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Vols Will Face New Coach, New Virginia Tech with Frank Beamer's Retirement

On trying to replace a legend, made more difficult when he's the only legend you know.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime readers of this blog may remember I spent six football seasons living in southwest Virginia, from 2006-11.  I've written a number of times about the experience of being a Tennessee fan in Hokieland, most recently when the Battle at Bristol was announced two years ago.  Ironically, that piece included this:

For Tennessee 2016 would mark the junior seasons of what is its most celebrated recruiting class since the glory days of Phillip Fulmer.  If what we all hope happens actually begins to take shape, the Vols could be finding their way to the mythical "back".  Meanwhile there is no program in the nation as stable as Virginia Tech, with the nation's longest tenured coach, a defensive coordinator in his 18th year, and a people as passionate as we are.

With Frank Beamer announcing his retirement at season's end today, it made me think of something else I wrote years ago.  Seven years (!), three head coaches, and several lifetimes ago this Tuesday, Phillip Fulmer stood in front of reporters, shed tears, and announced his resignation.  The die was cast and today the program is as healthy as it's been in those seven years and probably a little beyond then.  But it remains true that, in saying goodbye to Fulmer, the Vols were giving away something they wouldn't get back with Kiffin, Dooley, or Butch:  a deep-rooted, lifelong, personal investment in the program and the university.

For no one has this kind of investment been more true than Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.

Beamer's retirement will mean there are only two coaches left who were at the same position in the previous millennium, with Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz coming to their posts in 1999.  Three if you count Bill Snyder, who was out of the game from 2006-08.  There are only three others - Gary Patterson, Mark Richt, and Gary Pinkel - who have been at their current stops for more than a decade.

Frank Beamer has been the head coach at Virginia Tech since 1987.

And unlike Fulmer, or Joe Paterno at Penn State or Tom Osborne at Nebraska, there was little to build on.  There was Tennessee Football before Phillip.  Frank Beamer is Virginia Tech.

In Blacksburg Beamer won 277 games.  The next closest name on that list was Steve Spurrier, who retired at 227.

This means no matter what the Hokies do, even if it's promote Bud Foster, the program itself will be different.  The hope, I'm sure, is that this is forced evolution; after playing for the BCS title in 1999 and winning 10+ games every year from 2004-11, the Hokies have struggled to 26-22 the last four years.  But whether it's Foster or Lane Kiffin or any of the many, many points between, the Hokies will have to figure out how to do football without the man who has been their very identity.

They'll figure it out first against Liberty University, and then they'll figure it out against us in Bristol.  And with athletic director Whit Babcock formerly of Cincinnati, of course you're going to get some of this off the cuff...

...but I'm quite sure the dollars, before it even becomes about anything else, are going to mean Babcock will look for someone like Butch and not Butch himself.

What we hope is the Vols, right now and more every Saturday, are showing how you can move forward from a Mount Rushmore coach.  In Virginia Tech's case Beamer is the whole mountain, and it will be interesting to see how far the apple will fall from the tree and how the Hokies conduct a search in a year when Southern Cal, Miami, and an SEC school all have openings and there's plenty of smoke surrounding the biggest job of all at Texas.  But no matter where it lands, and no matter how much passionate Hokie fans may have believed, right or wrong, that the program needed a change, this day is never easy and is, in fact, a lot more difficult than even the loudest voices for change may have believed.

As a former resident and now lifelong supporter of southwest Virginia, I wish the Hokies nothing but the best (other than in Bristol, of course).  It will be different.  I hope it's easier for them than it has been for us.