Go Tech Go: The Inside Story Behind the Rise of VT Football, Part 2

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Click here to read Part 1 of this series

Part 2: Great Expectations, then Tragedy

Even without defensive coordinator Charley Pell on staff, the “Bowl-Bound in ’76” bumper stickers looked prophetic eight games into the 1976 season. Virginia Tech was 6-2 and very much in play for a bowl bid heading into a November 6 game against Tulsa in Lane Stadium.

On a beautiful sunny day better suited for golf than football, Hokies running back Roscoe Coles gained a then-school-record 214 rushing yards and Tulsa had eight turnovers. Easy double-digit win, right? Except that the Hokies fumbled a punt attempt at their own three, allowed a Tulsa kick returner to sprint 100 yards up the middle untouched, fumbled at their own 33 and 3 to set up two Tulsa touchdowns, and finally fumbled a fifth time at the Golden Hurricane 7-yard line with time running down – and lost 35-31. (Why, in recapping this game, does the movie Eight Men Out come to mind?) It just goes to show that when it comes to turnovers, quality trumps quantity.

As you can imagine, the defeat was just north of devastating, and Virginia Tech dropped its two remaining games to finish 6-5. The “Bowl Bound in ’76” bumper stickers would have to wait till 2076, and the big-money alumni who supported Tech athletics began to wonder if Sharpe was truly the coach to take the program to the next level.

Ford had a better idea

In the offseason, Sharpe’s staff suffered another wallop to the midsection. Godforsaken Clemson had elevated Charley Pell to head coach, and he lured Virginia Tech offensive line coach Danny Ford to join him.

A tobacco-chewing good ol’ boy, Ford succeeded Pell as the Tigers’ head coach and did pretty good there,