A Beam of Light
Frank Beamer’s vision that Virginia Tech would one day become a national contender has come.
COACH: We know you were born in Mt. Airy, NC, and grew up in Hillsville, VA. What was your childhood like?BEAMER: I actually grew up on a farm in Fancy Gap, VA, which is a suburb of Hillsville. My dad was a highway engineer. But we had farm chores to do in the morning: milk the cows, bale hay in the summer, and all of those things. I did enough of the farm work to realize early on that I wanted to do something else with my life. That’s nothing against farmers. It’s just hard work.
COACH: At Hillsville High (now Carroll County H.S.) you earned 11 varsity letters in three sports: football, basketball, and baseball. What positions did you play in each sport and what kind of athlete were you?
BEAMER: I played quarterback and a little defensive back in football. We were throwing the ball a lot at a time when not many schools were. I threw 43 touchdown passes over two years and that was unheard of in those days. In basketball I was a guard, and an average player. In baseball, I was a center fielder and pitched a little bit. Again, I was just an average player.
COACH: From 1969-71 you began your coaching career as an assistant at Radford High School. How did your scholastic coaching experience shape you?
BEAMER: That was certainly the start of it all. The first coach I worked for was Harold Absher, who became the school principal after my first season. Then it was Norm Lineburg, who is really a legend around these parts. In fact, he’s still at Radford. So I was fortunate to start out working under two really good guys and things have kind of always worked out for me. After Harold left, I was actually up for the head job and didn’t get it. In retrospect I shouldn’t have. I was too young. But I was very disappointed. Had I gotten the job, I may not have gone on to the U. of Maryland as a graduate assistant a couple of years later. And if hadn’t done that, I may not have been in college coaching today. Things kind of have a way of working out.
COACH: What words of wisdom can you impart about the importance of being a high school football coach and the impact the position has on preparing your players for life?
BEAMER: I think it’s probably the most impressionable time. I’d like to think that when the players get to college that you have an influence on their lives. But I also think [high school] is when coaches have the chance to make the biggest impression on a kid and really have a positive and lasting effect.
COACH: Following a season as a graduate assistant at the U. of Maryland, you went to The Citadel where you worked five seasons under Bobby Ross and one season under Art Baker, the latter two as defensive coordinator. How did you develop your defensive philosophy?
BEAMER: We always ran the defense that I played in college under Coach [Jerry] Claiborne. Then I went to Maryland. And from there Bobby Ross took the defense to The Citadel. It was always an eight-man front. I grew up in it. That’s what I knew.
COACH: Prior to taking the job at Virginia Tech, you compiled a six-year record of 42-23-2 at Murray State, where in 1979 you served as the defensive coordinator to Mike Gottfried. What did you do to hone your coaching acumen while coaching the Racers and when did you know you had the ability to lead a top-level program?
BEAMER: I learned a lot from Mike Gottfried, who was the head coach at the time. I really thought he was excellent in a lot of ways. I was fortunate to work under Jerry Claiborne, Bobby Ross, Art Baker, and Mike Gottfried. Those are four really good people to work under and learn from. I think I took a little bit from each of them. All of them are real strong in the kicking game and to this day believe the quickest way to win is with your kicking game. All of them believed you had to play great defense. To have a good team you play great defense and this way the game will always be close in the fourth quarter. I still believe that.
Offensively, they kind of varied a little bit. But what I have come to really believe is that you have to be able to run as well as throw it and throw it as well as you run it, be balanced, and kind of let the defense dictate what you need to do.
COACH: At Virginia Tech, you have literally built a juggernaut program from the ground up since you took over for Bill Dooley in 1987. What was your mindset at the time and how were you able to set and reach your goals?
BEAMER: I probably was a little naïve at the time but I always believed that Virginia Tech could be as good as anyone in the country. Now, having been here for a while, I know how fortunate we were to become members of the Big East Conference because that gave us avenue to bowl games and TV. Through that, we increased our recruiting and now we can recruit with the best and have a chance to play at the top year in and year out.
Coming from Division 1-AA to Division 1, and of course it being the school I graduated from, I knew there were going to be some tough times. But knowing that, you still go ahead and take that job. We did have some tough times but fortunately I had a supportive administration that hung with me and realized we were laying a good foundation. Consequently, I have been able to hang around here for a while.
COACH: What was your plan going in?
BEAMER: My deal has always been to work as hard as you can every day, prepare as best you can for every game, and let the results speak for themselves. If you give it your best shot then you have to be OK with the results. As soon as I got here I started talking about Virginia Tech one day competing for a national championship. I just believed in the high school coaches working in the state. From Day One I wanted to make sure we recruited the best kids in the state of Virginia. And if we got our share of those kids, then we’ll play for a national title. I think we’re now finding that to be true.
COACH: You are one of the few men who have coached at his alma mater, having been a three-year starter at cornerback for the Hokies and participating in two Liberty Bowl games. Is there any added pressure in a situation like that, or does it make your job easier having such a pedigree?
BEAMER: I think you take a little added satisfaction knowing the way this university and our football program is thought of now compared to when I played here.
COACH: This is your 19th season at Va Tech, and 25th overall as a collegiate head coach, joining only three other Division I coaches – Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Fisher DeBerry – who have been at their current schools longer. How do you explain your longevity and to what do you attribute avoiding the so-called “coaching burnout”?
BEAMER: I was fortunate to have Dave Braine, who’s now the athletic director at Georgia Tech, and some other administrators here after my sixth year because we went 2-8-1, and most times you wouldn’t be around the next year. I think people realized we were laying a good foundation and kept me around. Since then we’ve gone to 12 straight bowl games. So I’m thankful for that.
What keeps it fresh for me is that I keep seeing improvement. Of course, two years ago we became members of the ACC. So that’s a lot of excitement there. I look out of my office window and we’re adding onto our stadium and have been adding on to it for about the last four years. You see all of these things just continue to change and develop around you. And it’s a different set of kids each year. The thing about coaching in college that keeps you fresh a little bit is that there is turnover each year. You hate to see kids go, but then again there are some new kids coming in.
COACH: What is your favorite part of coaching: recruiting, practice, preparation, or game day and why?
BEAMER: I’ll be honest with you. I think I like all of them and I like changing up. With so many other jobs you do the same thing every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday but that’s not so in the football business. Some Mondays you are recruiting. Some Mondays you are doing game preparation. And some Mondays you are running spring practice. The changeup is what kind of keeps it going good for me. If I had to say my favorite, I would probably side with the kids and say game day.
COACH: What is your definition of “Beamer Ball”?
BEAMER: Whatever team is on the field can score. Whether it’s defense, special teams, or the offense, they have the ability to put points on the board.
COACH: What kind of offense and defense do the Hokies employ?
BEAMER: We’re a 4-3 defense but we also like to get the extra guy around the ball quite a bit. We still have a lot of our eight-man front tendencies. Offensively, we are basically an I formation team. Over the last couple of years we have gotten into more of the one back formation, more wide receivers, and more tight ends. But the foundation, where we start from, is an I team.
COACH: What are the keys for a defense to dominate on first down, thus forcing the offense into predictable play-calling situations?
BEAMER: I think you have to win it up front. When we’re good, we’ve always been very good up front. If you can’t do that, then you’re always covering up for someone. You’re always trying to borrow half a man somewhere. If that front four and those linebackers can’t handle the opposition and play on their side of the ball, you’ll always be looking for help.
COACH: Aside from building a winning program, you and your staff have earned a reputation for getting the most out of your players. What is the secret to unlocking a player’s potential and starting him on the path to success?
BEAMER: You have to treat your players right every day. In the end those kids have to know that you really do care about them. They need to know that there’s a respect and genuine caring for them. You’re asking them to work hard. You’re asking them to give you the best that they have. And I don’t think you can get that unless they know you’re doing the same on your end.
COACH: When is the right time to discipline a player and what kind of approach do you take?
BEAMER: I tell my coaches here to make sure we get things corrected during the good times. I think it’s easier to address during the good times than it is during the bad times. The other side of it is you work every day for that time when things are not good and you have a crisis. Every football season there is going to be a day or two like that or even a week or a couple of weeks. I think that’s when those kids better know that you do care about them, because now you’re going to discipline them and it may not be during a time when things are going good.
COACH: What is the key to not only being a good teacher for your players, but also a good listener?
BEAMER: My door is always open to the players. The only thing that would ever stop a staff meeting is if a player needs to see us. I think that’s important for kids to know. If you walked down our hallway, you’d see our kids in our assistant coaches’ offices a lot. I like that. And I tell our coaches I like that, because these kids have to feel that they can come around and talk to us. It doesn’t have to be about football. If you do that, then I think you develop the kind of relationship where you’re able to listen to them. You’re not doing all of the talking. It is important that you know how they feel.
COACH: Due to your success at Va. Tech, you have been highly sought after by not only other collegiate programs but the pro ranks as well. What has kept you in Blacksburg?
BEAMER: Growing up, if you had told me I would have the opportunity to coach at some of the places that I’ve been at, I would have said it was a childhood dream. You would just never imagine you would have some of those opportunities. Having said that, what’s tough for me to leave here is, I do look out of the window and see the facilities we’ve had a part in building. There’s been a change at Virginia Tech. The stadium looks totally different than when I came here. We have a weight room that’s different. I’ve been a part of this change and I look back and feel real, real proud.
COACH: You recently stated that Virginia Tech would no longer look to the state of Florida for players, citing too many soft recruiting commitments. How will that affect the Hokie program going forward and how do you plan to compensate?
BEAMER: Make no mistake; there are some great players in Florida. But I have always wanted to recruit closer to home. I just feel like the closer you can get to where parents can come to the campus on the weekend and students can go home if they want to, it just makes for a better situation overall. And it goes back to the foundation of this program – kids from the state of Virginia. We’ve been able to recruit our own state well and also go into North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and up into Maryland and New Jersey. But none of that is very far away from us. I have been very pleased at how we have been received in these areas. We never used to go into North and South Carolina because it was ACC-land. You had to drive by too many good schools to get to ours. So we never went into those states unless it was a special situation.
COACH: What is the biggest challenge for college football coaches today?
BEAMER: The Internet has played a part in getting some information out that lacks responsibility and credibility. When most people read something they assume it to be true. There’s a lot of information out there and it’s out there quickly. There is some good to it, no question. But I also think it’s a liability.
COACH: What is your favorite Michael Vick anecdote?
BEAMER: When we were up in Boston College a guy had him dead to rights. Michael didn’t see him, but I guess he must have felt him, because all of a sudden he made him miss. Then he came swerving near our bench and made three more guys miss before taking off down the sideline, cut back to the middle of the field, and made about three more guys miss on his way to the end zone. I turned to Billy Hite, my running backs coach, and said, “Nice call!” It started out as a pass play but it turned into a touchdown because of Michael Vick. He has a knack for making people miss.