Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Keep it simple: Frank Beamer just wins

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech beckoned. It always does on Tuesdays in the fall.

Frank Beamer’s news conferences can have a Groundhog Day feel to them — a lot of “dangerous crowd” talk, regardless of the opponent — but when a man’s been at one job for a quarter-century, that’s understandable. Besides, you’ve got to be there. There are questions to ask, quotes to chronicle. What Beamer says matters around here.

I have a few things to do before I go each week. I woke up early Tuesday morning, poured a cup of coffee, sent the kids off to school and sat down for my daily dose of news overload.

We call it the “Daily Briefing.” It’s a lighthearted blog entry I write every weekday morning that rounds up the biggest stories in local and national sports.

This time of year, though, it’s not as lighthearted. We might as well call it the “Chop Shop.” The college football regular season has just ended for most schools.

That means off with the coaches’ heads.

Down goes Rick Neuheisel at UCLA. Just didn’t work out. Four seasons, 21-28 record. Time for a change. But it doesn’t seem that long ago that Neuheisel was winning the 2000 Rose Bowl at Washington and guiding the Huskies to the No. 3 spot in the final polls. He was a superstar.

Down goes Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. After a hot start in 2007, the former NFL coach had slumped to a 21-27 record over the past four years. Sorry, Dennis, fresh face needed. Pack your bags.

At least he’ll always have those five 10-win seasons at Miami to remember.

There were other college football transition stories to report — Urban Meyer taking over at Ohio State to much excitement, Penn State creating a search committee to find its next coach. I quickly added those to the blog and posted it.

Virginia Tech beckoned.

I got in my truck to make the hourlong drive to Blacksburg. I turned on one of the sports talk radio channels. The host was talking about fired Syracuse basketball assistant Bernie Fine, which meant he’d soon be talking about Jerry Sandusky, which meant he’d soon be talking about Joe Paterno, which meant he’d soon be speculating on who ought to replace the fallen legend.

I changed the station.

This other host was interviewing Stanford’s coach, David Shaw. Shaw had just been named the Pac-12 coach of the year in his first season at the helm. He’d steered his club to an 11-1 record and the No. 4 ranking. Justifiably, he was very proud at how his team had performed.

I’d heard Shaw speak before. He’s articulate, outspoken, passionate. He sounds like I guy I’d love to play for.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Wonder how long until David Shaw’s in the unemployment line?”

I pulled into the parking lot at Lane Stadium, grabbed my notebooks and recorder and headed inside. It’s the same gang every week, reporters from other local newspapers and TV stations, guys I consider my friends.

“You know,” I told one of them. “It’s very easy for people to take all this for granted — 10 wins, ACC title games, all that.”

“I know,” he replied. “Even I take it for granted.”

So do I. Too often, I spend more time writing about what Tech seasons are not than what they are. That’s tempting to do again this year. After all, had they won the first matchup with Clemson … who knows?

The ACC title game is at risk of feeling stale. The Hokies have won it three times before. Even the rematch angle is reheated and re-served; Tech beat Boston College twice in this event after losing regular-season meetings.

The possible Orange Bowl matchup? Yikes. If West Virginia doesn’t slip in there, you’re looking at Louisville or Cincinnati. Not exactly must-see TV nationally.

But then Beamer arrived and started talking. About the chance to play Saturday in a packed stadium in Charlotte, N.C. About the opportunity to get to 12 victories — something no Tech team has done. About his team finding its way after that loss to the Tigers.

“Really proud of our organization,” Beamer said. “It’s been a lot of grind, hard work to get to the championship game.”

I got in my truck and headed home. As I drove, I received a text message saying Mike London had been named the ACC coach of the year. Good for him, I thought. He did an unbelievable job this season, doubling UVa’s win total and getting the Cavaliers to within one victory of the Coastal Division crown.

Beamer finished second in the voting. Makes sense. He deserved strong consideration, but you don’t win that thing when you’re expected to be good — and are.

Beamer’s not the hot name, the flashy hire, the magician pulling a program out of the rubble.

He just wins. And it turns out they do have an award for that.

On Saturday against Clemson, his team will try to claim it again.

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