Beamer, Hokies a compelling ACC subplot
Posted July 28, 2014
Looking at Frank Beamer, you’d never guess the Virginia Tech football coach will turn 68 in October. He could pass for 48.
The calendar doesn’t lie, however, and the guy’s been good to great for a very long time. After 27 years with the Hokies, Beamer has a one-way ticket to the college Hall of Fame.
In 33 years of overall – six at Murray State before going to his alma mater – Beamer’s 266 wins are good for 15th on the all-time list. But in reality, only six of the coaches with more wins have had as much success at the same general level of competition.
One of those six is former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, whose 377 wins left him behind only Eddie Robinson (Grambling, 408 wins) and John Gagliardi (Carroll, Mont. College) and St. John’s of Minnesota, 489 wins).
Unfortunately for Beamer, his victory totals are beginning to resemble the final seasons for the Seminoles under Bowden, who was forced out in 2009 at the age of 80.
Beamer almost certainly won’t coach into his 80s, but avoiding a parallel to Bowden’s final few seasons is something the Hokie legend obviously wants to do. How he fares on that front will be perhaps the most interesting subplot of the entire ACC season, regardless of Duke’s new status, Jameis Winston’s bid for a second Heisman, Louisville’s impact and N.C. State’s quest to end an 8-game league losing streak.
FSU went 7-6 (4-4 ACC) in that last season for Bowden. It came after a 9-4 record in ’08 and 7-6 (on the field) in ’07 and ’06.
After the 2000 season, Bowden had only one team to crack double digits in wins – 10-3 (7-1 ACC) with an Orange Bowl loss to Miami in 2004.
Beamer is coming off 8-5 (5-3) and 7-6 (4-4) seasons that broke a streak of eight straight double-digit win seasons in which the Hokies lost only 11 regular-season league games.
But you have to wonder how long Beamer will battle on unless there’s a fairly fast change of course. Last season was an ordeal, a study in frustration that ended with an embarrassing 42-14 losing performance against UCLA in the Sun Bowl, which came after regular-season losses to underdogs Duke, Maryland and Boston College.
Entering mid-season, the Hokies were 5-1 with a reasonably competitive loss to then top-ranked Alabama.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t function better as an organization,” Beamer told reporters after the Sun Bowl game. “When we got down, we turned the ball over and things got out of hand. It’s just a disappointing to end the year like this. We’ve got to learn from this.”
At last week’s ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, Beamer said he thinks the program is “well on the way back” after improving in the off-season.
But on paper, an obvious recovery is difficult to predict. Entering preseason camp, there’s little experience among the quarterbacks, and five defensive front players who made a combined 163 career starts have to be replaced.
In the preseason media poll, Virginia Tech edged UNC by one point for third in the Coastal Division.
It all amounts to abrupt change in expectations for a program that seemed poised to be a regular national contender when it first began ACC play in 2004.
Although the second game this season will be at Ohio State (Sept. 6), the early schedule with four home games before October should allow Beamer’s team to gain some traction.
But as last season proved, a smooth start no longer is a guarantee that Hokie teams will maintain their punch in late season.
That Beamer is one of the best coaches of all time no longer is in doubt. Now it’s a question of his ability to reignite the engine.