​Frank Beamer is best argument for keeping Mike London another year

spfrank_beamer_courtesywikimediacommons

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer announced Sunday he would retire after the 2015 season. Through his first six seasons, Beamer went 24-40-2 with the Hokies, with only two winning seasons. 

courtesy wikimedia commons

College football will lose one of its all-time greats when Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer leaves his program at end of the year. To put his career in perspective, Beamer — who announced his forthcoming retirement Sunday — is looking to take the Hokies to their 23rd consecutive bowl game and 12th consecutive win over Virginia this season.

But in reading through some of the many eulogies of Beamer’s career, I was surprised to learn that his unprecedented tenure at Virginia Tech nearly failed to get off the ground. In 1992, after Beamer finished his sixth season with the Hokies 2-8-1, he faced widespread calls from fans to be fired. Beamer’s son, Shane, even recounted a story of a fan calling their home and going on a tirade of criticism directed at Frank. The coach’s 10-year-old daughter had answered the phone.

Through his first six seasons, Beamer went 24-40-2 with the Hokies, with only two winning seasons. He didn’t get an invitation to a single bowl game in that opening stretch with Tech (though to be fair there were far fewer bowl games in the early ‘90s). But instead of firing Beamer, Virginia Tech athletic director Dave Braine gave him enough money to hire better offensive and defensive coordinators. Braine trusted him.

It’s impossible to imagine Virginia Tech retaining a coach today after six years without a single season of more than six wins. But the reason that seems so farfetched is precisely because of Beamer’s unparalleled success.

Mike London, now in his sixth season, isn’t in all that different of a position than Beamer found himself in back in 1992. London now sits at 26-43 at Virginia — remarkably similar to where Beamer was at that point in his career with the Hokies — and facing just as harsh of calls for his exit.

London also appears to have the full support of his athletic director — in this case Craig Littlepage — much like Beamer did. Most fans were pretty outraged — myself included — about this seemingly blind trust last season when it was announced London would be back this year, but I think that trust deserves a bit more credence from fans. Littlepage’s judgement has been sound in just about every single coaching hire and retention decision he’s made at Virginia. And from everything I’ve heard, the players believe in London as well.

So maybe the answer is simply that London just needs better assistants. London doesn’t actually call plays, and among the more informed Cavalier fans, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is just as chastised as London himself. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta hasn’t been as bad, but hasn’t exactly amazed either.

After Beamer hired a new coaching staff following the failed 1992 season, the rest was history. In 1993, the Hokies went 9-3 en route to capturing just the second bowl win for Virginia Tech ever. Two years later, Beamer captured his first of three Big East titles, led the Hokies to a Sugar Bowl win, and finished the year ranked ninth in the Coaches Poll — the highest finish ever for the program at that point. Then, in 1999, Beamer brought the Hokies the closest they’d ever come to capturing a NCAA title, losing in the BCS National Championship Game to Florida State.

Yes, it’s a huge stretch to say London could come close to matching the career of Frank Beamer. But it does show that head coaches sometimes need patience and unconditional support. London has proven himself worthy of that support in the eyes of Littlepage, so maybe we should give him a bit more time.

All that being said, I haven’t completely convinced myself. But, if the Cavaliers finish out this final four-game stretch 2-2 or better, it wouldn’t be the worst decision to keep London another year — so long there is massive staff turnover otherwise. Especially considering the wealth of top college football jobs that are already open, keeping London and beefing up his assistants is somewhat low-risk. As Beamer’s career has shown, the strategy can also be high-reward.


Matt Comey is a weekly Sports Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at m.comey@cavalierdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewcomey.

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