NEW YORK — Frank Beamer could have been a footnote.
The longtime Virginia Tech coach was set to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in a black-tie ceremony Tuesday night at the 61st National Football Foundation (NFF) Annual Awards Dinner in New York.
He was voted into the Hall of Fame back in January on his first year of eligibility, but the Hokies’ former coach didn’t looked destined for enshrinement after a 2-8-1 record in 1992, his sixth season.
“How many people do you think would survive today? 2-8-1 in their sixth year,” Beamer said. “I’m just glad I didn’t upset anybody in those first five or six years. I was trying to make friends.”
Beamer won 238 games for his alma mater, seven conference championships — three in the Big East and four in the ACC — and reached the 2000 BCS national championship game. He established a bowl streak, now in its 26th straight season (23 straight bowls under Beamer), and a double-digit win streak over rival Virginia. His overall 280-143-4 record ranks sixth among Division I coaches.
Former Texas coach Mack Brown, who was recently announced as North Carolina’s new coach, spoke for the 2018 class at the ceremony on Tuesday night. Other members of the class include former Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson, former Miami safety Ed Reed and former Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
As Beamer sat with reporters Tuesday morning, he spoke time and time again of the good fortune he experienced during his 44-year coaching career starting with the early days of his career as a graduate assistant at Maryland all the way through his final season in Blacksburg.
“I’ve always been lucky,” Beamer said, leaning back his chair with a smile.
The job at Maryland was a brief pit stop. After one season with the Terrapins, Beamer had the opportunity to join Bobby Ross, who was taking on his first head-coaching job at The Citadel. Beamer was hired to be a defensive assistant — quite the promotion, really
“I’ve known GAs that spent two years here and two years here, can never hook on,” Beamer said. “I went [to Maryland] in the fall, Bobby Ross got the job, then I had a regular job after one fall as a graduate assistant. Things kind of fell into place for me.”
Beamer reaching his seventh season at Virginia Tech was equally unlikely.
One of the few tumultuous times of Beamer’s career came trying to establish Virginia Tech as the championship program he envisioned. With scholarship sanctions in place, Beamer’s teams struggled.
The Hokies had winning seasons in 1989 (6-4-1) and 1990 (6-5), but two years later went 2-8-1. In five of those defeats, Tech gave up leads in the final five minutes of each game.
“I’m probably not smart enough to know how much trouble I was in,” Beamer said. “But I never thought that way. But I think [athletic director] Dave Braine understood that we were working with scholarship limitations. I think he understood that we were trying to do things right by our kids, we were trying to graduate our players. We were doing the little things right. And we just needed more time to get this thing done. And thank goodness for Dave Braine.”
If Virginia Tech makes a change after taking a step back in 1992, there’s no hall of fame celebration on Tuesday for Frank Beamer.
Instead, the Hokies went 9-3 the next season, and began the current bowl streak with a 45-20 win over Indiana in the Independence Bowl.
The 1992 season has always stuck out in the memory of Frank Beamer’s son Shane, who is currently an offensive assistant with College Football Playoff-bound Oklahoma. Shane was a Blacksburg High School sophomore at the time and remembers the bleak mood in town — “you knew that things weren’t good.”
“It’s something you will never see again in college football or really any level of football. It’s different nowadays,” Shane Beamer said. “You realize what a thin line there is between winning and losing when you think about all the close games. They were close to getting over the hump, but couldn’t get it done. It shows you how hard winning is. People get mad at coaches when they say that, but it’s true.”
Three years removed from the sidelines, Virginia Tech’s former coach remains a fixture in Blacksburg, taking daily walks right outside the Merryman Athletic Facility past the 6-foot bronze statue the school placed outside Lane Stadium in Beamer’s honor earlier this year. He’s also two years into a three-year term as a member of the College Football Playoff committee.
While his fellow inductee Mack Brown jumped back into the coaching world, Beamer is content in retirement. He has pangs of regret not being able to get Virginia Tech back to the title game, but feels like he accomplished what he set out to do.
“I took great pride in whatever how that player came to us, and you had all kinds of different backgrounds, all kinds of different homes, one parent, two parents, grandmother, but however he came, that he would leave there a better person,” Beamer said. “More caring, more respectful of other people. And that was kind of my goal in life. And if that was the case, then they were going to be successful or have a good opportunity to be successful.
“And we had so many guys. I don’t remember the number we had that was drafted in the NFL. But we had a lot of guys that became doctors and lawyers and good business people and good educators, so I felt that was kind of the simple answer that we were going to do everything that we can while we’re here to make these people better. And that’s what we worked for.”
It’s why Beamer gets a good laugh looking back to the day he was introduced as the Hokies’ coach on Dec. 23, 1986, when he wasn’t quite such a revered figure.
Beamer beat out bigger names for the job, including Ross, much to the disappointment of some of the fanbase. Proudly wearing his hall of fame medal, Beamer recalled what former Roanoke Times sports editor Bill Brill wrote at the time.
“The reaction was comparable to what you used to feel Christmas Day. Remember when you would go to grandmother’s, expecting the latest in toys, and you got a nice sweater instead?” Brill wrote. “And you said politely, “Gee, that’s great.” But you wondered if somehow you had been handed the wrong package. That kind of feeling.”
Beamer’s response? Virginia Tech obviously needed the sweater.