Frank-ly nearing its end

Let’s preface this by saying that Frank Beamer is responsible for the ascendancy of Virginia Tech football.  Before he arrived on campus (and certainly before he got it rolling in 1993), football at Virginia Tech consisted of a nationally irrelevant program that thrived on under-scheduling, including consistent meetings with Richmond and VMI among others and a group of largely loyal local fans. The games were played in the afternoon, the stadium held just about 40,000 and the now impressive South end zone consisted of bleachers you would see at a high school field.  Media coverage consisted mostly of the Roanoke Times, the three local television stations and the school newspaper.  National television appearances were rare and when they were on national television they had to do crazy things like play an ill-fated Thanksgiving night game against Virginia in 1982 which was televised on TBS in front of a half empty stadium.  The players recruited by the school were basically players you’d now find playing at programs in Conference USA or the Sunbelt.

Frank Beamer deserves credit for taking Virginia Tech from that to a nationally relevant program that played for the National Championship in 1999. He deserves credit for building the program such that the stadium expanded to over 60,000, new sky boxes were added, and media attention skyrocketed.  Recruiting was better and many of the state’s best players stayed home to wear the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange.  Bowl games became the norm and he fashioned his own brand of “Beamer Ball” which thrived on scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams.

Beamer Ball is gone, a lot of the Commonwealth’s best players are going out of state, and soon Frank Beamer will gone as well.  Saturday’s game against Pitt was an example of all that is wrong with Virginia Tech football and it’s rapid decent from national program back into the type of mediocrity that Beamer walked into in 1987.  On Saturday the Hokies had their worst offensive performance since Beamer’s first game as Tech’s head coach against Clemson in 1987.  Football is a line of scrimmage game and if you are bad up front, you are just bad and make no mistake this Virginia Tech team is bad.  You can’t make any other argument when the offensive line yields 7 sacks.  The running game is non-existent and like it or not, the reason is a decision make by Frank Beamer to hire his son Shane as running backs coach.  This is not intended to be a personal attack on Shane Beamer, but he was a back-up quarterback/receiver in High School and a Long Snapper for his dad at Virginia Tech.  Those are the facts. His full-time coaching experience included stops at Mississippi State and South Carolina.  So, he recruited Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina? That and $5 will get you coffee at Starbucks in this what have you done for me lately world.  Do Tech fans remember the running backs being this unproductive when Billy Hite was coaching them?  Of course, they are only as good as the guys up front and they are just awful on the offensive line as they have been for several years.  Don’t try to convince me that if Michael Brewer was not hurt and still playing quarterback things wouldn’t be this pathetic.  It was the offensive line play against Ohio State that contributed to Brewer getting hurt in the first place.  The offensive performance can also be traced to another Beamer decision to hire Scott Loefler as his offensive coordinator.  The year before Loefler arrived in Blacksburg he was the coordinator of one of the worst offenses in college football  history at Auburn.  Why hire someone with that track record and put him in charge of your offense?  Loefler has a gigantic color coded play card presumably to choose plays from and in all fairness he’s probably a better than average quarterback coach, but his offense lacks an identity and you get the feeling watching games that he’s just pulling plays off that card just hoping anything will work.

Despite their offensive woes, Tech fans could usually count on their defense to save them most of the time.  That’s not the case this year.  Don’t get me wrong Bud Foster suddenly hasn’t forgotten how to coach but there’s either a disconnect from what he’s saying to the players or they are just so tired of having to carry the pathetic performance from the other side of the ball that they can’t do it anymore.  On Pitt’s opening drive of the second half, they needed just two plays to ram the ball down Tech’s throat and score a touchdown and Pitt’s offense with below average quarterback Nathan Peterman isn’t about to be confused with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

The difference is simple.  Virginia Tech is not tough enough and not physical enough to even compete (Pitt whipped them up front all day) and this particular team appears to be one destined to struggle to stretch the school’s 22 year streak to 23.  The responsibility for that falls right at Beamer’s feet who appears – despite his promise to totally evaluate this team and get the ship righted — devoid of answers to actually do so.  I mean what exactly is he going to do?  Hire a new offensive staff before the next game on a Friday night against N.C. State?  Take over play calling himself?  We’ve seen that.  He did it in 1987 and finished 2-9?  He did it in the 1994 Gator Bowl and the Hokies got rolled by Tennessee.

So that brings us back to the fact that Beamer’s tenure is coming to an end sooner rather than later.  The fact is that if you are pushing 70 your are not the same coach that you were when you were in your 40s or even 50s.  That’s just life.  There’s a reason professional athletes don’t play football in their 40s and 50s.  Every season has a turn and we all have to accept the fact that as we age there are things that we just cannot do anymore.  If Frank Beamer truly cares about Virginia Tech and the legacy of what he has built, and I know he does, then he’ll approach athletic director Whit Babcock at the end of this season and develop a plan for a final victory tour next year and the hiring of a completely new offensive staff by Babcock (without any input from Beamer) this year led by a coordinator who will take over as head coach when Beamer retires at the end of 2016.  That allows the new head coach in waiting to not only coach the players currently on the roster and build trust with them, but to recruit new players.  Given what Beamer has built at Virginia Tech he deserves his final lap before moving full time into the grand-kid business.

There’s a contingent out there that would like to see Foster succeed Beamer, but I’m of the mind that Foster really doesn’t want to be a head coach given all the chances he’s had (the Vanderbilt job was his for the taking two years ago) to run his own program. And, as other examples have shown us a good coordinator does not always equal a good head coach because the head coach must concentrate on the entire program and not just one side of the ball.  I personally like Bud Foster and admire his coaching ability but there are just as many examples of a loyal assistant being promoted turning out to be a disaster as being successful.  So, the onus is on Whit Babcock to handle what is quickly becoming a difficult situation.  There’s no good way to ease out someone whose lost some speed on his fastball (there are numerous cumbersome examples such as Bobby Bowden and Phillip Fulmer), but it’s going to have to be done because Frank-ly speaking the Virginia Tech football program in his current shape looks more like 1987 than 1999.

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