Two years ago, in what would be both Frank Beamer and Ruffin McNeill’s final seasons coaching their respective teams, Virginia Tech lost on the road at East Carolina, 35–28. That was Week 4 of the 2015 season, and both teams came out of the game at 2–2.
On Saturday, the Hokies returned to Greenville and won handily, 57–17. And on that day two years ago, if asked which team might part ways with its coach in a few months, it would have been a tough debate. McNeill was a popular coach who'd won eight, then 10, then eight games at a middling program over the past three years. Beamer was a legend, albeit an aging one, and considering that information, my money in 2015 would have been on Beamer, if only because of his age—69 at the end of that season.
Instead, by December both were gone, Beamer by his own volition and McNeill fired after a 5–7 campaign in his team's second season in the American Athletic Conference. By virtue of that new, tougher league and the fact that his record had been mediocre at worst, it would have made sense for McNeill to get another year—or two, or three, in which logic would dictate that he'd have gotten the Pirates back to bowl eligible in no time. Instead he was out, replaced by former Duke assistant Scottie Montgomery. In 2016 and so far in ‘17, ECU is a combined 3–12. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech replaced Beamer with one of the most talented young coaches on the market that winter, Justin Fuente, and was ranked No. 16 going into Saturday's win.
It's been a path of divergence for the two teams since that September game two years ago, and only East Carolina’s trajectory has been surprising. McNeill, though, gets the last laugh. Losing his job at East Carolina paved the way for him to take the job this summer as assistant head coach at Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 2 going into play Saturday.