In September of 2017, we had the privilege of interviewing legendary football coach Frank Beamer on the Good Athlete Podcast. A few months later, Jan. 8 of 2018, Frank Beamer was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was the crowning achievement of a career which includes 280 wins, 8 conference championships, 12 bowl wins, and an appearance in the 1999 National Championship game.
At his induction, it was noted that Beamer was a 2x ACC Coach of the Year, 3x Big East Coach of the Year, won 8 significant National Coach of the Year awards, and was already in 4 different Halls (Virginia Tech Hall of Fame, Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Peach Bowl Hall of Fame, and the Sun Bowl Legend hall). He has a road named after him. He has a day named after him (Feb 4th is ‘Frank Beamer Day’ in Virginia). Most importantly, his former players light up when his name is mentioned. Few would have assumed this success when he first laced up his cleats to play quarterback in Hillsville, Virginia, a town of approximately 600 people. It was that small town, where everybody new each other, that helped created his demeanor; and it was the esteem they had for football – “on Friday night everyone was at the game,” – that began to carve the path for a true legend of college football.
Hillsville was half a mile from the Blue Ridge parkway, a rolling landscape in the quiet knolls of Virginia. Beamer remembers it fondly. It was a town stocked with traditional values, “no matter how late you stayed out on Saturday night, you were in church Sunday morning.” And on Friday nights, everyone in town was at the football game. It was small town football in the early sixties. Single wing was the offense of choice. Frank credits his coach, Tommy Thompson, with changing the game, at least the flavor of it, when he went up to Baltimore to learn from Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts’ coaching staff. He brought back “a passing offense to little Hillsville. He was way ahead of his time and defenses couldn’t stop him.” In that offense, Frank began to shine, as he racked up a school record 43 passing touchdowns.
That time at quarterback influenced his future success at Va. Tech, where he played the other side of the ball (defensive back), and played it well. He was a three-year starter and a team captain. He credits his time at quarterback with developing an already innate understanding of the nuances of the game. He felt he could sense what the opposition was hoping to do before they did it. That intuition brought him success as a player and ultimately as a coach, as his first stop after graduation was back home, serving as an assistant coach at Radford High School. And it’s here I must pause. I hope all young aspiring coaches hear this: one of the true legends of college football began as an assistant high school coach in a small town of about 9,000 people. He carried bags and set up drill and cleaned the coaches locker-room. It was, once again, a testament to how down to earth Coach Beamer is, and how much he cares about what he does – not for the glamor of it, but for the value of it.
From rest from there, as they say, is history. Success on top of success on top of bowl wins on top of success. In my lifetime, I have never known a Virginia Tech football team that was not in the national spotlight. As with many things Beamer, it did not start that way. VaTech was struggling in the early years. It was not until year seven of his tenure (most coaches in the modern age would not be given so long a leash) that the Hokies found stride. In 1993 the Hokies won 9 games and beat the Big Ten’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Independence Bowl and people started to fully buy in to “Beamer Ball.” But it was the 10-win season in 1995, which included a Sugar Bowl victory over the powerful Texas Longhorns, that solidified Virginia Tech’s place among the college football elite. True to form, Beamer credits others with that success.
It’s the players that win the games, he’s quick to admit. True. But his players (including NFL stars like DeAngelo Hall, Michael Vick, and Macho Harris) say the only reason they even considered playing football at Virginia Teach, amid an onslaught of scholarship offers, was Coach Beamer. When confronted with the idea that he is the one who brought the talent to Blacksburg, he again demurred: “we told parents, you send [your son] to Virginia Teach and we’ll do our best to take care of him, make decisions that we are right for him, and if we need to call you we will – and when I said those things, I meant them.”
He had a simple motto for the way he expected his assistant coaches to interact with the team: “treat your players the way you’d treat your kids.” Coach Beamer says he wanted to treat kids right, be respectful, be honest and noted that if that alone wasn’t a big enough positive, he believes it’s also what gets the best results on the other side. It’s what has the potential to win games. He references a scenario: when you get to the goal line and you need a yard to score, “if people really care about each other, you’ve got a better shot of that ball getting into the end zone.” A simple and honest truth.
It’s a strategy that has worked from the start. Although his coaching beginnings seem humble, the team at Radford went on to win a State Championship. After Radford he went on to be a Graduate Assistant at Maryland, then off to the Citadel, then to Murray State under coach Mike Godfrey, carrying his values with him at every stop. When Godfrey left to take the head job at Cincinnati, Frank was his incumbent. A few years later, he was a Hokie again.
These days Coach Beamer talks regularly to son Shane, who is coaching alongside Kirby Smart at Georgia. He spends a lot of time traveling from Virginia to Georgia, spending time with grandkids, speaking quite a bit, and enjoying a slightly slower pace of life.
One of the final requests we had of Coach was to give some advice to a future leader who would hope to one day be in similar shoes. He said, simply, “Live by what you try to teach. I don’t think you can live by one thing and do another and be an effective leader. Be honest. Be truthful. Care about each other, and that care should be real. All those things go into being a leader.”
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