Back in 1999, when Virginia Tech assistant Billy Hite took his name out of the running to be James Madison’s head football coach, he did so with one caveat. Hite told Coach Frank Beamer and Athletic Director Jim Weaver he didn’t want to be recruiting and coaching the Hokies’ running backs when he turned 60.
So last February, just two months shy of Hite’s 60th birthday, Beamer called his most trusted lieutenant into his office with a proposition. Beamer wanted to bring his son Shane back to Virginia Tech, and asked Hite to consider moving into an administrative role to make room for him on the coaching staff.
Interviewed this week, Hite said he wasn’t troubled by the decision. Far from it.
“I’m having so much fun because I’m still involved, but I don’t have to be here all those hours,” said Hite, now assistant to the head coach and senior adviser. “I got the best job in America right now.”
Hite’s new role was one of several changes Beamer instituted during an offseason in which the responsibilities for more than half of his staff were altered. Along with his son, Beamer also brought in former Hokies star Cornell Brown to take longtime assistant Jim Cavanaugh’s spot as a defensive assistant.
But it’s Hite, a Washington native who played football at DeMatha and North Carolina, who represents a true changing of the guard. He was the lone assistant Beamer kept when he took over for Bill Dooley in 1987.
Hite first came to Blacksburg in 1978, and since then has coached in 21 bowl games and played a direct role in the development of 30 players who went on to the NFL. Before stepping aside this offseason, Hite was the longest-tenured assistant coach in college football with 34 consecutive seasons at Virginia Tech. And though his 35th season has been unlike any other, he couldn’t be happier.
Gone are the 80- and 90-hour weeks in the office. Instead, Hite picks and chooses how to contribute. He’s also able to spend more time with his son, Griffin, a freshman walk-on linebacker at Virginia Tech.
He still sits in on staff meetings, providing advice when asked, and remains a fixture on the sideline during games. But he told Shane Beamer, “I’m not going to look over your shoulder.”
The move away from full-time coaching has also helped Hite’s health. He can work out more — he’s lost 36 pounds over the past two years — and watching less game film has alleviated some of the problems he’s had with his vision recently.
Hite admits, though, the one thing he misses most is “that meeting room with that group of guys sitting in there.” But more important to him is that there are no more late nights spent driving up and down the East Coast in search of the next great running back prospect.
“I’m here because at one point I was a helluva recruiter, but the last four or five years, recruiting got old to me,” said Hite, who is now using his recruiting skills to set up Virginia Tech’s first-ever letterman’s weekend this spring, which will reunite the school’s football alumni. “The traveling, I just didn’t like it anymore. That’s the greatest thing Coach could’ve done in hiring his son, because he’s such a great recruiter also. That’s gonna help our program out a bunch.”
The Hokies have also gotten a recruiting boost now that Cavanaugh has become Virginia Tech’s director of high school relations. But unlike Hite, Cavanaugh wasn’t quite ready to end his 37-year career as an assistant coach and recruiter in the state of Virginia.
Out of respect for Frank Beamer, Cavanaugh politely declined to discuss how he feels about his new position. But Beamer admitted this week “Very honestly, taking Cav off the road recruiting wasn’t . . . everything can’t be perfect.”
“Some guys want to coach until they die, and that’s the difference in Cav and I,” Hite said. “He likes recruiting more than any coach I’ve ever seen in my entire life and that’s why he was so good at it. And now being off the road, it’s crushed him. It really has. But he’s still doing a great job with his responsibilities that he has here right now.”
The toughest part for Hite has been “catching myself when I want to blurt something out” on the sideline. He wears a customized headset with no microphone because NCAA rules prohibit him from coaching players or offering suggestions during games.
Then again, he likes to joke he only got into college coaching by accident. His original plan was to coach at DeMatha when his playing career at North Carolina ended, but he kept flunking a zoology course. So Dooley, then the Tar Heels coach, suggested Hite join his staff as an assistant while he finished his degree.
Close to 40 years later, Hite seems at peace — whether it’s how he got into coaching or how he got out of it.
“I can look myself in the mirror and feel good,” Hite said. “I think everybody that knows me well can see that I’m happy.”