How much time is left for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech?
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Beamer Way runs right next to Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech's new indoor practice facility has been unofficially dubbed the Beamer Barn. The Hokies play Beamer Ball.
Frank Beamer is Virginia Tech football. He has been head coach at his alma mater for 29 years, taking the program from an afterthought to a national power.
At 68 years old and less than a year removed from throat surgery, Beamer will not be the Hokies coach much longer. Exactly how much longer and how he will exit is unknown.
It is a touchy subject for Beamer, his boss, his son who is on staff and Hokies fans. Everybody wants this to end well. Similar situations in college football have not.
Ultimately, the end is mostly up to Beamer.
''I think I'll be fine,'' Beamer told The Associated Press. ''I like playing golf. Get back in the racquetball court. I haven't done that in a while, but I really enjoy that. I think traveling, I'll enjoy moving around, going to see different parts of the country.''
At the moment, that stuff can wait.
''I think I'm a positive influence,'' he said. ''When it gets to where I see I'm not a positive influence here, they I need to let somebody else (coach the team).''
To understand where Virginia Tech football is you have to understand where Virginia Tech football was before it became Beamer Ball. The Hokies had played in six bowl games in their history and never had a 10-win season.
Under Beamer, the Hokies have had 22 straight winning seasons, including 13 with double-digit wins. That success helped Virginia Tech get into the Atlantic Coast Conference, where from 2004-11 the Hokies won at least 10 games every season and four ACC titles.
Beamer is more than just a coach in Blacksburg. After a gunman killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, Beamer met with families of the victims and was one of the public faces of the school's recovery.
In the last three seasons, however, Virginia Tech has won a total of 22 games. And that's a problem.
''In a lot of places that's acceptable, but up here the expectations are higher than that,'' said Shane Beamer, Frank's 38-year-old son and Virginia Tech's running backs coach.
The slippage leaves Virginia Tech fans uneasy and split. Some supporters, generally an older set who remember the days when the Hokies beating Texas in the Sugar Bowl (as they did in 1995) was inconceivable, want Beamer to leave on his own terms.
A younger group that knows nothing but Hokies success respects Beamer, but has less patience. They fear if Virginia Tech waits much longer to make a change it might be too late. They want Virginia Tech to hire a new coach while Virginia and ACC Coastal Division rival Miami are floundering.
''These are the people who are going to be your new season ticket holders,'' said Matthew Worner, a 44-year-old longtime Hokies fan and former season ticketholder who blogs about Virginia Tech and the ACC at www.allsportsdiscussion.com.
Worner counts himself in a small third group, one that trusts Virginia Tech's new leadership team of athletic director Whit Babcock and university president Timothy Sands to handle this delicate situation.
Babcock is a 45-year-old Virginian who is in his second year on the job. He earned plenty of praise from Hokies fans for hiring Buzz Williams away from Marquette to coach a basketball team that has traditionally been at the bottom of the ACC.
Babcock's father, Brad, was a longtime baseball coach at James Madison, and Babcock believes that has helped him forge a healthy relationship with Beamer.
''I didn't want to make change for the sake of change,'' Babcock said. ''If I proved to (Beamer) that I can operate the program with character and competence the rest will take care of itself.''
Babcock has given Beamer a contract extension through the 2019 season and said there have been no conversations between him and the coach about an exit plan.
''For all he's done for Virginia Tech, I spend a lot more of my time on how can I support him and how can I help them be successful than replacing him,'' he said. ''But again having said that, my head's not in the sand. I get asked about it darn near every day.''
Beamer has said he would like his successor to come from his staff. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been coaching with Beamer for more than three decades. Shane Beamer joined the staff in 2011.
Many Virginia Tech fans want the next coach to be a big name with a sterling resume. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez comes up a lot because he and his wife are West Virginia natives.
Shane Beamer notes that his father is younger than South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier (70) and Kansas State coach Bill Snyder (75).
He acknowledges, though, his father is ''year-to-year'' and he will not coach into his late 70s the way Bobby Bowden did at Florida State and Joe Paterno did at Penn State. Both of those Hall of Fame coaches ended up essentially being fired.
''I'm well aware of Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, two great friends throughout the years,'' Frank Beamer said. ''The bottom line is I think enough of Virginia Tech that I want what's right for them. For Virginia Tech.''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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This story has been corrected to remove a reference that the (at)Beamer-Ball Twitter account is the official account of Virginia Tech football and to correct the first name of the university president. (at)Beamer-Ball is the account for BeamerBall.com and the president's name is Timothy Sands.