Frank Beamer is Virginia Tech football, and thus is the linchpin of the school’s overall marketing efforts, not just for sports, but for everything that matters. Odd, then, that he would need a vote of confidence on a random Saturday in January from his AD after a couple of subpar seasons.
But that’s what happens when your flagship sports program goes from winning 10 or more games eight straight years to looking up at mediocrity. The Hokies are just 22-17 the past three seasons, 12-12 in the ACC, and were a nonfactor in the ACC in 2014 after a now-inexplicable 35-21 win at Ohio State in Week 2.
You’d think that Beamer, 231-115-2 in 28 seasons at his alma mater, could write his own obituary, in a manner of speaking, given what he has meant to the Virginia Tech brand. Applications for admissions to Virginia Tech famously increased significantly after the Hokies’ run to the 1999 national-title game, and Saturdays (and Thursday nights) in Lane Stadium are a rite of passage for Tech football fans every autumn.
A coach, like a good punter, can outkick his coverage, though, and we’ve seen that be the case in recent years with legends like Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, whose programs suffered steep declines in their final years as their ADs struggled to put into place succession plans.
Florida State got it right with Jimbo Fisher, to say the least, Fisher having put up a 58-11 record in five seasons following Bowden, whose final four seasons saw the Seminoles go 7-6 three times.
Beamer’s last three seasons have seen the Hokies limp home to two 7-6 finishes, and it’s hard to be too optimistic about 2015, even with Tech’s recruiting class once again ranked in the Rivals Top 25 nationally. The last several Virginia Tech recruiting classes have been Top 25s, and yet the Hokies have struggled on the field, yes, with injuries being a key issue, but football is a sport where injuries hit everybody, and the teams left standing at the end are the ones that can win the war of attrition.
The statement from Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock on Saturday is well-timed in the sense of the upcoming national signing day in February. Not that there was any real uncertainty about Beamer’s future, but if rival schools were trying to use the questions being raised by frustrated fans on message boards about the direction of Tech football, Babcock’s vote of confidence can help squelch that.
At the same time, a vote of confidence for a coach also works to affirm said coach’s status as being on the hot seat. Parsing Babcock’s statement, you get the sense that Beamer, for the first time in probably more than 20 years, is on a leash of sorts, and that another 7-6 finish will tighten that leash even more than it is now.
– Column by Chris Graham