By Norm Wood
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
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The three basic tenets of Frank Beamer's coaching philosophy were borne out of the time he spent around coach Jerry Claiborne as a Virginia Tech player, and later as an assistant coach under Claiborne at Maryland. Respect everybody, never get comfortable, and surround yourself with knowledgeable assistants. On the field, the Hokies' big three are an emphasis on special teams, a relentless attention to stopping the run, and a power running game on offense. All three characteristics were part of Tech's game when Claiborne was prowling the sideline, and they still are present with Beamer running the show.
BLACKSBURG Before the lawnmowers are even taken out of the sheds on fall Sunday afternoons in his Blacksburg Country Club neighborhood, Frank Beamer is halfway through another work day.
There's no time for gawking at National Football League games. He doesn't have much interest in that profession these days, other than keeping track of how his own former Virginia Tech players are doing Michael Vick, Lee Suggs, John Engelberger, et al. Instead, Beamer retreats to his office inside Tech's Jamerson Center on Sundays to put together a 20-page scouting report for his players to prepare for the following week's game.
It's a job that any of Beamer's assistant coaches could be doing, but this is hands-on coaching. It's the only way he knows how to go about it. It's how he learned by watching his mentors Jerry Claiborne, Bobby Ross and Mike Gottfried.
If hands-on is the best way to describe Beamer's preparation, the methods he employs to implement those plans can be referred to only as unobtrusive. Provide the lesson plan, but let his most trusted teachers carry it out. That's more evidence of the heavy influence of Claiborne, Ross and Gottfried.
Claiborne made the biggest impression on Beamer. In 1966, Beamer began his college football career as a defensive back at Tech, playing for Claiborne. Beamer paid attention to the details in Claiborne's practices and playcalling, and he took notes.
Beamer already had aspirations of becoming a college head coach in those days. He knew that, while listening to Claiborne's every word, he was getting advice from a man who had touched coaching royalty.
Claiborne, who died in September 2000 at the age of 72, played fullback and defensive back from 1946-49 at Kentucky under coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Claiborne began his coaching career as an assistant to Frank Broyles at Missouri, and later as an assistant to Bryant at Alabama. In the business of college football coaching, last names don't get much bigger than Broyles and Bryant.
The three basic tenets of Beamer's coaching philosophy were borne out of the time he spent around Claiborne as a player, and as an assistant coach under Claiborne at Maryland. Respect everybody, never get comfortable, and surround yourself with knowledgeable assistants.
"I just think about all the things (Claiborne) did for me and what a big part he played in my life," Beamer said. "I just like the way he coached. He was just a sound football coach and a good person."
On the field, Claiborne's influence remains evident in Tech's inherent playing style. Even Virginia coach Al Groh, who played at UVa when Claiborne was coaching at Tech, has mentioned how Beamer's teams reflect the fundamental strong suits of Claiborne's squads. Beamer and Groh aren't golfing buddies and don't swap war stories, but in Beamer's mind, being compared to Claiborne has to be one of the highest compliments he has ever received.
Emphasis on special teams. Relentless attention to stopping the run. A power running game on offense. All three characteristics were part of Tech's game when Claiborne was prowling the sideline, and they still are present with Beamer running the show.
LONG NIGHTS, LASTING FRIENDSHIPS
Every summer, Beamer, his wife, Cheryl, and their two kids, Shane and Casey, find time to spend a week around the Fourth of July at their Reynolds Plantation vacation home on Lake Oconee in Georgia.
It's more than just a vacation. It's a renewal of an old friendship.
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland's football coach, has a home near Beamer's on Lake Oconee. It's no coincidence. Beamer and Friedgen have a long history together.
They even began their coaching careers side by side. Friedgen was a graduate assistant from 1969-72 at Maryland under Claiborne, and Beamer assumed the same job title in 1972, with Claiborne still coaching at Maryland. Beamer and Friedgen left Maryland in 1973 to accept defensive assistant coaching jobs at The Citadel on a young staff headed by Ross.
Beamer and Friedgen lived in the same apartment building in Charleston, S.C. Frank on the first floor, Ralph on the fourth. It was a close-knit staff in those days, filled with assistant coaches who were all 20-somethings at the time, including Jimmye Laycock, now the coach at William & Mary, a Division I-AA program in Virginia.
"We all mostly did things together back in those days," Laycock said. "None of us had any money, so we pretty much had to do things together. I can remember Ralph being over (at the office), tutoring kids in academics up until midnight, and I remember Frankie spending hours and hours alone until the early morning working on defense. I remember we all worked very hard."
Beamer appreciated the leeway Ross provided to his young assistants on those teams at The Citadel. Gottfried was the same way at Murray State, where Beamer was the defensive coordinator in 1979 and 1980, before becoming head coach in 1981. It's an approach Beamer has incorporated in his own coaching career.
The friendships Beamer built with Friedgen, Laycock and Ross have stood up through the years. Beamer and Laycock talk in the offseason at camps. Beamer and Friedgen tried to get Ross and his family to come down to Lake Oconee last summer.
But Beamer, 58, and Friedgen have remained the closest. Their vacation homes in Lake Oconee actually represent a business transaction they brokered together. There's trust between the two. How else can you explain the lamaze classes they took together with their wives in 1976, before the births of their first children? Now that's close.
"I'm more direct than Frank is," Friedgen said. "We think the same things, but he has a little bit more roundabout way of getting there sometimes than I do. It has helped us in our business dealings sometimes. I'll be direct, and Frank will come in and save me every now and then."
EMERGING FROM VERY DARK DAYS
Despite his faith in all he had learned from his mentors, there was a time when Beamer was deemed a failure. As a matter of fact, some observers may consider the fact that Beamer is still coaching at Tech a miracle, considering the way his career in Blacksburg started.
In his first six seasons at Tech, Beamer compiled a 24-40 record. Those seasons included some teases of more prosperous times on the horizon, only to be followed by more hard times. The 1989 season was a perfect example.
After beginning his career at Tech with two straight losing seasons in 1987 and 1988, the start of the 1989 campaign looked like an impending disaster. Two weeks before the start of practice in August, Beamer knew he was headed into the season with a depleted roster.
Four players who were slated to be starters were declared academically ineligible. Tech also was feeling the sting of NCAA sanctions. The Hokies had awarded just 32 scholarships in the two seasons leading up to the 1989 season, after violations under former coach Bill Dooley resulted in the loss of 18 scholarships.
Beamer and his staff somehow were able to carve a 6-4-1 record out of that season, buying the coach more time to turn the program around. He would need it.
Despite enduring three more up-and-down seasons, Beamer started to change the academic culture surrounding his program by requiring players to participate in tutoring sessions during spring practice, even if it meant that the players had to miss up to half of the practices. Still, by the end of the 1992 season, many alumni and fans were calling for Beamer's head. There wasn't enough winning going on to warrant giving Beamer another chance in the minds of some, even if he was a Hokie alum.
It was time to circle the wagons. Beamer asked each assistant coach to do some self-analysis, discover what they were doing wrong, and fix it. The idea was to mend the methods of doing things before looking at the big picture.
Beamer's reliance on his assistants worked.
Since 1993, Tech has had 12 consecutive winning seasons, been to 12 consecutive bowl games and won four conference championships (three in the Big East and last year's ACC title). By placing responsibility in the hands of his assistants over the years, Beamer has endeared himself to his employees, which helps explain why Tech has had less coaching turnover in the last decade than any staff in the country.
"He always takes care of his assistant coaches," said Billy Hite, Tech's associate head coach and running backs coach. "That's why it's such a joy to come to work every day. He's the greatest boss in America."
Taking care of his assistant coaches also has meant being a shrewd negotiator. It's a skill he has honed, and likely will put to work again in the near future.
CONTRACT DISCUSSIONS ON HORIZON
All it takes is an afternoon on the golf course with Beamer to realize how much he enjoys competition. The good shots are frequent. The bad shots haunt him. It would be hard to find a man who despises losing at anything more than Beamer.
Keep that in mind.
Rewind to late November 2000. Beamer was in a staring contest with Jim Weaver, Tech's athletic director. The prize for Beamer was a five-year contract renewal and raises for all of his assistants, and Beamer had Weaver and the Tech beancounters right where he wanted them.
On the surface, it appeared to be a no-lose situation for Beamer, who was asking for over $40,000 more for his assistants than Weaver and the athletic department were offering. If Beamer didn't get what he wanted, he was threatening to leave and head to North Carolina. Talk of a "handshake deal" between Beamer and Dick Baddour, UNC's athletic director, was flying to this day, many in Chapel Hill believe Beamer reneged on a verbal agreement but the entire situation wasn't as open and shut as it appeared at the time.
Tech wanted to keep Beamer, who had led the Hokies to the national championship game one season earlier. UNC wanted a coach on the rise. Weaver may have gotten caught up in an unexpected bidding war.
Meanwhile, Beamer wanted every reason to stay at Tech. His daughter, Casey, was still a student in Blacksburg, and he and his family had built their life around the community. Still, he was interested in looking out for the assistants, who had shown him such loyalty over the years, while working the situation in his favor to coax Tech into a contract offer worth more than $1 million.
In the end, Beamer got what he wanted. Weaver and Tech were offering $58,000 total in raises for Beamer's assistants, but a total closer to $100,000 was settled upon. Plus, Beamer was rewarded with a five-year incentive-laden rollover contract worth at least $1.025 million annually, which represented a raise of $250,000 per year from his previous contract. The guaranteed money in the deal also increased by three percent in each of the five years.
Based on the intensity of those negotiations, Tech may be better prepared to handle Beamer's requests this time around. His existing contract will expire on Jan. 1, 2006.
But what will Beamer ask for this time? What is he worth? Will he shoot for $1.5 million, or will he attempt to become one of the $2 million elite, a la Florida's Urban Meyer, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Florida State's Bobby Bowden, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Tennessee's Phil Fulmer? Can Tech accommodate Beamer's demands, especially with many bills left to be paid on the $93 million in Lane Stadium expansion costs the school incurred over the last four-plus years?
Beamer earned more than $1.2 million in guaranteed compensation from Virginia Tech in 2004. A total of $318,400 in bowl bonuses, $178,000 in athletic-related endorsements and $50,000 for winning the ACC championship and conference coach of the year pushed his total 2004 earnings to more than $1.75 million. He'll earn more than $1.25 million in guaranteed income this coming season as well.
Then there are the considerations to be made for Beamer's assistant coaches. All of Beamer's nine assistants earned salaries of more than $85,000 last season, including seven with more than $100,000. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster led the way with $184,149, followed by Hite's $153,444 and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's $147,018. All three veteran aides have guaranteed, five-year contracts, a situation believed to be unprecedented in the history of college football.
The last contract negotiation proved Beamer's worth as a businessman, but do his loyalties to Tech and the program he has built from the ground up outweigh his desire to get paid? Those loyalties played a major role five years ago. It's tough to leave a place where you've reached near-legendary status.
"I know the grass looks greener (elsewhere) sometimes," Beamer said in November 2000, "but when you sit back and look, you see how green the grass is right here."
GET READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!!
PRESEASON 2005 RANKINGS
1. Southern California
6. Louisiana State
7. Ohio State
8. Virginia Tech
12. Florida State
17. Texas A&M
18. Boston College
20. Boise State
21. Arizona State
23. Texas Tech
24. Fresno State
FRANK BEAMER FILE
Born: Oct. 18, 1946, Mt. Airy, N.C.
Hometown: Hillsville, Va.
Wife: Former Cheryl Oakley
Children: Shane, Casey
High School: Hillsville (1965)
College: Virginia Tech (1969)
Postgraduate: Radford (1972)
Virginia Tech (1966-68)
1972 Graduate Assistant, Maryland
1973-76 Assistant Coach, The Citadel
1977-78 Defensive Coordinator, The Citadel
1979-80 Defensive Coordinator, Murray State
1981-86 Head Coach, Murray State
1987- Head Coach, Virginia Tech
1981 Murray State 8-3
1982 Murray State 4-7
1983 Murray State 7-4
1984 Murray State 9-2
1985 Murray State 7-3-1
1986 Murray State 7-4-1*
Record: 42-23-2 (six seasons)
1987 Virginia Tech 2-9
1988 Virginia Tech 3-8
1989 Virginia Tech 6-4-1
1990 Virginia Tech 6-5
1991 Virginia Tech 5-6
1992 Virginia Tech 2-8-1
1993 Virginia Tech 9-3 No. 20
1994 Virginia Tech 8-4
1995 Virginia Tech 10-2 * No. 10
1996 Virginia Tech 10-2 * No. 13
1997 Virginia Tech 7-5
1998 Virginia Tech 9-3 No. 23
1999 Virginia Tech 11-1 * No. 2
2000 Virginia Tech 11-1 No. 6
2001 Virginia Tech 8-4 No. 18
2002 Virginia Tech 10-4 No. 18
2003 Virginia Tech 8-6
2004 Virginia Tech 10-3 * No. 10
Record: 135-77-2 (18 seasons)
Overall: 177-100-4 (24 seasons)
* conference champion/co-champion
Under Beamer, Tech has...
earned a chance to play for the national championship for the first time in program history become one of only five Division I-A schools to go to bowl games in each of the last 12 seasons earned four conference titles and four BCS bids in a 10-year span compiled a school-record 84-week streak in the Associated Press Top 25 poll posted 11 wins in a season for the first time registered the program's first back-to-back 11-win seasons produced the school's first 11-0 regular-season record averaged nine wins over the last 12 seasons won a league championship in its first ACC season produced the ACC coach of the year and player of the year during its inaugural season become the first team in Big East history to win all of the league's major awards in the same season earned the highest national rankings in program history, including three top-10 finishes and back-to-back top-six finishes finished in a final Top 25 poll nine times in the last 11 seasons posted 12 straight seasons of seven or more wins for the first time in program histor had 90 of its last 111 games (81 percent) televised blocked more kicks in the 1990s than any other Division I-A team become one of only eight Division I-A schools ever to lead the nation in both scoring offense and defense in the same season had at least one player from every defensive position score a touchdown produced a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft had more than 100 players sign with NFL teams had two players who entered the program as walk-ons drafted in the top four rounds of the NFL draft produced nine Associated Press All-Americans over the last five seasons * had players win 10 major individual conference awards in the last seven years