Twenty years ago, Virginia Tech was nowhere as an athletics department. Just look at all the available evidence: the Hokies had teams in three different conferences, had financial issues and finished No. 129 in the final Directors' Cup standings -- used to measure the overall success of an athletic department.
Today, Virginia Tech is a household name, a Top 35 athletic program with all its teams in one established conference. People know their mascot, their home city, their football coach. "Enter Sandman" at Lane Stadium has become a celebrated college football tradition. So has Thursday night football.
Frank Beamer has gotten plenty of credit for transforming football. But former athletic director Jim Weaver, who passed away Thursday morning, spearheaded the true transformation of the Virginia Tech athletics department.
Weaver arrived in 1997 staring down a mess. Just seven years later, he shepherded the Hokies from the Big East to the ACC and secured their future as a power player. Their move to the ACC, with Miami and Boston College, paved the way for a second seismic realignment shift just eight years later, when the Big East died as a football conference.
ACC commissioner John Swofford called Weaver "instrumental" in getting the move done, with the support of school president Charles Steger.
The league and school have benefited tremendously, perhaps more than anyone initially anticipated. Virginia Tech athletics truly flourished for the first time, embarking on its most successful era. Symbolically, Virginia Tech became perhaps the first true example that a nouveau program could play itself into much bigger and better circumstances, thanks in large part to a burgeoning football program.
Utah and Louisville have recently hit the same jackpot.
Virginia Tech got there first.
It is hard to keep that in perspective, because Virginia Tech has become one of the programs most associated with ACC football. Though it only has been a member for 11 years, Virginia Tech has made five ACC championship game appearances, had eight straight 10-win seasons from 2004-11 and multiple berths in BCS games. That’s more than any of the league’s original members.
That also is more than Miami, the supposed showstopper in the realignment deal that brought the Canes, Hokies and Boston College to the ACC. Though Miami has failed to live up to expectations, Virginia Tech has far exceeded them.
Indeed, it is hard to envision an ACC without Virginia Tech.
"It is a strong legacy," said Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, one of two ADs in the ACC at his current position when Virginia Tech joined the league. "Obviously, when he got there Frank was the coach and he immediately established a strong relationship with Frank, and the two of them did a superb job of not only competing in the ACC but winning championships in the ACC. They were the cowbell in our conference for a number of years. When they were together, it was always obvious they had a deep appreciation for each other."
The other AD still in his position, Craig Littlepage at Virginia, worked with Weaver some 40 years ago when they both coached at Villanova. He said of Weaver in a statement: "In all of the time I knew Jim, he showed professionalism in everything he did and demanded the same from those with whom he surrounded himself."
Beamer put in the hard work to elevate the program. But he needed Weaver to help get Virginia Tech into a more stable conference home and supply the resources to sustain its success, given the step up in competition.
Under Weaver, Virginia Tech spent $200 million in facilities and facilities upgrades. The newly completed indoor practice facility was approved while Weaver was still AD. Improvements were made to Lane Stadium; a new locker room and lounge for football were built; a new agreement with Nike was made.
Weaver’s legacy is clear. He truly was a game-changer for the Virginia Tech athletics department.