This weekend there were many moving stories on Coach Frank Beamer’s last home game at Lane Stadium as I was watching the UNC Tar Heels defeat the Virginia Tech Hokies in overtime. Coach Beamer had unprecedented success in building Virginia Tech into one of the nation’s finest football programs.
During the game, I thought of the amazing similarities between two of the greatest coaches of all-time: Coach Mack Brown and Coach Frank Beamer.
I have never personally met Coach Beamer but I have many friends who talk glowingly about him. To me, the job he did at Virginia Tech was truly remarkable. When I played at UNC in the late 1970’s, Virginia Tech was not very highly regarded in football. An independent at the time, VPI never made much of a mark on the college football scene.
Even without knowing Coach Beamer, I felt somehow connected to Virginia Tech and here is why. After my sophomore year at UNC in 1977 – when we won that ACC title and lost to a tough Nebraska team in the Liberty Bowl – UNC Head Football Coach Bill Dooley left to become Head Football Coach and Director of Athletics at Virginia Tech. Even though would have had 17 starters returning from that ACC Championship the following season, and many thought we were in the process of establishing UNC as a national power, Coach Dooley decided the opportunity at Virginia Tech was too good to pass up.
Here’s where it is interesting about Virginia Tech football and I would guess most people don’t know. It was widely believed that Coach Beamer inherited and a down and out program and made it a national power. But that wasn’t true.
Under Coach Dooley, or the “old trench fighter” as he liked to be known, Virginia Tech went 63-38-1 in his 9 years. His last year the Hokies went 10-1-1 – that’s right 10-1-1 – including a win over 18th-ranked NC State in the Peach Bow!! There was some fall out at the time and VPI wanted Coach Dooley to give up his AD role, so he received a settlement and wound up at Wake Forest as Head Coach.
Then the Coach Beamer regime began. But he was following a coach who went 63-38-1 in nine years culminating with the 10-1-1 season and Peach Bowl victory.
After a slow start in his first six years – 24-40 – Virginia Teach began to roll and played in the 1995 Sugar Bowl against Texas.
Coach Beamer then went on a roll and established the Virginia Tech program as a program to be reckoned with. Virginia Tech won at least 10 games in 13 of 17 seasons from 1995-2011. His recruiting took off and he snagged top recruit Michael Vick. With Vick at QB, Virginia Tech eventually played for the National Championship game only to fall short.
But even after Vick graduated, Coach Beamer kept the program strong and it remained as one of the nation’s finest programs until 2012 when Virginia Tech has had four average seasons in Coach Beamer’s last four years.
During this time of Virginia Tech’s surge on the national scene, I was often helping the UNC coaching staff recruit with on-campus visits. I would talk to the players individually and as a group. It was during those visits that more and more of the student-athletes I met were mentioning Virginia Tech as one of their top choices. Prior to that time I rarely recalled having UNC recruit against Virginia Tech. But now UNC was not only recruiting against Virginia Tech but beginning to lose top players to Blacksburg.
The Similarities with Coach Mack Brown
Losing players to Virginia Tech reminded me of how successful my good friend and Hall of Fame Coach Mack Brown had been as UNC’s head football coach from 1988-1997. Coach Brown basically shut down the North Carolina borders and seemingly landed every top state of North Carolina football recruit to Chapel Hill during his last years at UNC. Occasionally, UNC would lose a recruit from Western NC to Tennessee or Clemson. But, it became less frequent for other schools to land top NC talent. Rarely did UNC ever lose a top notch recruit to Virginia Tech during Coach Brown’s tenure at UNC.
Thinking about this recruiting pattern and Coach Beamer’s retirement made me reflect on the success both Coach Brown and Coach Beamer have had over their illustrious careers. Not counting Coach Beamer’s stint as head coach at Murray State (Division I), look at how remarkably close their records are:
Coach Brown was able to take two programs and entrench them as powers. North Carolina finished in the top 10 in Coach Brown’s last two years. UNC was a powerhouse and was producing NFL players as many first round draft picks as anybody else.
He left in 1997 to go to a Texas program that thought it was much better than it had been. Texas had last won a national title in 1970, but some twenty-seven years later many of the Texas faithful acted as if they had won multiple titles since then. Mack’s predecessor, John Mackovic went 41-28-2 in 6 years but struggled in his last two years, going 8-5 in 1996 and 4-7 in 1997 before being released. Mack did not inherit a 10-1-1 team like Coach Beamer had.
Mack took over and guided the Longhorns to 12 straight seasons of at least 9 wins per season. Quite a run. And he brought home the National Championship in the 2005 Rose Bowl win over USC in what was the best football game I have ever seen in person! Two great teams, with great traditions, great fight songs, great Universities, the national spotlight and great players playing great football that night. Truly, a night to remember!!
So, as we salute Coach Beamer on his extraordinary career as the Head Coach at Virginia Tech, we also give a shout out to the heralded career of Coach Brown.
Two great men with uncanny similar remarkable success as head coaches. Two of the greatest of all time.