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What is it About Old Dogs and New Tricks?

I'd like to lead this horse to water, but I fear he won't drink.

In order for Beamer to finish strong, incoming University leadership needs to take a bigger role in the direction of the Football Program
In order for Beamer to finish strong, incoming University leadership needs to take a bigger role in the direction of the Football Program
Chris Graythen

It seems like once a coach begins to lose games with their core philosophy, they are not able to adapt. This isn't unique to Frank Beamer, or Bobby Bowden, or Joe Paterno. Even Don Shula, Tom Landry, and Chuck Noll weren't immune. Granted it's taking a little liberty here to include a coach with a 1-29 record all-time against top 5 teams with  guys who have 6 or 7 combined national titles, or 9 Super Bowls between them, but with Beamer's career wins approaching their level(s), I feel it's a relevant topic.

Coaches get old, but it is perplexing as to why their experience doesn't serve them better in their "golden years". Is it their energy level? A reduction in the fear they are able to instill; that their players don't believe strict discipline can come from a Grandpa figure, but rather more of a military style taskmaster who can give the impression of being able to punish them severely? Is it simple familiarity?

Because of our awful record against top tier teams, do players come to Virginia Tech never really believing we can get over the hump; leading to a self-defeating mentality that perpetuates from recruiting class to recruiting class? Maybe the players come to Tech knowing we'll be good enough to get on TV and win 2/3 of games, and that it's a good school, and hey just because it's the biggest place closest to home? After all, these are the recruiting criteria one could find in the  Dynasty mode of past issues of EA Sports NCAA Football game. If you find the kids who value location and playing time over the prestige and honor of going to battle expecting to win each time out, you can still field a nice program, just one that has a different philosophy. One that isn't terribly bothered by losing.

Since the conviction isn't ever there, which trickles on down from the ridiculous empty trophy case to a coach who won't fire failing assistants, the players are never fully invested. I'm not saying Alabama is the ideal model, where a 1 loss season without the trophy is a sign of the coming apocalypse; but there has to be a tangible intolerance for the kind of systemic mistakes we are known for, if we are to ever get out from under this dark cloud of institutional incompetence.

I make reference to something I call "The Formula" to a fault. And without outlining all of it's very specific components (perhaps in the off-season, as today I am too disgusted) it simply involves our willingness to repeat behaviors that result in us beating ourselves, or making it extremely easy to give the other team the opportunity to win. The phrase that has come up repeatedly since 2005 (I like to mark its genesis at the horrible home loss to Miami) is that "WE INVENT NEW WAYS TO LOSE." My apologies for shouting at you, dear readers.I know you're in a vulnerable state at present, but it can't be said loudly or often enough.

I would love to look up and say, "You know we played our level best and the other team was just better." This is impossible 99% of the time. The Hokie way doesn't allow for this, the losses are always rife with the what-ifs. And though there are sayings abound which maintain that looking back with regret is a slippery slope to stunting your future; there is also the saying about those who don't know or understand their history being doomed to repeat it.

The more things change elsewhere, the more they remain the same in Blacksburg. I am not quite sure what the new administration is going to bring with a new President and a yet to be determined Athletic Director still a question. But I think the first move the University can make (and the boosters should be quite vocal on this) is to take the Weaver/Beamer short-list of recommended ADs and deposit it directly in the round file. Just trash it.

First of all, I think it's bad practice to hire the AD in February if there is no new President in office. I'd be happy to ride with the interim AD, Sharon McCloskey, until the Presidential hire is made. Even if this process takes us well into 2014, and results in some additional transitioning pains. I think that for Weaver and Beamer to have that kind of influence over the hire is doing the incoming President a disservice, since he or she is likely to want to have some input on someone they are to work closely with. Particularly since the Football program generates a tremendous amount of revenue, which is utilized not just across the Athletic Department, but in other parts of University development. Not only that, but allowing Beamer to essentially handpick his boss can only result in the same sort of arrogant autonomy that exists as I write this. Beamer operates with impunity, and nobody can tell him his business without him wielding his history and accomplishments as a big stick to keep the detractors at bay.

I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for Frank making football so profitable and influential in making Virginia Tech so much more than the sum of its parts. When I entered as a Freshman in 1993, Playboy magazine had us picked to finish 95th out of 112. I expected nothing, and to date I still do not know what it's like to support a team who didn't make a bowl. I have been spoiled compared to many older Hokie fans, who to date have been a little too content with just being a winning team that goes to bowls every year. To put it bluntly, the people who have been footing the bill (as boosters), have been complicit in these well-publicized failures by not demanding more for their money. The time has come for some serious changes in oversight. There need to be some checks and balances.

Personally, I don't believe Frank needs to go. Although I am prone to hyperbole and have been guilty of saying he should be fired like so many others, I don't think he is completely over the hill. I still believe he could serve as an effective Head Coach, namely if he were to relinquish Special Teams duties, and revert back to many of the tactical advantages that brought him early success. But nobody within the University hierarchy has the clout to insist upon this. And it is until these conversations begin to take place that we will remain as the chronic underachievers and universal joke that we have become. The "Chokies" are a punchline, and that has to hurt Coach Beamer more than any individual loss ever could. I would love nothing more than for him to find the right people, and implement the right system, and go out strong. Like it or not, Frank will see this through to 300 wins, and he will remain in Blacksburg while doing so. As of today, he has 266 total wins (223 at VT, and 43 at Murray St). By my math, that's 4 more years minimum.

It'd be nice if we weren't just playing out 7-5 and 8-4 campaigns in order to attain a milestone that loses luster with every loss he takes, in order to get one more win towards the total. Like some aging baseball player who eventually loses 10 to 15 points off of their career batting average running down 3,000 hits. It'd be nice if he could take a long look in the mirror and recognize that there is a pattern to this, and be honest with himself that the crowd has grown weary of us being our own worst enemy. It'd be nice if he would stop using the fact that we are such a classy fan base, that we feel like we can't tell the Emperor he isn't wearing any clothes.

Frank has been the craggy, comfortable face of our program for so long now that he doesn't realize that we are in dire need of a facelift and a little botox. It's up to the new administration to make sure the comfort level is reduced some and that Coach Beamer has to make some tougher decisions, instead of allowing so many decisions to be made by default. Any more of the old boy network is going to sentence us to 5-7 more years of very avoidable suffering and further decay.

I for one would like to be able to hand the program over to the new Head Coach where he will be in position to succeed, instead of needing to embark on a massive rebuild. More of this style of losing, and all the universal goodwill be replaced by acerbic criticism that will divide the Lane Stadium constituents, and make an already difficult generational transition even tougher to bear. He is no longer building a program in 1990, and it is way beyond the halcyon days of 2000. We are in a state of limbo where an exit is only possible if an exit is actually explored. Right now, Coach Beamer is far too comfortable in his little chrysalis to entertain our collective notion of every becoming a Monarch Butterfly.