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Farewell to Frank Beamer, College Football's Most Authentic Man

After nearly three decades in charge, the Virginia Tech head coach is stepping aside. There will never be another one like him.
November 3, 2015, 8:35pm
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through the press conference announcing the end of his distinguished tenure as Virginia Tech head coach, Frank Beamer was asked about its rocky beginning.

The rough patch in question was not his inaugural 1987 season, a putrid 2-9 effort that came on the heels of a 9-2-1 season from Beamer's predecessor, Bill Dooley. Nor did it concern the following year, in which the Hokies improved by only one game. Beamer's grace period stretched a colossal six seasons, during which he compiled a 24-41-2 record. How, the reporter wondered, would Beamer have been received if he produced those results nearly three decades later?

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"I doubt anyone could come through a time like that again," he replied. "I think in today's time, when people want results, I don't know that I could have made it again like that."

It was the perfect encapsulation of Beamer's coaching career, the likes of which will never be seen again. Beamer was an anomaly, and he has no problem admitting it.

There are many numbers that chart how Beamer made Virginia Tech matter, and they often come in couplets: paired statistics illustrating life before and after his arrival in Blacksburg. For instance, there's 59 and 76, the winning percentages of Virginia Tech from 1892-1986, and from 1987 on. There's two and 16, to account for the number of times the Hokies finished in the season-ending AP poll. Two and six, for the number of consensus All-Americans. 48 and 93, for the number of NFL draft picks. There's zero and 13, as in the 10-win seasons, including eight in a row from 2004 until 2011.

Some of the most telling figures stand alone, like 22, the number of bowls Virginia Tech has played in during its current streak, the longest in NCAA football. Most remarkable of all is 29, the number of years Beamer lasted in Blacksburg.

No one endures like this anymore: only two other coaches in college football, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, were hired by their current programs before the millennium; their combined tenure of 32 years barely outstrips Beamer's. The few with genuine staying power are seemingly always amenable to relocation, not quite itinerant, yet hardly entrenched. They do not emulate Beamer, who transformed a backwater town into his own personal Camelot, having inspired improvements in and around campus, and even a nearby restaurant in his name.

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Beamer with former Hokie Bruce Taylor. Photo via Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

As much as Frank Beamer can take ownership for what the Hokies have become under his leadership, the state of Virginia can make a similar claim on Beamer himself. He hailed from the microscopic hamlet of Fancy Gap, population: 237, and went on to become a star defensive back for Virginia Tech in the sixties. He speaks with a molasses lilt that sounds like a cousin of Keith Jackson's famous broadcast timbre, in which "I" comes out as "ahh" and "very" becomes "vurrry." It's deep and it's full, but most of all it's perfectly Virginian. It suits him, just as coaching at Tech suited him in a way no other job could match, not Boston College or North Carolina or even the Green Bay Packers.

Beamer's temperament is uniquely his, as well: the personable, principled everyman that spawned a thousand spinoffs; the coach who exudes genuine goodness in an industry where it so often comes off as canned. When asked about his coaching legacy on Monday, he said he hoped to be remembered as honest, caring, and respectful—but it is a fourth quality, authenticity, that ties those all together.

It's authenticity that shines through when Beamer speaks about family, and one realizes that three current assistants have coached at his side for 20 years. It's why no one snickered throughout a press conference that was obsequious toward his football team that's currently sixth in its division with a 4-5 record. No one really believed him, for instance, when he called this year's squad the "best group of players I think we've ever had as a group," not the 1999 team that lost in the national championship game against Florida State. His longtime lieutenant on defense, Bud Foster, is still regarded as one of the country's foremost tacticians, but it's been years since Beamer's proclamation that "everybody knows [he] is the best defensive coordinator in the country" rang true, if it ever did. Lavishing similar praise on his incompetent OC, Scot Loeffler, is outright laughable considering the 41-year-old has never coordinated a Power Five offense that's finished a season ranked higher than 86th in total offense.

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Frank Beamer was a great coach, though, because he really does believe all of this. He sees the very best in things and in people, and for a long time he succeeded in germinating that rosy worldview throughout the Old Dominion State. That's how he garnered his foothold into Virginia's Seven Cities, the economically depressed region that produced Hokie legends like Michael Vick, DeAngelo Hall, and Jimmy Williams. For years, the best talents in the state would bypass Virginia—despite the school being closer to home, with the better degree, located in perhaps the most scenic part of the state—to play for Beamer, because he believed so fervently in Blacksburg and in them.

"When you've got the option to go to Miami on South Beach, or LA, or anywhere else, it's kind of hard to figure out why you'd go to Virginia Tech," Hall told the Washington Post. "But Coach Beamer has been so much more than a football coach to me and a lot of the other guys"—which was exactly Beamer's point. "The way you get results is relationships and caring about people," he said on Monday. "It can't be fake. It's got to be real."

One task remains for the coach. The Hokies must win two of their final three games to qualify for their 23rd consecutive bowl game, an uphill climb for an outfit that's beaten just three Power Five schools all season. He remains undeterred, declaring that he's "going to work like heck" to prepare them, the way he always has.

He still believes, the way he always will.

"We're gonna do some dancin'," he announced in his signature drawl, and smiled like the date was already penciled into his calendar.