As you have heard, Virginia Tech has announced that head coach Frank Beamer is officially retiring at the conclusion of the 2015 football season. While I normally wouldn’t spend the time to write about a local coach retiring, Frank Beamer is not your normal coach. Whether you’re a Virginia Tech football fan or not, the argument can easily be made that Frank Beamer has had more impact on our community, the New River Valley and the entire Southwest Virginia region than anyone else.
The legacy he leaves is so much more than football wins and losses, though admittedly his 235 wins thus far at Virginia Tech don’t hurt. Frank Beamer the person has done so much work behind the scenes for our community, and without any worry of acknowledgement. Here’s one of my Frank Beamer stories as an example. My wife is a school teacher, and nine years ago she was teaching in South Boston, VA. A 4th grade student of hers had his mom suddenly pass away, leaving him an orphan. After hearing the plight thrown upon this child, I wanted to do something. I contacted the Virginia Tech football office during the football season, relayed the story to them, and asked if there was any way I could get a football signed by Coach Beamer. I received an email telling me to be at the football office at the Merryman Center at 2:15 pm that afternoon. I assumed I would just be dropping off the ball and could pick it up a few days later. Wrong.
I arrived at the office, told the secretary my name and said I was here to drop off the football to be signed for the student in South Boston. The secretary said wait just a second and then turned her head and said, “Frank, the gentleman is here with the football for the young boy in South Boston.” Much to my surprise, out walks Coach Frank Beamer himself and asks for the football. He asks the child’s name and I tell him and he proceeds to sign his name and write a personal message. Then he looks at me and tells me, “Let him know we’re thinking about him at Virginia Tech and to hang in there.”
I told him thank you so much as I slowly picked my jaw from the floor still shocked by what just happened. While on the surface, it may have just been a signature and a few minutes of his day. Coach Beamer didn’t have to do it and I’m sure he had thousands of other things on his schedule, yet he still found the time to help a person he didn’t even know. And, I can assure you it wasn’t just a signature to the young man who had just lost his mother.
And the thing is this is only one small gesture that Frank Beamer has done over his 29 years as the head coach at Virginia Tech. If you start asking your friends if they have a Frank Beamer story, they probably do. And, if they don’t, it’s probably because they never asked. I’ve heard about Frank meeting with soldiers just back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and sending out signed birthday cards to fans, and I’m not talking about fans who were big donors.
Then there’s the April 16th tragedy at Virginia Tech. If you read his autobiography, “Let Me Be Frank”, it details some of the many hours Frank dedicated to the survivors and how he did all he could to help them, as well as how he led and helped the entire Hokie Nation heal.
(You can read a quick article here from his co-author here.
And this is all from a football coach…a man who is paid to win football games, answer to boosters and teach 85+ young men each season. Yet, he still finds time to be involved in his community and give back. Trust me, not all college coaches are so nice. I have a friend who used to work with Coach Nick Saban when he was at LSU and he told me he was one of the meanest SOB’s you’ve ever met. I don’t know for sure whether it’s true, but I do know I’ve never heard the same thing said about Coach Beamer.
Past his generosity and caring, there’s also the pride he’s instilled in our region. During his first press conference in 1987 he announced that his goal was to win a national title at Virginia Tech, and said it seriously. The reporters were aghast and thought he was crazy. You have to remember Virginia Tech had only been to six bowl games in its history prior to Coach Beamer, and the school had just been put on probation, losing key scholarships.
If you’ve read any history of the Appalachian region or you’ve talked to the old timers in our area, the New River Valley and Southwest Virginia have often times been an afterthought in Virginia, taking a back seat – and maybe that’s being too kind – to bigger regions in Richmond, the Tidewater and Northern Virginia. The area has long been stereotyped as a region of “hicks and moonshiners”. But, here you have this new coach, who grew up in Hillsville, VA, claiming he will lead his “do nothing” school with little to no football history to win the biggest prize in the land. Get real.
But methodically Coach Beamer built Virginia Tech football into a winning program, and eventually a national power – one where ESPN visited regularly – and became a TV darling in an era when many games were not broadcast. And, he did it the right way, with the respect of his players, his coaches and his fans and even more rarely his opponents.
He instilled a sense of pride in Virginia Tech, the NRV and Southwest Virginia. He gave people a reason to brag about their school and community. When talking to relatives across the country, I would say, “I live near Virginia Tech”. And they would respond, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of the school, they have one heck of a football team.”
Now our region is flourishing, and so is Virginia Tech. We live next to one of the top research institutes in the world that continues to expand its educational reach, and a region that is consistently touted by national magazines and websites as “one of the top places to live” in the entire country. Since I moved to the area in 1980 as a child, we’ve gone from just a few stoplights, very little retail, a small job market and lots of farmland to a Smart Road, the 460 bypass, numerous local and national retail and restaurants and more opportunities than ever for employment. To credit Frank Beamer and his football program single-handedly for these accomplishments would be wrong, but to not give the man any credit for our area’s resurgence would be an even bigger mistake.
On January 4, 2000, Virginia Tech was leading 29-28 at the start of the 4th quarter in the Sugar Bowl, just 15 minutes away from Coach Frank Beamer fulfilling his goal to lead Virginia Tech to the national championship in football. As we all know, fate and Florida State didn’t cooperate.
I’m sure that this remains Frank Beamer’s biggest regret, not winning a national championship for Virginia Tech and our region. While it’s unfortunately now a fact that Coach Beamer will never hoist the National Championship trophy, we have been honored and blessed to have a National Championship coach for the last 29 years.