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On the Program and Other Stuff

Fair-sized chunks of the Hokie Nation continue to be bummed out over The Loss. The ‘I’m mad about this and quite possibly everything else’ crowd is shrill, as is their habit. ACC bowl destinations are the subject of much whining and will the last coach out of the McCue Center please turn out the lights? These seem suitable subjects to ponder on a Thursday morning.

Almost a week has gone by since the ACC Football Championship Game and it still appears that Tech lost. That is the way I remember it from having observed things from the East side upper deck. But, I had sipped the occasional adult beverage both before and during the game and thee was the possibility that my mind had been playing tricks with my memory.

It had not. Watching the tape, reading newspaper accounts and checking bowl assignments all confirmed what I was convinced I had seen with my own eyes: Tech lost the game. Oh, well.

The Loss seems to have produced the usual gnashing of teeth, wails of despair and overall expressions of angst that is seen among certain followers of any and all other teams following a loss. The knuckle-dragging loon base cries of coaching incompetence and advances wild conspiracy theories that seem to involve Little Johnny Swofford, after having gone to all the trouble of rending college athletics and the Li’l E asunder through football expansion, suddenly desiring to have his conference begin again the Big East Rule countdown. That would seem to be on a par with the Mayor of New Orleans deciding to become a self help guru.

A little perspective might be in order. Years ago, the Buffalo Bills dominated the AFC portion of the NFL, advancing year after year to the Super Bowl. Once there, things never quite succeeded as planned for the Bills, as they lost every one. They became somewhat of a joke among the slightly-informed portion of those that follow the NFL on a regular basis. Somehow, a team that managed to advance to the Super Bowl five straight times acquired the designation of the worst team in the NFL. Obviously, they weren’t; they were a very good team that lost a few Super Bowls.

A decade or so before the Bills perfected the art of losing Super bowls, the Minnesota Vikings experienced similar futility, losing several. Their coach, Bud Grant, was asked why the Vikings always seemed to come up short on the biggest of the big stages. His response was that they kept playing better teams. So they did.

I seriously doubt that I am the only one around who does not feel that this year’s Florida State team is better than Virginia Tech. They were last Saturday night, though. That is the only chance either will have this year to determine superior of the two and the Noles took advantage. Dem’s de breaks.

What I and several million other folks did see last weekend was one hell of a coaching job by Bobby Bowden and his staff. The loons will no doubt consider this a character flaw along the lines of dishonesty, vanity, or a penchant for serial killing, but I admire excellence in most any activity, particularly football. What was seen last Saturday night was a definitive case study in coaching excellence by Pa Bowden.

This was a guy who throughout the season had to deal with problems ranging from injuries practically wiping out his o-line to his projected starting quarterback going bonkers during the off-season, spending the last three months heavily sedated [that was one magic tick]. Florida State stumbled into the championship game riding a three-game losing streak, yet Bowden was able to break down and identify Tech’s weaknesses, devise a game plan to exploit them, then rally and convince his team they could win. I am most definitely not thrilled at the outcome of the game, but credit does have to be awarded when and where it is due. It is certainly due Bobby Bowden, Mickey Andrews and the rest of the FSU staff.

As for Tech, all of the bitching about The Loss seems to overlook the fact that Tech is now 10-2 and headed to a New Year’s Day After bowl. Many of those griping that Frank Beamer and his staff and program did not win a second straight conference championship or their fifth overall in the last eleven years, all in some league that also contained Miami, are not noticing, or not caring, that Tech was in a position to do so. Glance around the rest of the country.

How many programs around the nation were even in a position to repeat on the first Saturday of December? Last year’s winners of the Big Five conferences were Southern Cal, Oklahoma , Auburn , Michigan and Virginia Tech. The Trojans aren’t bad guys with whom to be hanging. Fans of the Sooners, Tigers and Wolverines would seem to have bigger cause for griping than do Tech’s and none of them have anything to moan about, period. They are all very good programs.

A little more perspective might be in order. That Virginia Tech could be mentioned with those other teams, all considered college football powers, says much as to what Frank Beamer has accomplished at Virginia Tech. Nineteen years ago he took over a probation-ridden, under-funded program with few bowl possibilities and television opportunities. Program objectives and aspirations were fairly limited and both good seats and parking at Lane Stadium for home games could be had minutes before kickoff.

These days, Lane Stadium will be sold out for the 2006 season shortly after ticket applications are mailed. A Hokie Club contribution of ‘only’ $1000 gets you on the waiting list. The football budget, while still lagging behind most of what are considered the elite [including all of the above five mentioned], is very competitive in the ACC. Tech has become a television fixture and the fair-haired boys of ESPN. The Hokies are a constant in the polls and will soon begin preparation for their thirteenth straight bowl game, a postseason streak that can only be matched by three other teams in the entire country [sorry, Vols]. This is not too shabby.

Frank Beamer has turned Virginia Tech into a football power. That is a very, very difficult trick to manage. Since the late Seventies and early Eighties when Miami and Florida State both emerged onto the national scene, Tech is the only other program to achieve consistent excellence. Frank’s program is the only one in the country over the last quarter-century to crack the football elite. Go back 20, 30 or 40 years and check the national rankings. The polls are generally composed of the same schools year after year, decade after decade. The only school since Florida State and Miami to become a regular member is Virginia Tech. Like those in a position to repeat as conference champions this year, this is not bad company to be keeping.

Building a consistent football power is a very difficult feat to accomplish. It is far more difficult than in basketball, where a couple of very good players and a decent supporting cast can land you in the Final Four. It takes a bit more in football, which is why there is more churning in the basketball rankings than in football. While this will be considered blasphemy by some reading this, recruiting a top-notch program over a sustained period of time is much tougher, by sheer numbers, for Frank Beamer than it is for Coach K or was for Dean.

There is a little more to this whole football power thing than simply hiring an alumnus who will brag about his genius or talk about how much he is going to win. While others still talk about winning on a grand scale, Frank Beamer has done it.

Yes, Tech lost the ACC Championship to another traditional football power. There is not a steady parade of BCS bowls or yet an MNC. The program or coaching staff is far from perfect, as Saturday brought into bas relief. There was a bump in the road last weekend and there will undoubtedly be more. Frank Beamer through his success has created expectations that likely will be impossible to fulfill. But, chasing them is proving to be great fun. Loons will be loons and a defining feature of loon-dom is something other than a firm grip on reality, which is that Virginia Tech has a very good program that will remain so for the foreseeable future. It could be a lot worse.

One of those places where it is a lot worse is in Hooville. So much for the coaching continuity that is the hallmark of Tech’s and every other program that achieves success over the long term. One hasn’t seen a mass escape like what is happening on the Grounds since seventy-six Allied officers got out of Stalag Luft III in 1944. algroh is proving no better at making the McCue Center escape-proof than was Herman Goring at Sachsenhausen. The Tribe seems to be every bit as motivated as were the POWs. The desire for freedom from tyranny, whether it be from Hitler’s or algroh’s dictatorial styles is strong.

The number of Nashville hotel rooms that will not be occupied by Hoo coaches in a few weeks is added into the thousands the Hoo fans are not buying. Unlike the Tech fans who snapped up their allotment of Gator tickets within minutes of their going on sale, the Hoos do not exactly seem to have Nashville on their minds. The French showed more enthusiasm for watching Moltke strut past the Arc d’Triumph following the Franco-Prussian War than are the Hoos for attending the Music City Bowl. All of those country and western bars at Broadway and Second Avenue should hold off on printing the wine lists for a while longer.

Dave Braine is saying, “I told you so.” Quite loudly and often, as a matter of fact. The multi-Tech Athletic Director continues to P & M about his Yellow Jackets getting a short shrift from the various bowl committees. It’s all about the ticket sales, Dave and the alumni and fans of your current employer buy few. That the Music City folks seemed to confuse one school from the Commonwealth of Virginia with the one that actually brought tens of thousands of fans in 1998 is tough, but if your guys had a better traveling reputation, you would be the ones heading to Opryland. Craig ‘It’s only one state away from Tubby’ might have bought the bowl with glorious and fanciful projections of hordes of traveling Hoos, but he did. Enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf.

Then there is Fredo. All of those claims by the Boise bowl cheerleaders that their not-so-fair-in December city is not THAT bad seem to be falling on deaf Beantown ears. Tom O’Brien and Gene ‘Build Me a Statue’ DeFilippo continue to claim that their new conference digs are screwing them on the bowl. What else is new? Back in the old Big East, a bowl inviting BC was a sure sign of 1] no one else was available and 2] that bowl was not going to renew its conference agreement. Maybe that will happen again, as Boise is no place for an ACC team to be spending bowl season. But, you can be sure that whether the ACC’s last contracted bowl tie-in is in Boise or someplace else, that is where Fredo and his tiny fan base will be heading.

Football talk continues to dominate the week after the championship game. It may be griping about the outcome of the game or bowl assignments, but it is talk none the same. This is not too bad for a basketball conference.

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