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August 15, 2011

Lots of things have changed over 25 years, but Frank Beamer isn't one of them

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech’s new running backs coach remembers when times weren’t this good for Virginia Tech’s football program. He remembers when a rude fan called the Beamer home one time, and his sister answered, dealing with a tirade that left her in tears. He remembers seeing his dad, stumbling through the throes of what ultimately would be a 2-8-1 season, walk through the door each evening, looking tired and haggard.

But Shane Beamer never wondered whether tough times would change his father.

“He was like he is now,” Shane said. “It’s the truth. I was in high school. When he came home, he was dad. It wasn’t like he was screaming and yelling and bringing his frustrations home with him. You knew how hard he was working, and you knew how much it hurt that they couldn’t get over the hump. But when he came home, he was the same guy, the same dad, when times were successful.

“He was that way in 1992 and nothing has changed.”

On Sept. 3, Frank Beamer begins his 25th season as the head coach at Virginia Tech, and times certainly have changed. After winning just 24 games in his first six seasons, Beamer and the Hokies have won at least 10 games in each of the past six seasons, and his silver anniversary team – the 2011 Hokies – appear poised to continue that streak, with a talented roster and a nicely constructed schedule.

Other things have changed, too. Lane Stadium looks like a football palace. The complex features immaculate practice fields, and the year-old locker room rates second to none.

Assistants have come and gone in that time, though Bud Foster and Bryan Stinespring have been here for nearly the duration. Rickey Bustle left to be a head coach, J.B. Grimes departed to be closer to home, and Todd Grantham and Kevin Rogers went to the NFL, to cite examples

Players have left and then came back. Tech’s current staff features five assistants who played for Beamer – Bud Foster, Charley Wiles, Torrian Gray, Cornell Brown, and of course, Shane. The current graduate assistants include former players John Candelas, Jimmy Martin and Orion Martin.

There have been three athletics directors at Tech in Beamer’s tenure – one who hired him, one who kept him during the rough times and one smart enough to make sure he never left. There also have been four university presidents.

“The thing you realize is that I’ve been very fortunate,” Beamer said. “I was fortunate to have the administration that I had when I first began. I don’t know if a guy would survive if he had the same record I had when I first started out here. To see the place change and to see the facilities change and to be with as many good coaches and as many good players … I’ve just been a fortunate person. I very much realize that.”

Even with all the changes, he’s never changed. Beamer’s best trait may be his uncanny ability to remain calm in a storm. In 1995, Tech started out the season with high expectations, but an 0-2 record. The Hokies then won out, beating Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Last year, Tech started out the season with high expectations, but an 0-2 mark. The Hokies went on to win the ACC title and went to the Orange Bowl.

“There was no panic,” Foster said. “He told us we were good coaches and we have a good formula for success here. We just had to get the right players and let them learn from their mistakes and we were going to be fine. That was comforting and showed a lot of confidence in us. That’s what a leader of an organization does.”

Hopefully, fans appreciate conference championships, bowl bids (18 straight) and bowl wins (8). Just consider the plights of ACC brethren Clemson and North Carolina, both on their fifth coach since Beamer started. The Tech program, his program, is in fine shape, both for this season and in the long run, so there should be more glory in the future.

Frank Beamer’s enjoyed unprecedented success at Tech. And the length of his tenure also may become unprecedented, given today’s college football climate.

“Coach [Steve] Spurrier [South Carolina head coach] always said 10-11 years was long enough to stay at one place,” Shane said. “Whether that’s true or not, it’s a different time now.

“You may see a situation like that [a coach staying at one school for a long time] in the future, but I’d be surprised if there was.”