Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Frank has big puzzle to solve

This one really, really needs to fit. And it's not Bryan Stinespring's job to make it fit. The onus isn't on Bud Foster, either.

Frank Beamer's got to stop Virginia Tech's slide, and nobody else. He's the man with the power and responsibility to change things.

Everybody knows Beamer's coaching record is superb. A 182-92-2 ledger at Tech suggests he knows what he's doing. But it's easy to forget that when you watch Beamer's postgame press conferences following losses. Those things can be downright terrifying.

Never was that more true than last week, after North Carolina stunned the heavily favored Hokies in Blacksburg, when Beamer declared that "the game just didn't fit."

Collectively, a frustrated fan base shouted its response:


Didn't fit? What the heck does that even mean?

It's not like we haven't heard this exact phrase from Beamer before. He said the same thing after Kansas topped Tech in the Orange Bowl two years ago: The game just didn't fit.

Here's how that quote translated to me in both cases: "Sorry, guys. I'm stumped."

It's not fair simply to take the quote at face value, though. See, the things we love about Beamer when he's winning are the same things that are so maddening when the team struggles. He simplifies the complex. He talks like a regular guy from Southwest Virginia, because in many ways, he is just a regular guy from Southwest Virginia.

Then you look at his compensation package and remember he is much more than that. As such, fans expect answers. Fans expect a clear indication that the problems have been identified by the people who matter and will be fixed.

Fans expect more than "the game just didn't fit."

So I gave him a chance to expand on that this week. Specifically, I asked him what he meant by "the game just didn't fit" and what the team needs to do to ensure tonight's game at East Carolina does fit.

Pack a lunch, because here is the unabridged version of what he said:

"Well, I think there were times that we had a chance to make some plays and we didn't get it done," he said. "We had a punt return going, all we needed was a block on the kicker and that thing's going to go to the end zone. And then after that, we had good field position but didn't get points out of it.

"I think if you look at the last play of the game, it's so close to popping. Just a little bit better execution blocking wise and that thing was going to go. Sometimes it seemed like the ball didn't bounce right. We had an interception that may go back to the end zone and the ball gets tipped. Had a couple tough calls official wise in the second half and just couldn't ever get the game moving right, or consistently right. Part of it goes to North Carolina -- they did well -- and part of it goes back to us."

Well, that clears that up.

But the bottom line here is a lot of things have been missing in the past two games, in all three phases. The important thing isn't how well Beamer can articulate the solutions to us.

What matters is how well he conveys them to his players.

After all, they're the ones who have to correct the problems if the Hokies are going to improve.

"I think we understand," linebacker Cody Grimm said, when asked if the mandate from the coaching staff was clear enough.

"The last two weeks have been kind of similar: Our offense hasn't been scoring early like they're capable of, and our defense has not been getting off the field when we need to."

So clearly, a better start tonight would help the process go more smoothly.

"I don't think there's any question," Beamer said.

Here is the best news for Tech fans: As much as his body language -- and spoken words -- suggested otherwise, Beamer uttered that phrase after the Orange Bowl knowing full well what was wrong. It showed in his actions that followed. He overhauled bowl preparation the following year to ensure the team had a better chance to win.

Sure enough, the strategy produced a victory over Cincinnati on that same stage last season.

Beamer is the man with the jigsaw puzzle in front of him and the authority to move all the pieces. He took control of the situation then. A similar response, beginning tonight, would be fitting.

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