As I sit down to write this article just a couple days before Thanksgiving, I figure it'd be good to try and memorialize this season. So while the 5-6 record (Hopefully 6-6 as of 4PM or earlier Saturday) is ultimately disappointing, there are things that I do appreciate from this season, and my time at Tech, for that matter. As we head toward the bottom of my predicted range (I'd hoped 8-5, at best we can go 7-6), here are some things I'm thankful for.
The first thing I'm thankful for is Frank Beamer. I'm thankful that he brought the program to prominence. Beamer made successful Virginia Tech Football an actual ‘thing'. He won 3 Big East championships, 4 ACC championships, a Sugar Bowl (IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN TWO, CURSE YOU PAC-12 OFFICIATING CREWS!), an Orange Bowl, several other bowl games, and a lot of fans in a sleepy Southwest Virginia town really only known for a mid-level ag school that still clung to its Corps of Cadets. Beamer was the hero Tech needed to bring it out of football limbo and into the light of successful college athletics- especially when the academic side of the school had been so hell-bent on burning the sports side to the ground. So Virginia Tech was a blip on the map, before, and now, it's a serious program. That indoor facility would've been a complete laughingstock of an idea thirty years ago. That's Beamer's legacy. The massive video board, the ‘square root one' symbol, Enter Sandman, smoked turkey legs, Thursday night fireworks, special teams actually mattering for once, all that is, was, and will be Frank Beamer's doing. We'll never forget what he meant to this town, to this university, and to us as fans.
But the second thing I'm thankful for is tied into his retirement announcement: I'm thankful he followed his promise and got out before the program spiraled out of control (the program has definitely slipped over the past few years for various reasons). Frank Beamer might be what made Virginia Tech, but I'm glad he knew that the university and the program was bigger than him. It prevents him from becoming Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno. That's admirable beyond words. Most people don't know how to leave elegantly, Beamer gave Babcock time to find the replacement and to allow himself some adulation time. If he wasn't going to get Bristol, he can have this.
One snarky thing I'm thankful for? I'm thankful for Frank retiring because it moves Loeffler out of here. No way that he sticks around no matter who Whit hires for the job. I know he's done SOME stuff in recruiting, but since Andrew Ford transferred away, Joshua Jackson is likely to leave when he does, Chris Durkin got moved to tight end- or kind of, that move has gone back and forth- and Shai McKenzie is a transfer risk now that he's been in trouble, redshirted, and has a nebulous backfield future? You can say he brought Dwayne Lawson on board, but that whole thing has been botched and mishandled from the get go and you can't even say he's good or not despite the fact that he didn't get a redshirt. Our offense has picked up right where it left off the past few years and has been completely inconsistent at best and maddeningly and consistently bad at the worst. This offensive staff hasn't developed a consistent offensive line, managed to only develop two wide receivers (More on them later), hasn't had a consistent theory of offense, had to rely on whatever they could get from a former option quarterback since they lost a kid to transfer and weren't confident in the actual quarterback they'd recruited (and then moved him back and forth from tight end), and we still rank in the bottom third of all NCAA Division I-A (FBS) schools in offense? 88th? That's what we wanted when we hired him? If that's the case then we would've kept Stinespring in the booth. If there's one silver lining from Frank retiring, it's that we stand a chance of beating out luminaries like Florida International, Virginia, Old Dominion, and Georgia Southern in total offense. And yes, before you say anything, I know that our offensive roster has been sacked- sometimes literally- by injuries the past two years. I still don't think that would matter to the overall level of competency we're seeing out of that side of the ball when we HAVE been healthy. When Bud is having to tape together a defense to stay anywhere close to what we need to and we're celebrating coming up with two drives out of our butts to come back and tie UNC after spending three quarters banging our heads against a wall? It means you've got issues. Hopefully there will be issues no longer.
I'm thankful for the players we have for whoever comes next to work with, because while the QB position will be a complete guess (Lawson? Jackson (if he's convinced to stick around despite Lefty going bye-bye)? Durkin (If they leave him at QB)? Some other recruit or transfer that comes in with or because of the new coach?) The other positions have talent and depth. I'm not sure Bucky can head to the NFL after spending half a year completely anonymous and the rest of the year alternating between completely amazing and completely mind-boggling? He's got a TON of talent and another year of refining it would make him into the next Jimmy Graham instead of the next Jesse James- him being a very athletic tight end with a lot of promise from Penn State that went out a year earlier than he should have without doing much and getting stuck behind Heath Miller on Pittsburgh rather than starting somewhere with another year's training. If someone can use him and teach him properly, he's going to break every single record for a Virginia Tech Tight End ever. Travon McMillian is the dynamite running back everyone had recognized at the beginning of the year as the best option, and boy, with the right offense, could he explode. In only starting a few games, he's already likely to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season through the bowl game if we get there (though he's perfectly capable of it against UVA, he's at 880 right now). He's shifty; he's fast; he's sizable; he's everything we've hoped for in a running back since David Wilson. I'm happy that we've got both Ford and Phillips for another year. Ford has turned into a great playmaker with good hands, and has anyone noticed how often Cam Phillips is open on third down as if people just completely forget where he is? Both of those guys stand to be stuck in the record books by the end of their runs- if we get an offensive-minded head coach, I'll go ahead and bet you right now that Ford becomes the first 1,000 receiver in VT history. Phillips could very well be the second.
Onto the defensive end, I'm thankful for the experience that our defensive backs are getting. If these are the guys that'll stick around into the future, between Adonis Alexander, Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson, and Greg Stroman (Though someone PLEASE stick him somewhere else other than punt returner), we're getting them a chance to learn as they go with live playing time. That'll get people ready for whenever the Last Fuller leaves, be it this year or next. I'm thankful that Andrew Motuapuaka turned his season around- after looking lost for the first couple games, since his injury, he's done a lot better on the field and looks like a real future player. Maybe not at mike, but definitely somewhere.
And despite the fact that the defense has gone a bit sideways this year and the last, I'm thankful for Bud. He's the only reason why we're in half the games we're in, even through the stupid fouls and the over-aggressiveness and the under-recruited under-sized team he's putting out there. Bud is still a schematic genius and has an answer to a lot of things. I highly doubt he's going to get the job- mostly because otherwise Whit would have named him head coach already if he was going to get the post- but I can't thank him enough for everything he's done for this program. If Frank Beamer is Virginia Tech (and him retiring the way he did makes me believe HE doesn't think he is, by the by), then Bud Foster is all the Hokie Stone that's kept the buildings together on campus.
I'm thankful right now that we've got someone that'll make the tough decisions and shoot for huge hires manning the controls right now. Butch Jones, Tommy Tuberville, Buzz Williams. All were going to be sought after candidates that had come out of nowhere to coach for smaller or less competent schools because that's who Whit Babcock wants. Babcock wants names, but he also wants talent and people that can do their jobs. He knew he took this job with this situation coming up in his future. It was inevitable. The fact that he saw this challenge, accepted it, and has faced something at least similar to it before gives me comfort that he'll be able to find a qualified hire to replace Frank.
If you'll indulge me, I'll get away from the field to thank Virginia Tech for being a great school. For having a great atmosphere, great fans, and giving me an amazing education (VT CAUS), and for meaning so much to so many. Blacksburg is a small town with big dreams. I loved my time there, and I miss it due to being stuck in the NoVA concrete and asphalt playground. I miss the sunny days, I miss the Drillfield, I miss Owens Quesadillas and West End steak and late night runs to DX when you're so busy at studio you forget to grab dinner. I miss St. Mary's and the War Memorial. I miss hot Mike's pizza, calzones at Pita Vera, and despite the heartburn it gave my parents, I miss trips to Mish-Mish. I miss the roar of the Lane Stadium crowd, I miss the crisp Appalachian fall air, and I miss the sound of Skipper echoing in that huge bowl of a valley Tech lies in. I miss the people I met, the professors I enraged or bamboozled, and the good times I had playing football in Foxridge. For all that and more, I'll always be thankful.
Finally, let's end the season on a great note, because I thank UVA for being football suckers. 4,000 plus days and counting. I hope the team goes out there and wins the last one for Frank. It's the least he deserves after giving so much to Virginia Tech. That would sure cap off a great Thanksgiving.