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January 17, 2012

Gazing into the future - Beamer has the Hokies' program built for the long term

By: Jimmy Robertson

This is the sixth and final piece in a series of stories this past season that looked back at head coach Frank Beamer’s 25 years as the head man of Tech’s football program. This particular story takes a look at Beamer’s future and the future of the Hokies’ program, and also whether the messy departures of good friends Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno have changed his outlook on how long he plans to coach.

This past spring, Frank Beamer received mostly positive reviews for a staff shake-up that brought well-credentialed son Shane back to Blacksburg as the running backs coach.

It was a particularly popular decision for the person who matters the most to Tech’s longtime coach – his wife.

My wife [Cheryl] is happy about this because she gets to see her two granddaughters every day,” Beamer said, laughing. “Emily’s [Shane’s wife] happy about this because she’s got a babysitter. So in the big picture, it’s been a good decision all the way around.”

Then, after a pause, he added, “As long as Shane’s happy, it’s been a good decision all the way around.”

It’s hard to deny the success the Beamers and the rest of the staff enjoyed this past season, given Tech’s appearances in both the ACC title game and the Sugar Bowl. The success also validates Frank Beamer’s decision to make those coaching moves, and rest assured, he made them because of business and not because of family loyalty, though the hire brought with it family benefits.

“I don’t think you coach with your son because he’s your son,” Beamer said. “I think you coach with your son because he’s a good coach and he’s good at what he does. He brings something to your staff and does a good job at recruiting. That’s first and foremost. It has to be for the right reasons.

“I’ve seen several father-son situations not work out the way that you’d want it to. I think, at the time, it was the right situation, and I think it’s worked out well.”

Barring anything unforeseen, Beamer will be coaching with his son for the next five seasons. In September, he and the athletics department announced a contract extension through the 2016 season. But both sides emphasized that Beamer might coach beyond that, and Beamer has said on many occasions that he wants to coach as long as his health holds out and the wins keep coming.

Certainly, the foundation of the program appears to be solid for the short term, with nine starters returning on defense for next season and Logan Thomas around as the quarterback probably for two more years. Long term, longtime assistants Bud Foster, Charley Wiles and Bryan Stinespring, the nucleus of the staff, figure to be in for the long haul, and the same could probably be said of the rest of the assistants, including Shane. And with recruiting going so well, it is only natural that the elder Beamer wants to stick around and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

“I feel like we do have a good foundation, and our recruiting is very solid right now,” Beamer said. “I understand there’s a real thin line between being okay and not being okay. I understand that fully.

“I’ve told people that as long as we have a good quarterback and a couple of playmakers, and as long as my health is good, then I’d like to coach a while longer. As long as you feel like you can win and your health is good, then this is a good business. The other side of it, this is a very stressful business.”

Beamer will be 70 by the time this extension ends in 2016. He admits Cheryl wouldn’t mind seeing him retire then or at some point soon thereafter. They own a beautiful home on a lake in Georgia, and the two could enjoy it, keep tabs on Shane’s coaching career, and watch the grandkids grow up.

“I think she’d be just as happy, maybe happier, if I wasn’t coaching and maybe doing some TV work and not having the stress of going through a season,” he said. “She’s there when I don’t sleep very well, and she’s there when my stomach hurts from worrying. She sees the other side of it.”

Beamer also has seen how horribly things can end. Two of his best friends in the coaching profession, former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, saw their legendary Hall of Fame careers end on sour notes. Bowden was forced out at the age of 80 after 33 years, while Paterno was fired at the age of 84 after 46 years.

No one wants that type of ending for Beamer, a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

“The future is never easy to see, and I’m aware of that,” Beamer said. “I’m aware that this is a quick-changing business. I’m aware that what people think one day may not be what they think the next.”

The end of the 2016 season will mark Beamer’s 30th year as the head coach at Tech and his 36th year as a head coach overall. He already is currently the winningest active coach and longest tenured coach in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

He may be the last of his kind, too. Escalating salaries bring forth instant demands for wins, and longevity has become extinct in the coaching profession.

But Beamer isn’t ready to commit to a timeframe for retiring. He loves being around his players and his coaches, and he loves the big games.

“The big games and the preparation and getting ready to go play … there’s a certain rush that you get from that,” he admitted. “I still like that. I like getting to the big games and trying to win them.”

In other words, the fire and intensity still burn, and he loves competition.

“Yeah, I think there’s something to that,” he said. “I think, down deep, that’s what makes you like this business.”