visiting the grandkids, it’s having buddies. What’ could be better than having someone knock on the door and say “Hey it’s a nice day, let’s go fishing.”

  23. Whew! Thanks for writing and sharing that story. Bound to be some typos in this comment – difficult for this class of 80 and 83 Hokie to see my keyboard and screen. Tried to read this aloud to my wife, but couldn’t make it through.

  24. After this and other previous articles on CFB’s retirement, I hope that our most vocal “fire Frank now” crowd realizes that they should take on a different perspective.

    Frank Beamer is a uniter.

  25. Ok. Out came the tissues….AGAIN. Great article Will. I think we will be reading articles like this about CFB for many years to come. It’ a real joy to hear comments from those Frank has influenced and touched through the years.

  26. Will, Thank You for bring It Close for us Hokie Fans . I bet you being a VT Grad, A VT fan, and then having the honor to witness one of Football’s Legends announcing his Retirement . I bet it did get to the emotions . It was for me watching it from Home. Great Article !! But a Hell of a Man to write about.

    1. Incredible article. The impact CFB has had on so many is unmistakable. What a blessing for anyone who had the opportunity to witness it.

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