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Culture and Coaching

You turn your back for a minute and all sorts of interesting things happen. Frank Beamer finally got around to announcing his staff hires, the Tech basketball team put together a solid effort and Princess Turandot got over that fear of commitment. It makes for a busy Monday morning.

First of all, for the thousands [more or less] who expressed concern, my night at the opera was tolerated reasonably well. The tailgating at the Kennedy Center was certainly not up to the high standards to which I have become accustomed, but one must occasionally make sacrifices.

Larry and Clota had declined my invitation to set up the Clubhouses and provide us with a solid, pre-opera tailgating experience. Go figure. We were forced to fend for ourselves at a four-star DC restaurant. A reasonable facsimile of Communion was held with the thermos of margaritas the Teacher always likes to have nearby. I was well-fortified and strode into the Kennedy Center demanding, “Gimme Culture.”

I rather enjoyed ‘Turandot,’ as I generally do when forced to attend these sorts of things. Listening to a bunch of Russians singing in Italian might not seem like the most agreeable of activities. They sounded a lot like Ivan after his consumption of cinnamon Jell-o shooters reaches double digits. Remarkably enough, things could generally be followed without more than an hour or two spent staring at the subtitles. I highly recommend the Kirov Opera company.

The Teacher took a very dim view of my plans to augment my cultural activities with a radio earphone attached so that I might listen to the Tech game. Imagine that. It seems that I was not the only one in attendance seeking to combine the story of the Chinese ice princess and this Tech team’s battle with adversity, as I was able to find out the score during intermission. Obviously, that judge who kept the Blackberry service running was a Tech fan, as was the guy who used his communications device for something other than e-mailing his friends about the joys of opera.

The Tech team was able to bounce back from the lackadaisical showing at Miami with a solid one against Florida State . That was probably about as well as this team can play, given the personal problems experienced by many team members and most of the depth either taking medical red-shirts or fighting cancer. They still possessed sufficient fight to rise and deal the NCAA hopes of the Noles a mortal blow. The Hokies can very well become a team that no one would want to run into in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

The big news around the Tech campus, at least until the basketball team again demonstrated the grit that has made them so belived by those Hokies who actually follow basketball, had to do with the football staff changes. As of Monday morning, there are some new faces running around Merryman.

Changes in the guys working for Frank Beamer don’t happen often around Tech, but when they do, they don’t screw around. There have been three, with possibly a fourth looming. Frank had been able to avoid the usual and annual migration of assistant coaches from one school to another. This year he did not. Two of the guys who left were seeking opportunity; on a staff where the senior positions are set in stone, leaving little room for advancement; they can hardly be faulted.

The new guy in charge of getting Glennon, Whitaker, Jones or Holt ready for the 2006 season is Mike O’Cain, who replaces Kevin Rogers. It had generally been assumed that Rogers was not going to establish permanent roots in Blacksburg .

Rogers was brought in to tutor the younger and more arrest-prone of the Vick boys. The reasons for this were an expressed dissatisfaction by the Atlanta Falcons on the technical preparation for the League received by Brother Mike. This was the second time Frank had heard this from NFL folks, the first being when Bill Walsh pronounced Jim Druckenmiller as having little of the taught skills to make it in the show.

This was going to make recruiting top-shelf high school quarterbacks a tough proposition; indeed the Vick family had balked at the prospects of MVToo getting something other than a solid NFL grounding from incumbent Ricky Bustle. Throw in a desire to open a senior staff spot for rising star Bryan Stinespring, and Frank had suggested to incumbent Ricky Bustle that he just might enjoy exciting RUTS Belt football. Ricky was exiled to some Louisiana hyphenated football backwater and in stepped Rogers .

Rogers stayed about as long as had been figured, which was as long as MVToo was around, not long, as it turned out. A buddy of Kevin’s had snatched an NFL head coaching job and extended an invitation for Rogers to join him. Considering what NFL assistant coaches make compared to college ones, along with a pension plan unknown to the college game and anybody that gets a pro offer is out the door. Rogers was. You can’t blame anybody for seeking a better economic situation.

In comes former NC State head coach Mike O’Cain. He meets the all-important Friend of Frank qualification, having served as OC and QB coach back in the Murray State days. O’Cain had later joined the staff of Dick Sheridan at NC State and then replaced him when Sheridan retired for health reasons.

O’Cain did not have the best timing for stepping into the Wolfpack job. At the time, State had some of the worst facilities in the ACC; the tens of millions spent for the Murphy Center was a ways and another coach off. Mike was charged with keeping the Pack competitive in very difficult circumstances, not made a bit easier when rival Carolina was handing Mack Brown the sun and the moon in the form of a much larger budget than O’Cain’s and Mack’s forty-foot fish tank surrounded by the opulent Kenan Center.

The results were inevitable and the end for Mike O’Cain came during an early Sunday morning visit from Marye Anne following what turned out to be his last game. Mike was replaced by Chuckie. The jury is still out on that one. I suspect I am not the only person around wondering what O’Cain might have accomplished at State had he been showered with the facility upgrades and fattened budgets as was Chuckie.

After being unceremoniously dumped at State, O’Cain landed across the Triangle on the staff of good old NASCARL Torbush. This was in 2000, meaning that new employment would have to be located again very soon. It was at Clemson as Offensive Coordinator for one of Bobby’s boys. When Tommy Bowden felt serious heat from fat Tigers expecting a little more than the mediocre results he was delivering, he responded with a ‘better you than me’ firing of his coordinators. Mike was at loose ends again.

With time on his hands, O’Cain turned up in Blacksburg doing color commentary for the televised football game replays, covering a few bar shifts at Beamer’s, cutting Frank’s grass, most anything to stay busy while looking a lot like a guy biding his time waiting for something to shake out at Tech. Somebody appears to have known something. Lo and behold, Rogers left and Mike slid right in. After twenty years O’Cain is back where he started, coaching quarterbacks for Frank Beamer. I suspect he will do a pretty good job.

Mike O’Cain is a good coach. Despite the competitive disadvantage under which he labored at State, he did manage to become the second ACC coach after George to knock off Florida State , a feat that so far has been beyond Frank’s capabilities. O’Cain also left Chuckie with a lovely parting gift in the form of the recruitment of Phillip Rivers. Chuckie hasn’t done quite so well recruiting his own QBs. At Clemson, O’Cain was also responsible for the development of David Whitehurst, probably the best ACC quarterback last year. The guy can coach and should be up to the task of getting a new one ready at Tech.

Kevin Sherman replaces Tony Ball as coach of the wide receivers. Tony moved on to coach running backs at Georgia . This is certainly an understandable leaving. Tony had desires to move up in the world of coaching and there was no opportunity at Tech. Anybody that wants the varied experiences from coaching different positional groupings in order to increase his attractiveness as a potential Offensive Coordinator was going to have to find it at somewhere other than Virginia Tech, where there was certainly no room at the top of the staff food chain. And so he moved on.

Sherman is a guy that has likely been on Frank’s radar for quite a while, dating back to Kevin’s playing days at nearby Radford High School . He played under the tough conditions at VMI, and then entered coaching. He has been moving up the ladder ever since, from a lower division to the MAC to the ACC and now to a more prominent ACC program than Wake Forest . It looks very much like Frank has traded one upwardly-mobile young coach for another.

Frank and the Deacs’ Jim Grobe are longtime friends. I’m sure any raiding of Grobe’s staff by Frank was done following friendly conversation. Grobe spends much of his off seasons chasing other jobs, most in the Big XII, quite a ways away from the recruiting contacts Sherman has made in the Mid- Atlantic. Bear in mind that Jim Cavanaugh came to Tech from Carolina after being told by Mack that he would be leaving Blue Heaven as soon as he could find a ‘good’ job, likely to be in a place where Cav’s Tidewater recruiting abilities would not come in quite so handy.

While Rogers and Ball left seeking opportunity, as will be the case when Lorenzo Ward leaves the secondary for the NFL either this year or next, things were not so congenial with Danny Pearman’s departure. While Bustle had been able to turn up something, Pearman had not. I’m sure Frank liked having to replace a member of his coaching ‘family’ this time around no better than he did back in 1992. But, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

I’m sure many around Tech, Frank included, had hoped that Pearman could have taken over the offensive line, freeing Bryan Stinespring from some of his many duties. We see how that worked out. Throw in that Danny was not the most adept recruiter on the staff and you had trouble.

Four years ago Bryan Stinespring became Offensive Coordinator at Tech. This was in addition to his time-intensive duties as offensive line coach, his developing recruiting prowess that has made him one of the staff’s stars and all of the other things that make Stiney look a lot like Frank’s eventual replacement. He was stretched pretty thin.

Something had to give and it was as coach of the o-line. If Danny Pearman could not take over the job, somebody had to be brought in that could.

That somebody is Curt Newsome, the former o-line coach at James Madison. Newsome is also a former high school coach in Tidewater, the magic word in Tech recruiting, and has many contacts in the area. Newsome will be able to provide a hedge for the day Cavanaugh retires, maybe not that far off, and provide the o-line coaching relief that Pearman didn’t seem to be able to master. While coaching family is important, in the end it is about what is best for the Virginia Tech football program. This is what Frank perceives as best, which is good enough for me.

It should also be noted that JMU alum Stiney and Billy Hite are very close to Mickey Matthews’ Dukes’ staff. Newsome, like O’Cain and possibly Sherman, looks a lot like a guy who was waiting for an opening at Tech.

What we have seen at Tech is movement confined to the junior positions on the staff. The senior staff of Billy Hite, Bud Foster and Bryan Stinespring went no where and is not likely to any time soon. The guys doing some of the teaching and recruiting might change, but the overall tone and direction of things will not. The chief ingredients of what has been a very successful formula are still in place.

This is a bit different from the situation in Hooville, where algroh called a staff meeting to again bore his long-suffering assistants to tears with more stories about how he was the brains behind Parcells, noticed attendance was a bit light, especially in the all-important coordination, and asked, ‘Where did everybody go?”

It is also worlds apart from Chuckie wandering through the Murphy Center , then snapping his fingers and exclaiming, “I’ve got it. I’ll hire an Offensive Coordinator who will install an offense totally unsuitable for the talent on hand.”

Frank’s hiring pitch is somewhat dissimilar from Big John’s, who assures his staff as they march down Franklin Street in the monthly Gay Pride parade, “We are as committed to big-time football here at Carolina as we are to heterosexual rights and the free market” before they make a run for it.

It has been quite a while since Frank has had to tell alumni gatherings the young Bowden line of, “I’ll blame it all on my staff and get rid of them, just don’t fire the moron who hired them.” Things are a bit different at Tech in the football staff department than the Great Escape from Hooville, the near-constant staff turnover of senior personnel at State or Big John’s recruiting guy moving his operation down the road to Cocklumbia [remember what happened the last time the top recruiter left Carolina for a nearby school- That would be Jim Cavanaugh]. Frank has done some staff tinkering, but it looks a lot like it was thought out at a much higher level than that in place at our ACC neighbors. The chances seem very good that the beat will go on at Tech.

The injection of new blood and fresh perspectives into both the Tech football staff and my cultural horizons along with a pleasant basketball win has certainly made for an interesting few days. It has also made for a long column. Hopefully most have made it through to the end with only a couple of diversions to view porn or engage in other Net activities. I know I did.

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