Before his long and storied career as the head football coach at Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer was a three-sport standout at Hillsville High School. Earning 11 varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball, Beamer was selected to the All-Southern U.S. team after throwing for over 20 touchdown passes in 1964. He threw 43 total touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons, an incredible number for a time when the forward pass was looked at with about the same fondness as the Bubonic Plague.
Leading the charge for perhaps the best football team in county history, the HHS Indians finished 8-2 in 1964, narrowly missing out on the county’s only conference championship in football with a 20-19 loss at Blacksburg. That game is still a sore subject with many in Hillsville as the Indians jumped out to a 19-6 halftime lead. Beamer would have an apparent touchdown pass to Bobby Watson overturned when the referee ruled Watson down for catching the pass on his knees. Later, after falling behind 20-19, Blacksburg quarterback Dwayne Shelor was tackled in the end zone on the last play for an apparent game-winning safety, but officials ruled the game over, giving Blacksburg the win and the district title.
Based largely on the toughness he displayed in that game, Beamer would go on to earn a scholarship as a defensive back at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg’s Gary McCoy hit Beamer so hard on one play, the Hillsville QB flipped over and crashed to the ground virtually head-first. Jerry Claiborne, the Hokies’ head coach at the time, told people at the game that night, “If that kid gets up from that hit, I am going to offer him a scholarship.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Beamer would go on to star for the Hokies as a defensive back from 1966-68 before starting a stellar coaching career beginning with three years as an assistant at Radford High School. From there, he would make stops in the college ranks at Maryland as a graduate assistant before landing his first paying gig as an assistant at The Citadel. After serving two years each as defensive coordinator at The Citadel and Murray State, Beamer was named head coach at Murray State in 1981. After compiling a 42-23-1 record at Murray State and an Ohio Valley Conference championship, Beamer was hired as Virginia Tech’s head football coach on Dec. 22, 1986.
Most Hokie fans didn’t know at the time, but it would end up being quite a Christmas present. Ol’ Fancy Gap Frank would go on to lead VT to three Big East championships, including an appearance in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship against Florida State in 1999, a year in which Beamer earned seven different national coach of the year awards. Since the Hokies were invited to the ACC in 2004, the Carroll native has guided the team to four more conference titles, most recently in 2010. With 258 career victories, Beamer is now college football’s winningest active coach, and he currently ranks sixth on the all-time wins list.
In this week’s installment of Catching Up With, Beamer talks about Hillsville High School, recruiting, college coaching, and gives a shameless plug for his new book, set to release in September.
What year did you graduate from Hillsville High School? 1965
What year did you graduate from Virginia Tech? 1969
Family members? Mom and dad, Herma and Raymond Beamer, have passed away. My sister Billie Hill lives in Christiansburg. Betty, my other sister, married Dennis Semones and they live in Carroll County, and my brother Barnett married a Carroll County girl, Bonnie Banks, and they live in Glenvar. My wife is Cheryl and I have two children, Shane and Casey. Shane married a Mississippi girl, Emily, and they have two daughters, Sutton and Olivia, and they are expecting a third child, a son, in August. Casey married Canaan Prater, and he is doing his residency in Johnson City. He was a wrestler at Virginia Tech from Grundy.
Current occupation: Head football coach at Virginia Tech.
How awkward is it knowing that the high school mascot from your county is now the Cavaliers? I mean, don’t you think Carroll County Hokies has a better ring to it? Well, I know it has a better ring, but I never thought about that. I just remembered it as the Hillsville High School Indians. I never really thought about that.
What is your favorite memory in athletics at Hillsville High School? The thing I remember most is playing for the district championship against Blacksburg. We lost the game, but it was great game and we had a chance to win it, and that was going to be a real special night. Dwayne Shelor, who quarterbacked Blacksburg, lives one house down from me now. We have gotten friendly here over the years.
At any time during your coaching career, have you ever went back into Tommy Thompson’s playbook and used any of his old plays from Hillsville? Yeah, Coach Thompson liked to throw the football and I do, too. Some of the things, you call them different things, but they are about the same. I thought he was ahead of his time a little bit. Back when he studied the Baltimore Colts, Johnny Unitas was the quarterback and he came back with his passing game. Really no one in high school was doing it at the time.
At high school reunions, do you ever get the urge to punch Joe McGrady, you know, for old time’s sake? He reminds me of that every time I see him. I helped him too that night. He didn’t realize it, but I helped him out. I’d say he might sue me if I did that now.
What was it like to see a bunch of senior citizens bouncing to Enter Sandman when you entered your 45th high school reunion? I never get tired of that. I don’t care how old you are or how young you are. I never get tired of that song. And yes, they really did do that.
If you transcribed a typical halftime speech from Bud Foster to the defense, how much of it do you think could be printed in a family newspaper? Has the defense played well in the first half? Maybe a half, and more like a third. He is an intense guy but he is good at what he does.
What is the strangest reason you have ever had a recruit give you for choosing a particular school? I don’t have anything that comes to my mind right off. I know some of the people would tell you the meals at the Farmhouse. It is a great steak restaurant and that is where we eat all our Friday night meals, whether we are traveling or at home. If we are traveling, we eat at 4 and get on a plane in Roanoke. We take our recruits there and I would think that would be high on the list. Food is something my guys like a lot.
Speaking of recruiting, how much has it changed since your first year at Virginia Tech in 1987? Well, I still don’t think the heart of recruiting has changed. I think the instant information is what has changed. Recruits go visit a school and then these recruiting services get on the phone with them and you get an instant summary of their weekend. I think the way information gets out has changed, and when there is so much information, the kids start thinking they are a little better than they really are. But the basic sitting down with mom and dad and the kid and the high school coach as they are making the decision, that is what I try to get into, and that hasn’t changed over the years.
What has been your favorite moment in coaching? I’ve had a lot of those. I’d still say playing for the national championship against Florida State in 1999. That was as big a stage as you could get. The next biggest moment will hopefully be going back and winning one. That is what we are working on.
Who would you say has been your biggest nemesis in your coaching career? Probably Bobby Bowden. We got him once or twice, but we came out on the short side most of the time. I couldn’t figure if he was putting me on or not, but I never will forget one game in Tallahassee early in my career. The score went back and forth. We went up, they went up. We were going back to score and Vaughn Hebron fumbled the ball and their guy picked it up and put them ahead. We almost got it in end zone after that, but we lost. Bobby came up to me after the game and said, ‘Wasn’t that the best football game?’ And I said, ‘Maybe for you, but it was not too good on my side. My stomach hurts.’
How cool is to coach for as long as you have at your alma mater? It has been special. I think to see all the things that have happened here and see the facilities, I think Virginia Tech people are just great people. I have been fortunate. There has not been many people experience the life with so many things that are important to you, where Virginia Tech is important to you, and with all your family, brothers and sisters being so close, I’ve been fortunate.
Throughout your time at Virginia Tech, you have had many job offers. What job offer was the hardest for you to turn down? I talk about that in my book coming out in September, Let Me Be Frank.
How much longer do you see yourself coaching? I usually answer that one by as long as I have a good quarterback, a good kicker and my health is good, I am going to keep on going. You need that field goal kicker at the end of the game and you better have that quarterback.
How long do you think it will be before your son Shane gets a head coaching gig? I don’t know. You have to be in the right place at the right time. But I will say this, he is really good. He’s good at recruiting, he is a detailed guy, good as a football coach. He really has a bright future.
What is the dumbest question a reporter has ever asked you? I don’t think of one that comes to mind, but my philosophy is you guys have a job to do and I will try to help you do it as best as I can. I don’t know if I consider any question dumb.
Are you bitter about the 1964 Hillsville-Blacksburg game? Oh man. Everybody played as hard as we could. It just didn’t work out for us. Calls sometimes go your way and sometimes they don’t. I realize what a great victory it would have been for Hillsville High School to win the conference championship. That is what eats at you.
Are you convinced Danny Coale did not score a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan? I think he made that coach. We still had to score the touchdown, but I don’t think there is any question about the catch.
Who is the best player you have ever coached? Michael Vick
Who is the best player you ever coached against? There’s been lot of those. We played against Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers for Green Bay, I think about 16 guys that are quarterbacks now in the NFL we played at one time. Deion Sanders probably needs to be up there. I don’t know, probably too many when you have been at it as long as I have.
How do you think you would have fared as a defensive back trying to catch a scrambling Michael Vick turning the corner against you? Not well. I played defensive back when we played all zone coverage and my function was don’t get beat deep. If I had to play man-to-man, I would be in trouble.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on the sidelines? It wasn’t on the sideline, but probably the time I got my tooth knocked out. Jimmy Whitten was getting ready to get in a scuffle with UVA at the end of a ball game. I tried to say, ‘Don’t do that,’ and his elbow hit me in the mouth. I don’t know if that was the most embarrassing, but I know that hurt the most.
How well have the new members of the coaching staff been doing so far at Virginia Tech? Good. We’ve been meeting the last couple of days. The guys here before were good coaches, we just needed a lift, and these guys, I have been impressed with them. Hopefully we will see the results on the football field.
If you could change one rule in college football, what would it be? I think I would change it to get the kickoff back to the 30-yard line and make it a play. I think it is a big play in the game and I think to encourage people to run the football out and try to stop them…it’s not very exciting to see the ball kicked in the end zone.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming season? I think we have a chance to be good. We’ve got a good defense, a good quarterback, and good kickers. Those are the essentials of a good football team. Now we just have to build around it. That is the challenge of putting this whole thing together, and that is what I like.