BLACKSBURG, Va. — Whenever he’s asked to name his closest friends in the coaching business, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer will inevitably list three of his contemporaries: Mack Brown, Jim Grobe and Ralph Friedgen.
He had already watched Friedgen’s tenure at Maryland end unceremoniously when Athletic Director Kevin Anderson fired him in 2010 after he earned ACC coach of the year honors. So when Grobe and Brown fell victim to college football’s coaching carousel over the past two weeks — Brown announced his resignation Saturday after 16 years as the coach at Texas, and Grobe did the same following 13 seasons leading Wake Forest on Dec. 2 — it resonated more than the typical regime change.
Beamer, 67, couldn’t help but contemplate his own exit strategy.
“It just kind of reminds you that nothing’s certain about this business,” he said Saturday. “But I’m very sensitive to staying around too long.”
Beamer will conclude his 27th season as coach at Virginia Tech on Dec. 31 when the Hokies take on No. 17 UCLA in the Sun Bowl, their 21st-consecutive bowl appearance. No other Bowl Championship Series conference coach has been at the same school for more than 15 years, and with 266 career victories, Beamer is the winningest active coach in college football.
In September 2011, he signed a contract extension that runs through the 2016 season, and it included a provision that calls for Beamer to move into a special assistant to the athletic director role and earn a salary of $250,000 for eight years once he decides to end his coaching career.
When asked directly about his future Saturday, Beamer went to his oft-repeated phrase that as long as he had “good health, a good quarterback and a good kicker” he would continue to coach.
“I’m very appreciative of Virginia Tech, and they stuck with me when things weren’t good, stuck with me longer than most people would, and that probably won’t happen again. It’s a performance business. I fully understand that,” said Beamer, who went 24-40-1 during his first six years as head coach in Blacksburg.
“I haven’t seriously thought of [retiring], but I’ve certainly thought about it. I feel good about things right now. Our recruiting’s going great. I like my coaching staff very much. Things are really very positive right now.”
Last season, the Hokies’ worst in 20 years (7-6), wore on Beamer, and it prompted him to overhaul his offensive coaching staff. He also revealed in his latest autobiography, “Let Me Be Frank,” that he underwent surgery to repair a blockage in his carotid artery just days before practices began for the 2012 season.
But Beamer seemed to be rejuvenated by the infusion of new faces on the team this year, even though the Hokies missed out on a return trip to the ACC championship game when they lost three of their last five games following a 6-1 start.
“I still see a lot of energy, a lot of motivation to see this program continue to make the strides that we have,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who has played for or coached under Beamer since 1977. “Maybe we didn’t have our most talented football team this year, but we still had a chance to win 10 football games in my eyes, and it’s all because of him and his direction and his enthusiasm and his motivation, and I don’t see that waning much.”
There will, however, be quite a bit of change around Beamer in the coming years.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed Beamer’s son and Virginia Tech’s associate head coach, Shane Beamer, spent part of last week in South Florida interviewing for the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic. The Owls instead hired Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.
Over the past seven months, longtime Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and Athletic Director Jim Weaver also announced their retirements. The university’s board of visitors named Purdue provost Timothy D. Sands to succeed Steger last month. A 12-person committee hopes to identify a new athletic director by February.
Beamer noted the transition could affect his future decision-making but shouldn’t be too much of an issue because “I’ve never found very many people that I couldn’t get along with. That’s been the case here in the past. It’s been great relationships, and I would expect it to be the way in the future.”
But he has seen firsthand how angst-ridden and controversial the departures of other college football coaching legends have been, such as Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, and he would like to avoid that at Virginia Tech.
Whenever that time may come.
“Nobody wants to go out not being on top, and I’m sure Coach would like to do that as long as we have a chance to continue to perform at a high level,” Foster said. “I’m sure he’ll be right in the mix of it, and I hope he is because he’s an outstanding football coach.
“The success that we’ve had and the longevity that we’ve had, I don’t know if that’ll happen again. . . . Not just here. I’m talking anywhere in the country.”