Babcock confident Beamer will lead Hokies back to top

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Sitting at the head of the conference table in his office, Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock largely ignores the steel and concrete indoor practice facility rising just outside his windows.

There's more progress to pursue.

The practice facility will be among the finest in the country when completed this year, and after a third consecutive mediocre football season, Babcock has made it clear that he wants the program to live up to that stature.

Babcock met twice with football coach Frank Beamer after the season, the first meeting coming two days after the Hokies beat Virginia to secure their 22nd consecutive bowl appearance, and then again after they beat Cincinnati in the Military Bowl. Beamer had throat surgery for an undisclosed issue after the regular season ended, missed most of the bowl practices and guided the team from the coaches' box in the bowl victory.

The standard end-of-season evaluation touched on everything from recruiting and staffing to Beamer's health and how the Hokies can get back to an elite level, Babcock said in a recent interview.

''It was good, as productive a conversation as we've had,'' Babcock said. ''All our conversations are good, but I was just really pleased with it and it was a very thorough, comfortable conversation.''

Since a string of eight years with at least 10 wins ended three years ago, the Hokies have finished 7-6, 8-5 and 7-6, and twice needed to win their last regular season game to qualify for a bowl game. Their string of 93 consecutive sellouts ended at the start of last season, and attendance has been well off the mark for some late games the past two seasons.

Beamer's upcoming 29th year was never in question, though, unless he decided he'd had enough.

''There was never any time during the season that coach Beamer's job was in jeopardy,'' Babcock said. ''Now, was it fun to watch that stuff? Heck no. And he'll tell you the same thing.''

Instead, following up on a request from Beamer early in the season, Babcock reworked defensive coordinator Bud Foster's contract to move him near the top of what coordinators at major programs make. He'd already boosted the pay of some assistant coaches and said he expects no changes on Beamer's staff unless someone leaves for a new opportunity.

Football staffing, Babcock said, is not his department anyway.

His father, longtime baseball coach at James Madison, influenced that thinking.

''The way I do it, and this is from a son of the coach, I hire the head and he or she hires the assistant coaches,'' Babcock said. ''Having said that, his explanation of staff and how we're going to get better, I was satisfied with. When we hire assistant coaches, we certainly do background checks and those things, but you need to let a coach go into competition with his or her own guys.''

It will all pay off for Beamer, he said.

''He's very well aware of what this place means and the expectations he's set,'' Babcock said. ''And he's very well aware that, hey, we have higher expectations here. And I was very impressed with his drive to go get it. I think he really wants to prove the doubters wrong. I like that scrap and fight and I'm confident he'll do it.''

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