January 3, 2005 BLACKSBURG There is no arguing the notion that the key ingredient in Virginia Tech's three appearances in the Sugar Bowl in the last nine years has been the nation's most stable coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster's stock shot through the roof during the 2004 season, which may mean that stability will be tested in the coming weeks. Of course, that's nothing new in Blacksburg. Tech coach Frank Beamer has to keep his fingers crossed that none of his assistants will leave almost every postseason. The longer he keeps his staff together, coupled with the more Tech wins, the harder it becomes to keep everybody happy in a secondary role. Eight of Tech's nine assistants have worked in Blacksburg for at least five seasons, including assistant head coach Billy Hite (26), Foster (18) and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring (14). Foster, Tech's defensive coordinator for 10 of his 18 seasons in Blacksburg, is the architect of a defense that since 1995 has finished in the nation's top 15 in scoring defense seven times. After struggling last season (23 points and 368 yards per game), Tech's defense bounced back in 2004 to again finish in the nation's top 15 in scoring defense as well as total defense. Thus, Foster's stock is rising again. He is no stranger to how the coaching carousel works. In recent years, he has flirted in varying degrees for head coach or defensive coordinator positions at East Carolina, Florida, Indiana and Virginia, among others. Foster, 45, clearly has been thinking about his future this season. In the week leading up to the Sugar Bowl, he talked about what it would take for him to leave Blacksburg. He said he'd be interested only in a college head coaching position or an NFL coordinator's job. He won't make any lateral moves. "The prospects of being a head football coach is one of my goals," Foster said. "I've had some opportunities to interview for some jobs, but that doesn't drive me every day. I don't want to be a head coach just to be a head coach. I hope the right situation would come up. But I've been in Blacksburg 18 years, and I'd be happy if I can stay 18 more." Despite what may have appeared to be the verbal equivalent of a "For Hire, Apply Within" sign, Foster's comment revealed how torn he is between wanting to move on and wanting to show loyalty to Beamer. Foster has a connection with Beamer that spans 25 years. When Beamer was the defensive coordinator at Murray State in 1979 and 1980, Foster was in his last two seasons as a standout strong safety and outside linebacker. When Beamer got his first head coaching gig, at Murray State in 1981, he made sure to bring Foster on board for his first assistant coaching job. When Beamer left Murray State for Virginia Tech after six seasons, he brought Foster with him. Beamer has been Foster's mentor, friend and professional partner. That's a lot to walk away from, and Foster may have to decide at some point if walking away from Blacksburg would really be the wisest decision in the first place. Beamer is 58 years old. With each passing season, it becomes more and more evident that he will wind up being a Tech lifer, the rare coach who spends his entire Division I-A career at one university. It's possible that Beamer could wind up being a Vince Dooley-type in the ACC, a former long-time beloved coach who becomes an athletic director, as Dooley was at Georgia. In terms of longevity, Beamer could become Tech's version of Florida State's Bobby Bowden or Penn State's Joe Paterno. Beamer already is third on the list of active I-A coaches in victories, behind Bowden and Paterno. All of this should bode well for Foster. Regardless of whether or not Beamer ultimately moves into the AD's chair in Blacksburg, any Tech AD would be foolish not to give Foster a call when Beamer finally departs the position. Nobody would be better at continuing to develop Beamer's brand of football than Foster. In the end, it may be a matter of whether Foster has the patience to wait for that chance at Tech, or whether he decides to continue to build his impressive resume somewhere else. Dixon, Dowdell Need More Help For a squad that doesn't have any margin for error, Tech's basketball team will take all the offense it can get from whoever is willing to provide it. Therefore, Carlos Dixon and Zabian Dowdell will keep shooting and shooting and shooting, but they need some help. Dixon and Dowdell finished December shooting 46 and 49 percent, respectively, from the floor for the season. That's not too shabby. Dixon also connected on 38 percent of his three-point field goals through Tech's first 11 games, while Dowdell made 44 percent of his long-range shots. Those numbers also aren't too bad. Unfortunately for Tech, it's a two-man offensive show in Blacksburg right now. There is no other dependable scoring option. Forward Deron Washington has been a productive freshman, but he also has shown a tendency to disappear in big games. Just take a look at Tech's 85-51 loss to North Carolina on Dec. 19, when he had five points on three-of-10 shooting, or Tech's 71-65 loss to Mississippi State, when he had four points on two-of-six shooting. That kind of phobia won't fly in the ACC, where almost every game is huge. Tech coach Seth Greenberg said before the season that guard Jamon Gordon had worked hard to improve his shooting, but it hasn't shown yet. Gordon shot 39 percent overall, including 26 percent from three-point range, through 11 games.
A glimmer of hope in providing some relief for Dixon and Dowdell exists in forward Coleman Collins. It already has been a difficult season for Collins, who had started just five games by the end of December because of pain from a cyst on his left foot. He had surgery Dec. 12, which caused him to miss two games. Collins has the potential to chip in some points because he has good shooting range for a 6-8 player and also can slash to the basket. As his foot heals, Collins may work his way back into the starting lineup, especially considering that Tech needs all the help it can get in the frontcourt. There's also freshman guard Marquie Cooke. He has a reputation as a shooter, but he hasn't had any touch whatsoever this season. He missed 27 of the first 32 three-point shots of his college career. Tech needs another player to be able to score in double-digits every time he steps on the floor. If it can't find that player to complement Dixon and Dowdell, ACC defenses will simply gear up to shut down those two shooters and make short work of Tech.