BLACKSBURG — Frank and Cheryl Beamer met on a blind date 47 years ago.
“It worked out pretty good,” Cheryl Beamer said with a grin at her home this week.
So has her husband’s 29-year reign as Virginia Tech’s football coach. But Saturday will mark Frank Beamer’s final home game at the helm of the Hokies.
This has been an emotional month for Cheryl Beamer. She was by her husband’s side at a news conference two weeks ago when he discussed his plan to retire at season’s end.
Later that week, she was approached by a stranger at the Gap.
“A lady said, ‘Aren’t you Coach Beamer’s wife?’ And I said, ‘Yes ma’am,’ and she started crying and [talking about] how much Frank’s done for the university and the community and how much she’ll miss us and I burst out crying,” Cheryl Beamer said.
On Thursday, she noticed some T-shirts saluting her husband in a store window and went inside to buy some.
“All these ladies came up and they started talking, and I burst into tears,” she said. “I thought I was over the tears. I’m not.
“Saturday’s going to be so emotional.”
Rocky start at Tech
Cheryl Oakley Beamer — her first name is pronounced CHAIR-uhl, because that is how her mother pronounced it — grew up in suburban Richmond. Cheryl’s sister, Sheila, married Tech football player Waddey Harvey, so the family would attend Tech games. Harvey was a senior on the 1968 Hokies team, as was Frank Beamer.
Cheryl’s sister and her husband would go out after the games, and Cheryl wished she could join them.
“So I said, ‘Next time I come, would y’all get me a date?’ ” Cheryl Beamer, 68, said. “They handpicked [Frank] out of a media guide.
“Frank … said he got paid $20 every time he took me out.”
The two married on April 1, 1972. Back then, Frank was an assistant coach at Radford High School and concluding work on his master’s degree at what is now Radford University.
Frank went on to serve as an assistant at Maryland and The Citadel (their son, Shane, was born during The Citadel years) and as both an assistant and head coach at Murray State in Kentucky (where their daughter, Casey, was born).
He took over the reins of the Hokies in 1987. But he had four losing seasons in his first six years at the helm, including a 2-8-1 season in 1992. Cheryl said their son’s friends at school would tease him by saying, ‘Hey, Beamer, where you gonna be living next year? Your dad’s going to get fired.’ ”
She said one Tech fan wrote a “really hateful letter” to then-Tech President James McComas, saying it was time for a coaching change. The fan sent Frank a copy.
“I told Frank the other day, ‘I wish I could remember that guy’s name. I’d like to write him now and see what he says now,’ ” Cheryl said.
During that 1992 season, someone called the Beamers’ home while Frank was returning from a loss at Louisville. Their young daughter answered the phone.
“She said, ‘My dad’s not here, may I take a message?’ and they lit into her, said he’s a terrible coach, he should be fired,” Cheryl said. “She came back in the den, tears streaming down here face.
“When Frank came home, … he sat on the coffee table and he said, ‘Casey, sometimes in life we’re up here and sometimes we’re down here, but Daddy’s going to work hard and we’re going to be back up here.’ ”
The next season, Tech reached the Independence Bowl — the first of 22 straight bowl appearances.
‘Kind of a loner’
Like many coaches, Frank puts in long hours. Cheryl cracked to someone recently that “We’re probably going to divorce when he retires because we don’t know if we like each other because he’s never been home.”
Cheryl said she does not mind all the time Frank, 69, spends at work.
“I’m kind of a loner, so being by myself has never bothered me,” she said. “I like to read. I like to do yard work. I love to clean house.”
Raising Shane and Casey used to keep her plenty busy. She went on her kids’ field trips and attended their games.
“Sometimes it got a little crazy and I’d wish he was home, but I never resented it because I knew that was part of the job,” she said. “It would’ve been nice to have him around more, but he wasn’t.”
Both of their children graduated from Virginia Tech. Shane was a nonscholarship member of his father’s team.
“When Shane walked on and played for him, they got to see more of each other than they ever did because [previously] Shane would be in bed when Frank left and Shane would be in bed when he got home,” Cheryl said.
Shane — who now has three children of his own with his wife, Emily — is one of his father’s assistant coaches. This has been an emotional time for him as well.
“He carried the cord to his [father’s] headset when he was younger. He walked on for his daddy. He’s coached for his daddy,” said Cheryl, choking up. “He told Emily, and I’ll start crying now, he said, ‘I can’t imagine anybody other than Daddy leading them out of the tunnel.’ ”
Casey lives in Maryland with her husband and son. Frank wept at his daughter’s 2012 wedding, noting in his toast that he had not cried so much since a Sugar Bowl loss to Auburn at the end of the 2004 season.
‘She’s the best’
Before home games, Cheryl entertains friends and relatives — including her 88-year-old mother — in the couple’s box at Lane Stadium. The walls of the suite are filled with family photos.
“That’s going to be sad Saturday, to look at those pictures and know they’re coming down and this is ending,” she said.
Cheryl does not watch the games from their box, though. She likes to sit in the stands with the other coaches’ wives.
She jumps to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” when the team comes out of the tunnel, just like the rest of the fans. Metallica recently sent her husband a congratulatory video.
Cheryl does not like to attend road games.
“Sometimes when people are saying things, that bothers me,” she said. “Frank always says, ‘Cheryl, tune it out. That’s how they release their tension for the week. Don’t listen to it.’ But I don’t know that he could sit in the stands and listen to it, either.
“When you go on the road, you don’t know where your seats are going to be and I don’t want to hear it. Most of our fans are good, but there’s always one or two knuckleheads.”
So she stays home and watches the road games on TV — sort of.
“If we’re trying to stop somebody on third down or we’re trying to make a first down, I’ll change channels and come back,” she said. “I just get too nervous.”
She does plan to attend next week’s regular-season finale at Virginia, though.
When Frank comes home from work, Cheryl does not bring up football. But she is there to listen to him when he does.
“She’s the best,” Frank said. “When you get into this business, the first thing you need to check is what kind of wife you’ve got because it’s a hard business — a lot of hours, a lot of time away from kids and home. And then you need that someone to talk to after a game, whether it’s a win or, more importantly, after a loss. She’s been that person in my life.”
But Cheryl’s time as a coach’s wife is nearing an end. She will miss having recruits and their parents over to the house for dessert and coffee during their recruiting visits.
She has been stopping by practices more than she usually does because there are not many left.
“She knows the game. She likes the game,” Frank said. “She’s been the perfect coach’s wife. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in this thing 29 years without her.”
Like Frank, Cheryl is worried about the uncertain career futures of the Tech assistant coaches. She has known some of them for so long, they feel like her own children.
The Beamers don’t plan to attend games at Lane Stadium next year.
“With it being a new head coach, Frank doesn’t want to be around,” she said.
The Beamers will probably spend more time at their lake house in Georgia once Frank retires, but they have no plans to move from Blacksburg.
“We won’t go anywhere,” Cheryl said. “This is home.”