Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Bowling never old to Tech's Billy Hite
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ATLANTA -- Billy Hite laughs.
Stale? How could any of this ever become stale?
"It's the greatest thing in the world," Hite says after a team dinner at a downtown hotel. "I don't ever want to be anywhere else this time of the year except at a bowl site."
And for the 17th straight year, that's where he is. This time he's preparing his Virginia Tech tailbacks to take on Tennessee in Thursday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl. But he's been just as enthusiastic to visit San Francisco or Miami or New Orleans or all the other places Tech has been during the third-longest bowl streak in the nation.
"I've never been to a bad bowl," says Hite, repeating a familiar Frank Beamer mantra.
More than anybody on this staff -- even Beamer -- Hite knows the difference between good times and bad. With 32 years at Tech, he's the longest-tenured assistant coach in the nation, the Dean of Right-Hand Men.
And you won't find a man more appreciative of the opportunity.
In his first 22 years on the job, including a decade under former Tech coach Bill Dooley, Hite tried in vain to quit smoking roughly 15 times. In the past 10 years, though, he says he hasn't taken a puff.
There's a sense of calm about him now -- call it confidence but never complacency -- that sends him to work each day with a smile.
"I've been very fortunate who I've worked for," says Hite, 58. "I have the best assistant coach's job in the country. I wanted to be a head coach like every coach in football, but I didn't want to be one just to be one. It had to be something special."
The most special? Well, to a young Hite, it was to become the head coach of DeMatha Catholic High School in his hometown of Hyattsville, Md. That's his alma mater, where he played football and hoops under the winningest prep basketball coach ever, Morgan Wootten.
Hite could dunk back then. He could also dream.
"That's what I always wanted to do: Go back to DeMatha High School and eventually become the football coach," Hite says. "That was my goal in life at that point in time."
Goals change as life does, though, and Hite's took a turn when he failed to pass an anatomy class his final year as a football player at North Carolina.
Dooley, then the coach at UNC, had promised Hite's mother that he would graduate. So the venerable coach hired Hite as a part-time assistant to help finance his final semester of school.
In Hite's view, part-timers never had it so good. His main duty was to recruit -- one day he was in Boston, the next Louisiana, the next D.C. -- a position the gregarious youngster took to immediately.
Hite worked four seasons under Dooley at UNC before following the coach to Blacksburg. When Tech replaced Dooley with Beamer in 1987, Hite was the only assistant who stayed.
Beamer had never met Hite. But when he asked around as to whom he should keep on staff, the choice became clear.
"Billy's name kept coming up," Beamer says. "He was kind of 'The Guy.' And then when you meet him and you're around him awhile, you kind of understand why."
Hite has helped develop 26 running backs who have signed with NFL teams, and current star Ryan Williams almost certainly will be the 27th. For the past nine years, Hite also has held the title of associate head coach, pinch-hitting for Beamer at various events.
"It was a great move, and it's worked out well," Beamer says of retaining Hite. "He's a vital part of our operation. I trust his judgment a lot."
Hite has had several opportunities to leave. Several of his buddies offered him assistant jobs elsewhere -- he even had an offer to be an assistant college basketball coach early on -- but he never took them. A flirtation with James Madison football ended when Hite realized some of his top recruits might not meet the school's academic requirements. His single attempt at a Division I-A job, to replace Mark Duffner at Maryland in the mid-1990s, didn't garner him "even a smell."
But that's OK. Hite is perfectly happy where he is, a grizzled Dean enjoying the success he's helped produce.
"Honestly, every bowl game I've ever been to I've thoroughly enjoyed," he says. "I really have. And obviously the icing on the cake is when you win them. If you play in one, you'd better go out and prepare and get it.
"We've got a lot on this one, with the 10 wins and beating an SEC team and getting a good start on next year. There's a lot of guys coming back."
One thing you can count on? Hite will be among them.
Stale is a long way off for him.