Sports Columns

October 20, 2012

Loran Smith: What do you think of Frank Beamer now?

With the current college football season having reached the halfway point, there are a number of likely developments as the final games are played. This is the time of the year when the cream rises. Many teams will advance toward the ultimate goal and others will fall by the wayside.

For years, we have been reminded that the football world always remembers November, which is right around the corner. College football has some unsettling issues right now. Schedules for 2013 are incomplete, owing to conference expansion. The bowls are nervous about how things will play out, and there are coaches who are nervous about their future.

With all the pressure and money involved today, athletic directors are less patient than ever. The constituency demands it, but if you checked the final results of Saturday’s games, you probably noticed that half the teams lost. Demanding a winner is one thing, but getting it is something which is not so easy to come by.

The successful coaches are able to win over a long period of time. Even so, the coaches considered the best, based on a career, usually win about 75 percent of the time or less. The Alabama model is what everybody uses as a guideline.

When Alabama fired Mike Shula and hired Nick Saban for $4 million, the school pretty much recouped its investment with merchandising and marketing options. Former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors asked Alabama athletic director Mal Moore if “any coach is worth that much money.” Moore’s reply: “Every penny.”

There is a message there. Athletic directors, if they can find a winning coach, are willing to pay big sums for championship consistency. What worked for Alabama might not work for others, but many decision-makers make note of what took place in Tuscaloosa when Saban was hired.

An interesting development took place in Blacksburg, Va., when Frank Beamer was hired as coach in 1987. Beamer has gone on to win three Big East titles and six Atlantic Coast Conference championships while securing 19 bowl appearances. But he was the beneficiary of remarkable patience in his first six years, when he went 24-40-2.

His season records during that time: 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 5-6 and 2-8-1. What athletic director today would stick with his incumbent coach with that record? If you said “none,” you would probably be right.

There was a big turnaround at Virginia Tech in 1993, when Beamer fielded a 9-3 team. His 1995 and 1996 teams each won 10 games, and he has won 10 or more games eight times. He has won more than 200 games in his career and remains in charge of the Hokies today.

About the only thing he hasn’t accomplished in his career is win a national championship. His team played for the title in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, but lost 46-29 to Florida State. His quarterback was Michael Vick, and Mark Richt — Georgia’s head coach since 2001 — was the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator.

After Beamer won nine games in 1993 and took his team to the Independence Bowl, he has had double-digit winning seasons every year but five. He won seven games in 1997, eight games in three other seasons and nine twice. Beamer’s consistency of success is exceptional.

With a reputation for defensive expertise and a penchant for developing extraordinary special teams, Beamer has won 66 percent of his games, a number affected negatively by his first six years.   

For the past 19 years of his career, Beamer has been one of the most successful coaches in college football. If he were coming along today, however, he likely would not have lasted five years because of his record from 1987 to 1992.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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