The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 22, 2013

Beamer reflective as 27th season at VT approaches

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Frank Beamer is in full grind mode, preparing for the season. He’s got practices to plan, coaches meetings, and lots of film to watch.

The Hokies open the season against two-time defending national champion Alabama on Aug. 31, and time is precious.

The 66-year-old Beamer is entering his 27th season as coach at his alma mater, and his 33rd as a head coach overall. The Hokies are coming off a 7-6 season, their worst in 20 years, but with a career record of 258-127-4, Beamer is the winningest active coach in the Bowl Subdivision, and he’s not slowing down at all.

Looking out the windows of his expansive corner office at Lane Stadium, which the Hokies and their fans have turned into one of the best game-day environments in the nation, the coach is humbled, and reflective.

“Things have always worked out for me,” he said as his gestures show off the diamond-crusted 2009 Sugar Bowl ring on his hand. “I could go through different stories like when I was an assistant coach and hoped to get a head coaching job and someone else got it and I was hurting like heck, and when I look back, it was the best thing that ever happened. My whole life has kind of been that way.”

In 1986, after Beamer’s sixth season at Murray State, the Bill Dooley era at Virginia Tech ended amid a scandal that would lead to NCAA sanctions. Dutch Baughman was the Hokies’ athletic director, a stint that lasted just six months, but long enough for him to make the hire.

“We didn’t know each other,” Beamer said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, “but I think when we met, we just kind of hit it off, and if it had been anyone else other than Dutch Baughman, I’m not sure I’d have been hired as the coach here.”

Baughman, like Beamer a graduate of Virginia Tech, recalls the meeting fondly.

“It became almost like an instant friendship. We felt like we had a lot in common,” he said. “It was very clear that he was interested in our football head coaching position not because it was open, but because it was Virginia Tech.”

Six years later, Beamer’s record was just 24-40-2, including a 2-8-1 mark in the sixth year. Many in Hokies fan base were ready to make a change.

Dave Braine, who had replaced Baughman as athletic director, was not among them.

“If it had been anyone else other than Dave Braine, I probably wouldn’t be here, so there’s been a lot of luck involved, but I know how fortunate I am,” Beamer said. “I’ve been able to hang around, and hang around in one place, and a place that means so much to you, and to have your family all back here, it’s special.”

Beamer’s son, Shane, joined his staff last season as associate head coach and running backs coach. His daughter, Casey, and her husband also live in Blacksburg.

Beamer has a lot to be excited about these days. A new season is close. He has a book coming out, “Let me be Frank: My Life at Virginia Tech,” and the literary foundation he named for his mother, Hermas’s Readers, is thriving in its fifth year.

Last season, was not so fun.

The Hokies opened with eyes on contending for the national championship, with a highly touted defense and quarterback (Logan Thomas). Two victories, though, were followed by six losses in eight games.

“You know, I went on my diet and got down to about 180, which is about where I wanted to be,” Beamer said, “and then about halfway through the season I was down to about 166, which is where I didn’t want to be.”

It was the kind of season that can cause a coach to stop eating and to ponder the future, especially after revered coaching friends Bobby Bowden and the late Joe Paterno stepped down unceremoniously.

“I think it makes you say, ‘Hey, know when the right time to get out is, and when is that?”’ he said, acknowledging that when it’s time to close up the lake house in Georgia, stow the golf clubs and come back to get ready for the season, he always finds himself thinking, “Ten more days here would be about right.”

Beamer’s wife of 41 years, Cheryl, says success hasn’t changed him at all.

“I know people don’t believe me,” she said one day after stopping at his office, “but he’s exactly the same way he was the day I met him on a blind date. He has no ego. He does not bring it home with him. He keeps a lot inside. Sometimes I wish he would let it out, keep him from maybe getting an ulcer one day, but he doesn’t get too high or too low. It’s the truth.”

Beamer, who has an eight-year deal with Virginia Tech that will pay him $250,000 annually for fundraising and alumni relations once he stops coaching, isn’t planning to step away from the sidelines anytime soon. His contract to coach expires after the 2016 season.

“I think about it a lot,” he said. “I generally say as long as I’ve got a good quarterback and I’ve got a good kicker, and my health’s good, I’m good to go.”

That view of Lane Stadium surely helps, and was one of the things that kept him at Virginia Tech in 2000, even after he agreed to leave to become the head coach at North Carolina. Like one of the coaches he pursued when he made changes to his offensive staff last season, Beamer couldn’t get on the plane.

“It’s just a fact that when it got down to leaving Virginia Tech, I couldn’t do it.”

Now as Beamer hopes to lead the Hokies back into the national elite, he views “The House that Frank Built” with humble pride.

“I don’t know about that,” he says of the moniker, “but I’m proud of it.”

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