After Kiffin's departure, appreciation for Beamer
As word spread that Lane Kiffin would be leaving Tennessee after only one year to become the coach at Southern California, outraged fans and students took to the streets in Knoxville to show their angst toward a coach now viewed as a pariah.
The first thought that came to my mind, however, was the stability at Virginia Tech.
This relatively young offseason has brought a remarkable coaching carousel. Notre Dame fired Charlie Weis. At Florida, Urban Meyer announced his retirement before saying a day later that he would just take some time off. Texas Tech, Kansas and South Florida have all dismissed their coaches for their poor treatment of players. Then there is Pete Carroll, who left USC for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and created the opening for Kiffin.
And through it all, Frank Beamer remains in Blacksburg. Even Bobby Bowden, the legendary Florida State coach, was ushered out the door after the season, meaning Beamer is the second longest continuously serving coach in division I-A. Beamer has coached at Virginia Tech for the past 23 seasons, while Joe Paterno has been the head coach at Penn State for the last 44 years.
They are both the faces of their universities. But the numbers illustrating their longevity have always seemed abstract, until the landscape changes like it has in recent weeks.
I attended Penn State and have covered the Nittany Lions, so I know Paterno and the program well. When I first arrived in Blacksburg to cover Virginia Tech, I was struck at just how similar the two places are, from their tucked-away settings to their college-town environments to the way their football programs operate with their iconic coaches and long-serving staffs.
You can trace the growth and exposure of those universities, and their communities, to Paterno and Beamer.
Before Paterno arrived in Happy Valley, it was a small cowtown and an agricultural school; now it's a national university and State College is said to become Pennsylvania's third-largest (behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) during home football weekends. Similarly, Beamer has built Virginia Tech into what it is today, bringing a school also set amid farms and fields into the spotlight by building its football program. Before Beamer arrived, even dedicated college football observers might have asked, "Who are the Hokies?" After 17 straight bowl appearances, you don't hear that anymore.
Beamer has compiled a 187-92-2 record since he first arrived in 1987. Beamer is even keel, never up, never down. He is humble and quiet and an unassuming steward of one of one of only two college football programs with a current streak of at least six consecutive 10-win seasons.
A key to Beamer's success is that he operates with metronome consistency. Billy Hite, the Hokies' running backs coach who has coached in Blacksburg for the past 32 years, once told me that former coaches sometimes call up to check in; based on the time and day of the week when they call, the former coaches can predict the schedule and meetings. "It's Monday at 10 a.m., so you must be heading to this meeting, right?" a former coach might say.
Like Paterno has at Penn State, Beamer has built Virginia Tech on a solid foundation. Although his players may have had scrapes with the law at times over the years, there have not been academic scandals and recruiting violations. And Beamer, like Paterno, has had chances to leave his position but has stayed and built the university and become the face of the program.
Virginia Tech has only appeared in one national championship game, during the 1999 season. Some Hokies fans have grumbled about their program's rare opportunities for a title, wanting to make a bigger splash in the national landscape on a year-to-year basis. Other programs around the country have gone up and down in the rankings, and coaches have come and gone. Right now, Alabama and Coach Nick Saban are the hot thing after his rapid rebuilding job in Tuscaloosa. But it has remained steady in Blacksburg: the Hokies keep winning and Beamer keeps coaching.
As Tennessee became the latest program in transition, it give you a renewed appreciation for the truly special nature of programs like Virginia Tech and timeless coaches like Beamer.
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