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Hokies drive Beamer for long haul

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke stood at the podium in the Junge Family Champions Center on his first official day as Michigan's new football coach and proclaimed how he had always wanted to coach here, how he would have walked to his new job from his old one at San Diego State.

These days, almost every coach gives the same spiel in his first news conference to try and win over fans and create a lasting image. They talk about building a tradition, family values, wanting to be there forever.

Do they really? Are such things even possible? Or has the culture of coaching and college football changed so much that guys like Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who has been in Blacksburg, Va., for 25 years, no longer exist?

It is a tough question. Hoke has said often -- as recently as last week -- that he has no designs on coaching anywhere else.

"We don't want to leave Michigan," Hoke said. "I know that. So hopefully I can stay here a long time."

Will he be able to? For him to become Michigan's version of Beamer, a lot of things have to go almost perfectly. So much goes into whether a coach can last for 20 seasons at a school anymore.

"It is tougher than it used to be," Beamer said. "The money has gotten up there to the extent where people want results right now. There's two, three guys that were fired after their second year at the school and when you think about it, they wouldn't have been hired if there was a problem, probably, and you're only given two years to get it squared away, really.

"I think it is more difficult than ever."

How it can be done is something of an inexact science. The obvious metric is to win. Beamer has won 10-plus games in each of the last eight seasons. Larry Blakeney, the coach with the second-longest tenure in the FBS, has won eight or more games 13 times in 20 seasons at Troy.

Start on a roll

Now more than ever, the key is starting with success and maintaining it. Within this metric, Hoke is off to a good start, having won 10 games in his first season, including a berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. However, early success has its pitfalls, too. It quickly raises expectations.

For instance, former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis made it to back-to-back BCS bowl games his first two seasons with the Irish. Having to rebuild with youth after taking over with an experienced team, Weis made mistakes, his team faltered in the third season and struggled to recover, and he was fired in 2009 after five seasons.

Programs have grown more impatient with coaches as the money they're paid has escalated. When Don Nehlen took over at West Virginia in 1980 after being the quarterbacks coach at Michigan, he said he made less than $50,000. Dana Holgorsen, who became West Virginia's coach this season, makes $1.4 million plus incentives and his salary increases each year, according to The Associated Press.

"They are paying these coaches millions of dollars so they are expecting nine, 10 wins all the time," Nehlen said. "So I think the fact that these coaches are making so much money, they would have to produce more. I was here 21 years and we had a couple years where we weren't real good and there were a lot of things that went into it.

"I question if guys are going to keep their jobs 20 years anymore. I really do, like a Frank Beamer, a Joe Paterno, a Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Don Nehlen, guys who stayed 20 years in one spot. I don't know if that's going to happen anymore. I really don't."

Money is one factor.

As increased money leads to more pressure, relationships are also paramount. Beamer struggled his first five seasons at Tech, going 24-40-1, and the school almost fired him. He believes the relationships he built during those first five seasons, along with showing progress even if it wasn't displayed in the win-loss record, helped save him.

Nehlen said former Virginia Tech athletic director Dave Braine called him asking about Beamer, and Nehlen said he was a really good coach. Endorsements like that helped the school stick with Beamer.

"The thing I had was good people," Beamer said. "Dave Braine was the athletic director and Dr. James McComas was the president, and those were two solid people. Minnis Ridenhour was a person in the administration, and I think they were people that could see we were making progress. We were doing things the right way.

"So if someone today didn't have that kind of administration, then I don't know how they could last. For me, if those guys were still in place and had that situation, I'd like to think we could last here."

They kept him, and the school hasn't regretted it. Beamer has won less than eight games in just one season since. He turned the program from an almost unknown entity to one of the nation's best. Had the school fired Beamer, would that have happened? Tough to say.

Moreover, if Beamer started today, would he last 20 seasons?

"I don't think so," Beamer said.

A different era

Thus far, Hoke has a supportive administration led by the man who hired him, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon.

This plays into another factor. Who, exactly, are the decision-makers? As the money has increased, more people have become involved.

And those people often have differing opinions and levels of influence.

"There is a lot less patience," said former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, who coached the Cougars from 1972 to 2000 and had only one losing season, his second. "If it's not working out, you've got a lot of people involved, people who donate, board members who all feel like they have a say in whether a coach should stay or leave or whatever.

"There's many issues out there, social media and everything, it's a completely different ballgame now."

News cycles also play into it. When Beamer and Nehlen started, mostly newspapers and television stations covered teams. Talk radio in its present state was in its infancy.

The Internet, now a driving force behind college coverage, wasn't commercialized. The news cycle delivers information to fan bases and administrators 24/7, and as rumors grow the validity of them matters less.

"Whether something is true or not, information gets out there and people repeat it and all of a sudden something that is very inaccurate is a story that is out there," Beamer said. "I think it is more difficult out there today. I know it is more difficult in that regard today. It's going to be tough to stay in one place for a long period of time in the future."

Hoke acknowledged all these factors as potential reasons that it is more difficult for a coach to stay in one place for 20 seasons anymore -- or even close to it.

And there is always temptation from other schools or the NFL.

More coaches than ever appear to be making faster moves -- from a serial mover such as Todd Graham (four schools in seven seasons) or even Hoke (three schools in the past four seasons). Or a guy who, as Beamer said, isn't given a chance to try and build -- Turner Gill (Kansas), Larry Porter (Memphis) and Rob Ianello (Akron) were each fired this years after only two seasons.

The latter sometimes leaves coaches looking to jump before a potential drop-off.

A truly rare breed

Nehlen, Edwards and Beamer all said they had opportunities to go other places during their tenures. And all three said they were close to leaving the schools they helped build and most identify with.

But they couldn't make the move. Loyalty, quality of life and family mattered too much.

"I'd look around and I think Virginia Tech is thought of differently now than when I started 25 years ago or 15 years ago or 10 years ago," Beamer said. "When you look at our facilities now and you start to think about going somewhere else that has got great facilities -- well, you didn't have anything to do with that but here you did have something to do with that, with changing the image of a program and changing the facilities of the program so it was always hard for me to leave.

"Then you get to a certain point where you say, 'This is where you want to finish up. This is where you want to spend your life and finish up coaching.' A few years back, this became that thing for me."

Will that be what happens with Hoke at Michigan? He is 53 years old and could easily coach another 15 or 20 seasons. The opportunity is there. The rest is up to what he's able to do. Can he keep the right people happy? Can he meet the standards he set for himself, i.e. winning the Big Ten championships?

Those who have done it think Hoke has the make-up. Beamer pointed to the foundation he fostered in his first season. Nehlen wondered where else he would go, citing Michigan as an elite job.

"I think so," Edwards said. "Particularly if he can do like Bo did and have his share of victories over Ohio State plus a couple other teams that are coming on in that league really strong, Wisconsin and Michigan State, and what Penn State was. He's going to have to win those nine, 10 games a year.

"And you can't go eight years without beating Ohio State, you know."

Hoke knows. He also has an advantage there. He's 1-0 against the Buckeyes.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.