Beamer sees opportunities ahead

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The fan base has grown restless, the results have been disappointing, the roster is young and Frank Beamer has never been happier.

These are dark times by Virginia Tech's lofty standards. The program spent the past two seasons mired in mediocrity, an offensive quagmire making even the wins tough to watch, but entering his 28th year in Blacksburg, Virginia, and nearing his 68th birthday, Beamer doesn't see a program in the final stages of a doomed dynasty.

He sees opportunity.

"I'm hyped up about the future -- really," Beamer said. "It's never been a better job for me than right now."

This isn't Beamer ignoring the facts. For nearly three decades, he's insulated Virginia Tech from the harsh realities of an increasingly hostile college football landscape, but he's seen what happens in those bastions of consistency that suddenly stop yielding acceptable results.

In his own conference, Beamer watched as Bobby Bowden was pushed out at Florida State. Just eight months ago, Jim Grobe -- a man who effectively built Wake Forest football from the ground up -- departed with the program at its nadir. Beamer is all too aware that legends aren't immune to the whims of a desperate fan base, and he said he cares about the criticism now levied against him by his own fans. But he's certain this isn't the end.

"I'm very honest, and I'm big on being a positive influence," Beamer said. "I want to continue to coach here for a few more years, and I think I'll know when things are not as positive as they need to be."

There are those happy to argue that time has come, and they don't lack for evidence.

Virginia Tech won just 15 games the past two seasons. The last time the Hokies had a two-year victory total that low was 1991-92. In the first eight years Virginia Tech was a part of the ACC, it lost just 11 conference games and never finished worse than second in the division. In the past two seasons, it's lost seven times in conference.

All that history Beamer worked to create for a quarter-century is now a weapon used against him. Mediocrity is a goal for some programs, but not at Virginia Tech.

But there, too, Beamer sees things differently.

Virginia Tech's long track record of success has never been about the consistency Beamer instilled in the program, but about his willingness to adapt. He's not a relic, but an innovator. The changes on his staff the past two years weren't a function of desperation, but rather a chance to inject new life, new ideas, new enthusiasm into a program before it grew stagnant.

The record may not show it, but Beamer believes it.

"I really like a coach that finds a better way of doing things, and I'm always looking for new ideas," Beamer said. "Do it the best way possible and give me a good idea. ... I think this is the best staff I've ever had."

The search for new ideas took Virginia Tech's staff to a handful of NFL workouts this offseason. Just a few days before the Hokies opened fall camp, Beamer and his assistants traveled to West Virginia to observe the New Orleans Saints, getting a firsthand glimpse at how one of the most dynamic offenses in the world goes about business.

Beamer spent the weekend glued to Saints head coach Sean Payton, talking special teams and practice routines and the latest technology for strength and conditioning. What Beamer found was less about innovation, however, and more about affirmation.

"It's like, hey, we're doing it the right way," Beamer said.

If the Hokies are doing things the right way, however, the translation from input to outcome has been sabotaged somewhere along the line.

"Beamer Ball" was coined because of Virginia Tech's special teams, but the Hokies allowed three return touchdowns, missed 11 field goals and finished with one of the lowest punt return averages in the nation last year.

On offense, things are equally bleak. Against FBS foes, Virginia Tech finished 106th nationally, averaging 4.87 yards per play last season. The Hokies' run game was atrocious, with no team worse at converting third-and-short plays on the ground.

Then there were the true measuring tests. Virginia Tech played three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25. The Hokies were 0-3. They lost to Alabama and UCLA by a combined score of 77-22. Their loss to Duke was one of the most improbable of the season. They held the Blue Devils to just 198 yards, forced four interceptions, held Anthony Boone without a completion in the second half and didn't allow a third-down conversion in the game -- and it wasn't enough.

And so fans wonder if it's time for even more change.

"That's the one thing I admire about who I work for," said Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer, Frank's son. "After 28 years, he's open to change."

This year will be different.

There will be a new quarterback. Logan Thomas earned the bulk of the criticism the past two years, but now Virginia Tech hands the reins of the offense to someone else. A three-man competition developed over the offseason, but the winner almost seems an afterthought to Frank Beamer, who said they're all good enough to play but none can succeed without improvement elsewhere.

The receivers were unrefined and unreliable last year, but Beamer raves about his incoming freshmen and the improvement of sophomore Joshua Stanford.

The offensive line was a problem, and it may still be one. But Beamer takes the blame for that, and he said the approach to recruiting has changed for the better.

"We got into zone blocking and these big old guys, and it kind of works against you in pass protection and even blocking," he said. "A guy has to have feet and be nifty and be able to redirect. You have to be able to move yourself."

So now Virginia Tech aims for lighter, more agile linemen, hoping to add the weight after they arrive on campus. Agility, explosiveness, athleticism -- these are Beamer's buzzwords these days, and he believes he's got plenty of it on both sides of the ball.

Even those ugly special teams should be better. In that loss to Alabama last year, the Hokies actually outgained the Crimson Tide, holding Nick Saban's crew to just a tick more than 200 yards -- but the lack of depth on special teams was Virginia Tech's undoing. The edict this season is that if freshmen excel in coverage or blocking, they'll avoid a redshirt and find a home on special teams.

Beamer really does love the freshmen. He loves the recruiting class he's putting together for 2015, too. He loves his new coaches and the attitude they've brought and the new ideas he's eager to try.

Beamer's happy, he said, because there's so much to look forward to if the rest of the world would simply stop comparing it to his past.

"I think we're well on our way back to getting there," he said -- because when you've had as much success as Beamer, "getting back" always seems to be the way "getting ahead" is described.

But that's the great irony here. Beamer isn't looking back. The man who should be looking to the future with fear and apprehension about a coda to his career that can't be too far off, even under the best of conditions, is the man most eager to see what lies ahead.

So much is new and exciting, Beamer said, but the goal still remains the same. The challenge to make it there is bigger than ever, and that's half the fun.

"We're knocking at the door," Beamer said. "You have to knock the door on down. You have to take that next step."