There’s a little uncertainty at the top of Virginia Tech’s football hierarchy. While still revered around Blackburg and throughout college football outposts, Frank Beamer isn’t on the solid footing he once stood on. Twenty-eight seasons of unparalleled success and noble leadership at Virginia Tech has deservedly afforded Beamer enough goodwill to right the ship.
This upcoming season, the Hokies need the turnaround to begin. But even if it does, will Beamer, six months removed from throat surgery, be around to complete it? The 68-year-old coach is still recovering, and he admitted in January that at his age there usually is something that is nagging.
It’s almost tiresome to speculate about Beamer because of his age in the same way it became repetitive to wonder aloud about Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno more than a decade ago. Beamer’s current condition coupled with the spell of five- and six-loss seasons makes it hard to ignore the question of whether the Hokies will be going through a regime change over the next few seasons? If they do, are they destined to fall and slide into the ACC’s middle tiers for an even longer period?
Overall, the ACC as a whole is an ascending conference. Clemson and Florida State have positioned themselves as College Football Playoff contenders each year. Georgia Tech could be the ACC’s best team in 2015, and Louisville's Bobby Petrino will pose problems in the Atlantic. A number of programs in the conference’s lower tier have made coaching changes recently that have paid dividends.
So, it’s a difficult task pegging a team poised to fall in the ACC over the next few seasons. However, Virginia Tech, given its winning history and questions at the top, could be most at risk.
First, it’s not a foregone conclusion the Hokies will be an ACC contender in 2015. They are a trendy pick, but such is often the case with proven programs going through dry spells. There is no guarantee the offense will be better, which once again could waste an elite defense. And while the staff obviously has shown the ability to develop offensive talent, are there enough pieces to work with along the unit in future years? Michael Vicks are hard to come by, but is there a Tyrod Taylor or Sean Glennon or Bryan Randall, and is there a competent enough offensive line to protect a 10-win quarterback if there is one on the roster?
If you follow the recruiting rankings, the Hokies have fallen off the pace they set over a long period of time. Programs like Virginia Tech are not going to consistently land top-10 classes, but the Hokies were capable of corralling a significant amount of the state’s top talent, specifically from the Tidewater area.
Recruiting is no longer regional. The Hokies are losing out to the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State for ESPN 300 recruits. Even Virginia coach Mike London has successfully combated Beamer on the trail despite a tenuous job situation and few on-field results to bolster his pitch.
If Beamer does leave his post within the next few seasons, there’s also the case of whether administration elects to promote from within or look to the outside. Both Shane Beamer and Bud Foster could be head coaches, and an heir to Frank Beamer could ensure another sustained run of success.
But there’s also the question of whether the program has stagnated and if a promotion would only continue the Hokies’ slide. The Hokies face a tough decision of whether another mediocre season(s) would necessitate the need for a fresh perspective.
Who might the Hokies be able to hire, though? They face some issues in the college football arms race, and it’s not going to be easy keeping up with Clemson, Florida State and even Louisville in expenses.
Few would be shocked if Beamer is looking like his old self and patrols the sideline for a team that ends up with 10 wins. The defense is that good, and the Hokies return much of their offensive skill. But if the slide continues in 2015, it could portend a steeper and longer decline in the future.