In the fall of 1992, Virginia Tech athletic director Dave Braine was greeted with the same irritating query by a parishioner at church every Sunday morning: "When are we going to get rid of Frank Beamer?"
The incessant questions irked Braine, prompting him to start another weekly ritual. He bought two dozen Carol Lee donuts after church, drove over to the Tech football offices and spent the afternoon watching film with the coaches. "That's when I realized how good Frank was," Braine said by phone on Sunday evening. "It was a blessing that guy kept asking me when I was going to get rid of him."
Following Tech's 2-8-1 record in 1992, Braine met with school president James McComas about his coach, who was 24-40-2 through six seasons. "Mr. A.D.," McComas asked Braine. "Do we need to get rid of our football coach?"
Braine explained to his president that they had the right coach. Beamer had led Tech from the throes of probation and scholarship losses and just needed more financial support to upgrade his staff. The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes and indelibly changed the course of the athletic department and university. "That was the best decision for Virginia Tech football that was ever made," Braine says. "They put everything in place, we made the Independence Bowl in 1993 and have been to a bowl game every year since."
Instead of an early exit, we got Enter Sandman. Instead of Tech ending up in the AAC, it is in the ACC. After one postseason victory in the nine decades of football prior to 1987, the Hokies have reached 22 consecutive bowls. Instead of a forgettable six-year run, we got one of the most unforgettable tenures in college football history that will be remembered for its off-field class as much as its on-field play.
Beamer, 69, announced on Sunday—in his typical and understated fashion—that he would be stepping down as Virginia Tech's coach at the end of the season after 29 years. He told his son, associate head coach Shane Beamer, in a meeting last Friday that he would likely make the announcement this weekend if Tech beat Boston College.
After the 26-10 victory, Beamer went through with it. He held a short team meeting, telling the players he always felt he knew when it would be time to retire. That time was now. He said the hardest part would be leaving them, and a raucous standing ovation erupted after his brief remarks. Shortly thereafter, players filed into assistant coaches offices in tears. "It's unlike anything I've been around," Shane Beamer said late Sunday night. "I don't know there has been a bond like this between a coach and a community, and I don't think there ever will be."
Beamer's announcement ends one of the most unique relationships in all of college sports, one we may never see the likes of again. Beamer's 29 seasons is 12 years longer than the next most tenured coaches in FBS football (Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz).
He's seen Tech's Lane Stadium grow to 66,000 from 47,500, and the school's athletic profile transformed from an annual homecoming opponent to national title contender. As a university, Virginia Tech grew from a regional school to a national brand. The coach saved in part by an irritating parishioner went on to inspire a specific style football— Beamer Ball—synonymous with hard hits, blocked kicks and Monkish discipline.
Beamer's value to Tech transcends his 235-120-2 record there, as he nurtured the school through the horrific 2007 school shooting by becoming the face of the university during the tragedy. The hardest question to answer about Beamer's legacy will be whether he's meant more to Virginia Tech or if his alma mater has meant more to him.
"I don't know if in this day and age anyone can stay at a high-profile school for that long," former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese says. "All fan bases are so impatient. It's just hard. The days of people like Frank, there aren't going to be many more like him."
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson refers to Beamer as one of the "Patron Saints of Program Builders." The most remarkable thing about Tech's ascension under Beamer is really how unremarkable it was. Tech dominated special teams, ran the ball between the tackles and prided itself on being hard-nosed. The Hokies didn't trick you, they thumped you.
Former quarterback Bryan Randall, the 2004 ACC Player of the Year, joked on Sunday about how Beamer would encourage his players in pre-game speeches to play with "reckless abandonment." But in program building, he did so with patience and pragmatism. Beamer endeared himself to families enough that 25 sets of brothers played for him. He built a trust with high school coaches by winning seven league titles (four ACC and three Big East), producing 93 NFL draftees and beating rival Virginia 11 straight seasons.
"They had such a foothold and pipeline to Virginia Beach," says Clawson, who coached at Richmond from 2004-07. "Literally all those kids would drive by UVA to go to Virginia Tech. A lot of that was because those coaches loved, respected and trusted Coach Beamer."
Beamer vaulted Tech to the precipice of the national title in 1999, going 11-0 in the regular season and beating four ranked opponents—Virginia, Syracuse, Miami and Boston College—by an average of 44-8. The Michael Vick-led Hokies played No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Tech led 29-28 at the end of the third quarter thanks to Vick, but FSU scored 18 unanswered in the fourth to win 46-29.
"He put on a one-man show," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden recalled on Sunday of Vick's 322 total yards (97 rushing yards, 225 passing). "We won the game, but he was the star."
By giving rural Blacksburg a national identity, Beamer cemented himself as one of the most transformative figures in school history. Longtime Tech radio voice Bill Roth, who worked with Beamer from 1988 through 2014, wonders if the highway extension from I-81 to the campus would have been built without Beamer's success. The street in front of Lane Stadium is named Beamer Way, which serves as both a road and roadmap for future coaches.
The Beamer Way is to treat everyone with respect. Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano recalls golfing with Beamer as a young head coach in the Big East. When Schiano hacked up a crater of a divot on a pristine course in Florida, Beamer quietly replaced it. "I was totally embarrassed," Schiano says. "But that's the kind of guy Frank is, he's a gentleman's gentleman and will be remembered as one of the truly good guys in this profession."
Unlike the cringe-inducing endings of Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bowden at Florida State and Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee, Beamer's time at Tech ends with a soft landing. Beamer's retirement is an acknowledgement of the obvious—the Hokies simply haven't lived up to the lofty standards that Beamer set for the program.
After eight consecutive double-digit winning seasons from 2004 to '11, Tech has gone 26-22 the last four years. The Hokies have been particularly bedeviled by injuries the past two seasons, and at 4-5 will need two wins in the final three weeks to secure a 23rd straight bowl bid. The combination of Beamer's age and the team's pedestrian play made this season an obvious exit point. Beamer doesn't leave shrouded by scandal like Paterno, lobbying for another year like Bowden or in an awkward press conference like Fulmer. After 277 career victories, Beamer didn't lose self-awareness.
Instead, he's conscientious enough to make the announcement early to give the school he's dedicated his life to ample time to seek an adequate replacement. Shane Beamer says his father didn't want the fan base to become divided about his future, as he loved the school too much to put it in a bad spot. "He's at peace with it," the younger Beamer says. "He's very much at peace with it. That makes it easier."
Frank Beamer will be remembered for his teams playing with reckless abandonment yet handling themselves with unmatched class. His absence from the college football landscape, though, will be a divot for the sport that's nearly impossible to replace.
"This is the end of an era," Braine said. "I don't think they'll ever be anyone like Frank Beamer again in college football."
Houston's ball-hawking defense leads nation in turnovers
First-year Houston defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has finally gotten used to it. But it took him a while to become accustomed to Cougars managers and trainers yelling at players in practice if they carry the ball loosely. Photographs of those not protecting the ball are sometimes taken from practice video, marked with a red X and posted on doors throughout the team facilities.
Defensively, players are focused on ball security, too, except they want strip the football from their offensive counterparts whenever possible during practice. They'll try to dislodge the ball even when a player's jogging back to the huddle after a play.
It's all part of what's perhaps been No. 18 Houston's most important stat this season. It's turnover margin, not the dizzying offensive numbers the high-flying Cougars have put up under first-year coach Tom Herman, who's emerged as one of college football's hottest names.
Houston leads the nation in that category this season at plus-15, having forced 22 turnovers, which is tied for first nationally, and turned over the ball just seven times. The four turnovers Houston forced in Saturday's 34-0 rout of Vanderbilt tied a season-high; it was the fourth time the Cougars had that many in a game this season.
"There's such a high culture in terms of protecting the ball offensively and getting the ball defensively," Orlando tells The Inside Read. "It's obviously helped us a lot. We preach it every day. It's insane."
So is the way that Orlando has Houston's defense playing right now. The Cougars (8-0, 4-0 in AAC ) have given up a combined 17 points in their last three victories. For the season, Orlando's unit is 18th in the nation in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and 30th in total defense (339.9 yards per game). His players seem to have gotten through the growing pains of adjusting to his aggressive scheme's multiple formations.
"I think the guys have gotten a little bit comfortable with the way things are gameplanned and called," Orlando says. "I think at first it was probably a little bit of a culture shock."
That's because Orlando has used heavy defensive pressure all season. A year ago, the Cougars only did that for the latter part of the season under former defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who now holds the same position at Texas Tech.
"We're trying to create a little bit more explosive plays, especially in the turnover game," Orlando says.
But Orlando, who had previously been Utah State's defensive coordinator, is quick to credit Gibbs for opportunistic mentality of Houston's defense. The Cougars forced an eye-popping 73 turnovers during Gibbs' two seasons overseeing the unit.
"Guys are very mindful of deliberately trying to get the ball out every play," Orlando says. "That culture is pretty unique. It's player run, too. They do it everyday. We preach it, but to actually have guys that make it important for their teammates and stress it to each other is special. They take a lot of pride in it."
The turnover ringleader is senior safety Adrian McDonald, who has team-highs of four interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season. His interception in Saturday's win over Vanderbilt was the 17th of his collegiate career, setting a new school record. McDonald and his fellow defensive backs have made causing turnovers a game within the game, according to Orlando.
"He's feeding that stuff to everybody else," Orlando says of McDonald "He'll get you every time if you're not paying attention."
With offenses as creative as they've ever been and on a record-scoring pace this season, Orlando believes causing turnovers is as important as ever. "This is such an important part of playing defense in today's game because you're going to give up yards, first downs," Orlando says. "If you can gain possessions or setup your offense in position to score, it's so critical these days."
That especially helps with Houston having such a lethal offense. The Cougars are fifth in the FBS in scoring offense (45.9 points per game).
"If we can get our offense back on the field, they're so high-powered that if we get them in scoring opposition, they're at least minimum going to get three points," Orlando says. "That's how we've been playing off of each other, especially for the last three or four games of this stretch. It's been really good team football. We've been getting the football, they've been protecting it, we've been playing decent in terms of the kicking game."
Orlando insists that his defense is still a work-in-progress. It'll be tested plenty with a remaining regular season schedule of Cincinnati on Saturday as well as No. 15 Memphis (8-0, 4-0), at Connecticut (4-5, 2-3) and Navy (6-1, 4-0).
"We've really got to be on point," Orlando says.
Orlando is also staying mindful of ball security because no one is safe at Houston. He makes sure to keep the ball tight when he has it because his own players have tried to strip him—so far unsuccessfully. Their best chance might before practice, because Orlando is otherwise usually 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
"I'm trying my best to stay away from them," Orlando says with a laugh.
And for good reason, because Orlando doesn't want to be Houston's newest poster boy.
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