BLACKSBURG, Va. —Virginia Tech will begin spring football practice Wednesday evening with Logan Thomas taking over for Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, but the most drastic changes for the Hokies will be on Coach Frank Beamer’s staff.
Since Virginia Tech lost to Stanford, 40-12, in the Orange Bowl, the coach has added more than $400,000 to his yearly payroll, forced two of his longest-tenured coaches to accept administrative positions, brought in his son to revitalize recruiting, and changed the responsibilities for more than half of his coaching staff.
The only other time Beamer has tinkered this much came after the 1992 season, when he replaced three assistant coaches. But those moves followed a 2-8-1 campaign, not a year in which the Hokies became the first team in a decade to go through ACC play undefeated as they did in 2010.
“Everybody was a little bit surprised because you didn’t see it coming,” said quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, who will now call plays as offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring takes a more active role in recruiting. “But at the same time [Beamer] is sitting in there looking at how can I make this program better. And I believe it’s yet to be seen.”
While he’s been discreet about what caused him to change his coaching staff for the first time since 2006, Beamer acknowledged in an interview last month his impetus was two-fold.
For one, the manner in which Stanford disposed of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl was “disappointing” and “significant,” he said, especially after spending much of the build-up to the game talking about how important it was to improve upon his 1-19 record against top five opponents.
Another factor was this year’s National Signing Day. The Hokies did not land any five-star recruits they were in the running for, and watched one of their quarterback prospects switch his commitment to Vanderbilt at the last minute.
So after Virginia Tech returned to campus in January, Beamer began a series of meetings with Athletic Director Jim Weaver seeking approval to add two non-coaching positions for running backs coach Billy Hite (assistant to the head coach and senior adviser) and recruiting coordinator Jim Cavanaugh (director of recruiting and high school relations) to transition into.
Beamer replaced Hite by bringing his son, Shane, back home after a stint as the recruiting coordinator at South Carolina. The announcement that the younger Beamer would join the staff came on the same day that the Gamecocks landed the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation.
In Cavanaugh’s place, Frank Beamer added former Hokies All-American Cornell Brown, who played six years in the NFL and was previously coaching in the Canadian Football League, to the staff. Those two moves alone lowered the average age of his assistant coaches from 51 to 44.
“I think it’s a youth movement, for sure,” said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting expert for Rivals.com. “But I also think it’s a matter of he let his son cut his teeth at South Carolina and now he’s really blossomed into one of the better recruiting assistants in the country and on the East Coast. Why not take advantage of that?”
Beamer takes great pride in loyalty, and played down the decision to move his two oldest assistants off the field. He emphasized there would have been no changes if either Hite or Cavanaugh weren’t willing to stay at Virginia Tech, and each received a raise for this season.
Both Hite and Cavanaugh declined several interview requests for this story.
The athletic department will spend an additional $408,493 on football-related salaries this year, according to figures disclosed by the school’s office of the general counsel. The financial commitment was sizable enough that Weaver had to get approval from Virginia Tech President Charles Steger.
After a season in which he passed Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler on college football’s career wins list, Beamer won’t put a date on when he’ll end his illustrious run as head coach at Virginia Tech, but “the desire is strong” to cap off his career with a national championship.
“We’re there in the hunt; we just gotta take that next step,” Beamer said. “I think if you remain the same, it may be good, but it may not be your best. Now we’ll see if I say that a year from now, but I really think, from what I see and the reasons we made the moves, it’s made our organization better.”