Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer can still vividly remember walking off the field at Lane Stadium in 1992 when he was a sophomore in high school and his father, Frank, had just concluded a dismal 2-8-1 season as head coach of the Hokies.
Virginia Tech had lost at home 41-38 to rival Virginia in its season finale, and the younger Beamer was following his father’s footsteps into the tunnel as they left the field.
“I was about 10 feet behind him following him, and I can remember a guy hanging over the railing and screamed down at him, ‘bye-bye, Beamer!’” Shane Beamer said. “People thought that might be his last game.”
Instead, it was Virginia Tech’s last losing season under Frank Beamer.
“I was sitting in an academic visit the other day with a recruit, and the professor said we were just kind of a quiet little college town university before [Frank] Beamer showed up,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who has been on the sideline with Beamer as either a player or coach for 33 years. “Now, we feel like we hit the jackpot. Things have changed. That’s what you see with Coach. He’s a guy who put this place on the map, so to speak.”
Beamer enters his 25th season as Virginia Tech’s head coach this fall, a longevity that has been unrivaled, as no other head football coach in school history had lasted longer than 10 seasons, and only Penn State’s Joe Paterno has been at his current school consecutively longer (45 years). Beamer has won 240 games in his 30 years as a head coach, and his sustained success at his alma mater has been unparalleled in recent years, as no other program has managed seven straight 10-win seasons. Under Beamer, Virginia Tech has won four ACC titles, three Big East titles, made five BCS bowl appearances and played for one national championship.
“I feel fortunate to be around 25 years,” Beamer said. “I really understand how fortunate I am. There have been a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players, and an administration that hung around when most wouldn’t these days after about the first four or five years. Things have turned out good for Virginia Tech. Being in the Big East was a great situation for us. That helped because it gave you TV and bowl games. And then coming into the ACC, that helps because that’s the right conference for us. We’ve had some fortunate things happen to help me stay there for 25 years.”
There is a reason, though, Beamer is still coaching and making sweeping changes to the program at 64 years old.
Despite his accomplishments, Beamer has yet to win a national title, a fact that hasn’t exactly escaped the Virginia Tech faithful. With or without that elusive title, Beamer is destined for the College Football Hall of Fame, and those within the program say Beamer doesn’t need a national title to validate his career or legacy at the program. Most would agree. But he still wants to win one, and by making staff changes this offseason -- which included the hire of his son, also a top-notch recruiter -- Beamer has put himself in a better position to contend for one, if not this year, then in the near future.
Shane Beamer said there wouldn’t be a better way to commemorate his father’s silver anniversary this season than with a title -- any title.
“If you were writing a movie script and the head coach hires his son in his 25th year of coaching and they win a national championship the first year together, that would be pretty storybook and Hollywood-esque,” Shane said. “I don’t know if that’s in the cards or not. We’ve got a tough schedule this year and a lot of challenges ahead of us. Obviously if we win a championship that would make it even more special, but if we don’t win a championship this year, just being on the staff and being a part of this team and getting to share his 25th year of coaching with him, that’s pretty special in itself.”
Staff loyalty runs deep in Blacksburg, which is why the offseason changes caused quite a stir inside and outside of the football building. Longtime assistants Billy Hite and Jim Cavanaugh were moved into administrative positions to make room for the younger Beamer and outside linebackers/assistant defensive ends coach Cornell Brown. Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain was given the playcalling duties.
Shane said there were plenty of elite recruiters on Virginia Tech’s staff before he arrived, and if there is a perception out there that he is the missing piece to the Hokies’ quest for a national title, it’s the wrong one.
“If you count my dad and the nine assistant coaches, I’m one-tenth of the equation,” he said. “We’re all in this thing together. I don’t think myself or Cornell is the missing piece. He’s been adamant about why we were brought in, and thought it was good for the program to try and make it better from top to bottom and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Beamer said being able to retain the knowledge of Hite and Cavanaugh while hiring two younger coaches who have to reach the top of their game was an overall upgrade.
“I think our organization is the strongest it’s ever been,” Shane said.
That’s saying a lot, considering the milestones that have been reached over the past 24 seasons.
Frank Beamer, though, isn’t done yet.
“I’m hoping we will be celebrating Year 25,” said Foster. “I’m hoping it will be a special year.”
It’s been a long time at Virginia Tech since it wasn’t.