Frank Beamer announced his resignation as Virginia Tech head coach Sunday, and college football closed the book on an era. Not "the Frank Beamer era," the shorthand by which we forever will refer to his 29 seasons and 235 wins (and counting) at his alma mater.
Actually, in football years, that's not an era. It's more like an eon. It's too exhausting to count how many years Beamer has coached. Easier to cut down a tree on the Blacksburg campus and count the rings.
Beamer, who turned 69 just two weeks ago, is a connection to a different time. There are the obvious differences between when he began in 1987 and today. Back then, you didn't have to belong to a conference. Virginia Tech competed as an independent, as did Penn State, South Carolina and most of the schools from the mid-Atlantic north. Big East football, may it rest in peace, had not been born.
FBS schools, then called Division I-A, had 95 scholarships. Five years would pass before they reduced the limit to 85, thereby spreading the talent wider and allowing more teams to win championships.
But those are rules and memberships, changes codified and agreed upon. The biggest change between then and now is represented by the arc of Beamer's career.
Long before he won three Big East Conference and four Atlantic Coast Conference championships, Beamer was a 40-year-old hotshot who returned to his alma mater after six seasons at FCS school Murray State. He came home, and he fell on his face.
Virginia Tech won two games in his first season, and by his third, the Hokies had climbed to six wins. By his sixth, they had fallen back to two. In six seasons in Blacksburg, Beamer produced a record of 24-40-2 (.379).
The fact we are celebrating Beamer's career today, one in which he has won 54 more games than any other man currently coaching in the FBS, illustrates how the pressures in college football have increased. When Beamer began, conventional wisdom dictated that coaches got five years to establish their program. Today, they may get three. Salaries have skyrocketed, and so have the demands that come with them.
The idea that in today's game a coach could win two games in his sixth season and get a seventh one is about as likely as converting a fourth-and-20. And yet look what happened. Beamer got to coach a seventh season, in 1993. The Hokies won nine games. And they kept winning. You know the rest.
Beamer won at least 10 games 13 times between 1995 and 2011. More important, Virginia Tech seized upon its raised profile to maneuver its way into the ACC. The school once dismissed as a lesser of the patrician University of Virginia became its equal, a fellow conference member. All because Beamer kept coaching until he learned to win.
Beamer never won a national championship, which shows how hard that is to do. He did take one team to the BCS title game. The 1999 Virginia Tech that rode the magic of redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick actually led heavily favored Florida State in the fourth quarter before falling 46-29.
Beamer built a pipeline filled with players like Vick. The wealth of talent on the Virginia coastline fueled the rise of the Hokies. He built a staff of good teachers and recruiters who were as devoted to him as he was to them. He took care of his assistants financially, and in a business in which change is the norm, the seeming permanence of the Virginia Tech staff served the program well.
But nothing is permanent in college football, not even Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech slipped into mediocrity in 2012, and Beamer couldn't find a way to return the Hokies to the top of the ACC. He has been dogged by health issues, and now he is saying goodbye. Someone must replace Beamer at Virginia Tech. The record books are full of guys who succeeded legends but failed to succeed.
There is something almost biblical about Beamer not being around next season to coach Virginia Tech against Tennessee in the game at the NASCAR track in Bristol, Virginia. Beamer championed that game, and he won't be on the sideline for it. It will be the first season in 30 years that Beamer won't be coaching the Hokies, all because the university stuck with him when it would have been easy to say goodbye.