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August 15, 2011

Baughman makes bold move during his brief time at Tech

By: Jimmy Robertson


This is the first in a series of stories that looks back at head coach Frank Beamer’s 25 years as the head man of Tech’s football program. To begin, we look back at the circumstances that led to his hiring – and the man who made it happen.

Toward the end of 1986, the Virginia Tech athletics department was a tumultuous place to be – and this was following a great football season that ended with a thrilling Peach Bowl victory over N.C. State.

The department was transitioning to a new athletics director and a new football coach, as Bill Dooley, who served both roles, resigned earlier in the season – he said he was fired – after university officials wanted to split his coaching and AD roles. Other issues at the time included an NCAA investigation into Tech’s football program, the lack of a conference home for all its sports, and a lack of revenue.

Dutch Baughman

But one person wanted to take on the challenges.

“What you described is precisely why I took the job,” Dale Thomas Baughman said, better known to Tech fans as “Dutch.” “Charlie Moir [Tech’s men’s basketball coach at the time] was a very good friend, and helped me understand what was needed. Anybody can take an AD position when everything is working just right, but frankly, that never happens. There is always a reason why a position is open, and there is always something that needs to be fixed.

“The other intangibles, such as the people involved, the institutional leadership, the mission of the institution, etc., are all compelling reasons.”

Dutch Baughman’s tenure at Tech lasted only six months – he resigned following a rift with university administrators over an investigation into the school’s basketball program. But he made a decision in that brief time span that spawned Virginia Tech into a national football powerhouse going on two decades now.

“No way I could have imagined it,” said Baughman, who now serves as the executive direction of the Division I-A Athletic Directors’ Association. “I would not be telling the truth if I said I could.”

Baughman hired a little known football coach from Murray State named Frank Beamer to head Tech’s football program following Dooley’s departure. Interestingly, Beamer wasn’t necessarily Baughman’s first choice.

To backtrack a little, Baughman got the job on Dec. 11, 1986, when then-Tech president William Lavery heeded the recommendation of his 23-member search committee and hired Baughman to take over the AD’s job. Baughman, one of 96 applicants for the job, had been working for the Southwest Conference for three years prior to taking the Tech job, and before that, he worked as the AD at Furman from 1979-83.

Baughman combined a tough, disciplined approach honed from spending three years in the Marines and from also serving as a graduate assistant football coach under legendary Woody Hayes at Ohio State, with a softer side that put integrity and the welfare of student-athletes first. His handlebar mustache, trademark cowboy boots and cheery disposition helped him win over the committee.

But to win over the Tech fan base, he needed to hire a quality football coach – and quickly.

“I had to move swiftly, but not hastily,” Baughman said.

Baughman’s top choice was Bobby Ross, who had resigned as the head coach at Maryland following that season. Baughman met Ross in Richmond to discuss the Tech job, but Ross thought it too soon to jump back into coaching. He recommended a former assistant coach of his when he served as the head coach of The Citadel – Beamer.

“Bobby thought it was too soon to be involved, but he did tell me that his first hire would be Frank Beamer as his assistant head coach,” Baughman said. “I thought that was interesting. I was talking to Bobby about the job, and he gave his endorsement to Frank Beamer, who was another person whom I was interested in at the time.”

Beamer desperately wanted to return to his alma mater. He had been the head coach at Murray State for six years and amassed four straight winning seasons, including in 1986 when the Racers shared the Ohio Valley Conference championship and made the Division I-AA playoffs.

Baughman knew of Beamer’s accomplishments and was intrigued. He met with Beamer and his wife, Cheryl, in Nashville, Tenn., and then Cheryl departed to leave the two men to talk more in depth about the job. The two men discussed the landscape of college football and Virginia Tech’s place in it, and also, the pending NCAA ruling.

“We had an incredible conversation,” Baughman said. “I remember it well. There was a level of comfort immediately. He had a passion for Virginia Tech, and he wanted the coaching search to go in the best way possible, not for Frank Beamer, but for Virginia Tech.”

Typical of a Marine captain, Baughman went into the Virginia Tech coaching search with a plan and a set of criteria. He wanted someone who had core values that he would not deviate from, and he wanted someone who could stand in front of faculty, alumni, students or media and represent the university well. And he wanted someone who shared the same values as he did because the two of them needed to work together and be compatible with the mission of the institution.

“The more I knew of Frank, he met each one of those,” Baughman said. “It became apparent that he should be the person at Virginia Tech.”

Virginia Tech made it official on Dec. 23, 1986, by announcing the hiring of Beamer to take over following the Hokies’ Peach Bowl appearance. He inherited a solid team coming back, but the transition turned out to be a difficult one, as Tech went 2-9 in his first season.

Making matters worse, the NCAA ultimately punished the program, putting Tech on probation for two years and reducing scholarships – Beamer could only sign 17 prospects in his second recruiting class, eight under the NCAA limit. Plus, Baughman was gone.

Still, Beamer managed to put all that aside and led the Hokies to winning seasons in just his third and fourth years. Tech just missed on a winning season in his fifth year and then plummeted to 2-8-1 in 1992, leading to speculation that Hokie higher-ups might make a change.

But Dave Braine, who had replaced Baughman, stuck with Beamer. Tech went to the Independence Bowl the following year and hasn’t missed one since. Beamer has guided the program to unprecedented success, winning or sharing seven conference championships and currently ranking as the second-winningest active coach in Division I.

“I was convinced he could create a program that modeled what we had in mind,” Baughman said. “But to forecast what he’s been able to do, no one could do that.”

Baughman spent eight years at Oregon State as the AD after his brief tenure at Tech. Following his time in Corvallis, Ore., he took over as the executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors’ Association, where he’s been for the past 15 years.

He keeps in touch with Beamer and returns to Blacksburg periodically, though he rarely announces his arrival. He stays “under the radar,” as he calls it, preferring to stay on the sideline during a football game and enjoy the moment.

“I do that out of respect for Frank and Jim Weaver [Tech’s current AD],” Baughman said.

Baughman enjoys what he does these days, impacting student-athletes’ lives across all sports while remaining in relative anonymity. And he still thinks highly of Virginia Tech and southwest Virginia as a whole in spite of a brief tenure during a difficult period in Tech athletics.

“I’m so proud of that athletics department,” he said. “That was a group of people who came together quickly, and I could be there so easily.

“I don’t regret leaving because I knew why I was leaving and it was for the right reason. But I do regret missing out on so many great things there. I really feel like I missed out on a lot.”