First, in a college town, you have to establish a realistic sense of priorities.
This is a town that even southerners describe as slow. Quaint but slow. A crew-necked college town that sunbathes in varying combinations of autumn color. It takes a lot to make Blacksburg, Va., roll over and join the madding crowd.
On Oct. 19, the town's hotels were tenements, packed solid and often spilling out into bucket seats of parked cars. In Roanoke, 38 miles north, the hotels also were stretched to the limit. The same for 30 miles south.
At midday, every room vacated and converged on Edward H. Lane Stadium, where the Virginia Tech Hokies demoralized the Virginia Cavaliers, 30-0, in front of 52,000, the biggest congregation ever to witness a sporting event in Virginia. The Hokies went home on a cloud, the Hokie alumni went home on the bandwagon and Blacksburg found a home on the map.
When you're establishing priorities in a college town, this scene in Blacksburg is No. 1.
Bill Dooley is in his third year at Virginia Tech since leaving a tranquil, prosperous football program at North Carolina to rehabilitate a debilitated, morose program in Blacksburg. He's also athletic director. He says he's a man who likes to see things grow from the bottom up.
He got part of what he likes when he came here: a program at rock bottom. As of last Saturday, the program, maybe halfway to the top, could look down and barely make out the bottom.
It may or may not be a quirk of human nature that people are skeptical of smash successes but, in the case of Bill Dooley, people are skeptical. One reporter described Dooley as "the kind of guy whose team will go 9-2 by hook or crook." There have been accusations that Dooley has done anything to give Tech the illusion of being a winning football team by downgrading the team's schedule as the team is undeniably being upgraded. Dooley claims he's just doing things that will make Tech a viable contestant in the battle for superior athletes.
The facts: In his first year at Tech, 1978, Dooley finished 4-7 against a demanding schedule formed before he arrived on the scene. In 1979, the team played eight of the same teams as the previous season, retaining such power-houses as Clemson, Alabama and Florida State, all three of whom were lopsided losses for Tech in 1978. The three teams that were not carried over from '78 schedule, Tulsa, Alabama and Kentucy, also beat Tech, but by smaller margins. In '79, those three teams were replaced by Louisville, Apalachian State and Richmond. Tech won each game, 15-14, 41-32 and 34-0, respectively. Tech was 5-6 in '79.
This season, Tech again retained eight of the same opponents from the previous season. It dropped from the schedule Appalachian State, Louisville and Alabama (to whom it had lost, 31-7). In their places, Tech played East Tennessee State, a 35-7 victory; James Madison, a 38-7 victory; and Rhode Island, a 40-7 victory.
The Rhode Island game, which drew an astonishing 40,000 fans, has been a major source of heat for Dooley, critics labeling it a blatant ego message. Tennessee State and James Madison, while also patsies, are at least proximally close to Tech, but Rhode Island? The problem with this criticism is that the Rhode Island game was contracted in 1975.
Rhode Island Coach Bob Griffin: "For him (Dooley) to catch heat for scheduling Rhode Island is a lot of misplaced anger, unless Bill knew something about his future plans in 1975, and I doubt that highly."
Mysteriously, Dooley has never gone out of his way to defuse the debate, which he could apparently do easily.
Griffin said, "Bill would rather avoid turning the problem around to people before him, so he's just riding out the storm."
The major schedule change Dooley has made was replacing a four-year contract with Oaklahoma State and a two-year deal with Kansas State by adding East Tennesee State and Madison.
"Granted," said one source close to the team, "Dooley could have scheduled two tougher teams than that, but he wanted teams somewhat in the area and anyway, should people be happier to see the guy schedule two losses? He's got enough ACC teams, not to mention Florida State, to keep him deep in competition. Even William and Mary is looking tough this year."
Dooley first plays athletic director to explain the situation. "A charter to places like Manhattan, Kan., or Stillwater, Okla., cost about $33,000," he said. "We're not going to get too many fans to follow us out to Manhattan, Kan. We'd make very little money playing out there and we have to support the nonrevenue sports. There's going to be more rivalry and more money with teams like William and Mary or Richmond."
Transforming into Coach Dooley, he says, "I don't see the big thing about not playing Oklahoma State or Kansas State. Do you know how many games Oklahoma State has won this year?" His smile implies "zero." "Do you know how many games Kansas State has won in the past six years?" Another smile says he could do a much better job of ducking competition than that.
What people are trying to imply is that Virginia Tech, now 6-1, and conceivably 9-2 this year, does not match up to its record. However, the Virginia game, the litmus test of his team's ability, shows massive growth in Dooley's three years. In '78, Virginia won, 17-7. In '79, Virginia won, 20-18.
On Nov. 8, Tech will play national power Florida State. The proving ground.
In preparation, Dooley is delegating much of his duties as athletic director to concentrate on football these days. He has two full-time jobs and most of the year he keeps his head calmly revolving like a radar dish to keep everything in line. His calm is something else that infuriates his critics.
Dooley came to Blacksburg when the team was suffering from losses and constant strife. The program was further clouded by a player's death in 1977 after a particularly rigorous workout. The school was cleared of any responsibility, but things weren't exactly rosy.
Dooley seems to have tranquilized everything. His staff consists of six people who followed him from North Carolina. They followed him for reasons ranging from personal to pure dedication to wanting to "get ahead." They all say they like Blacksburg. They all say they liked Chapel Hill. Some say they miss Chapel Hill.
Dooley's adminstrative assistant, Lillie Turner, says she misses Chapel Hill sometimes, but "as Coach Dooley says, you have to set priorities."