Beamer's hiring 25 years ago inspired, historic for Hokies, Baughman

The bedsheet banner, hanging outside a Jamerson Center window, begged him to stay.

"Dutch Don't Go We Need U"

But Dale T. "Dutch" Baughman is a cowboy by birth and a rebel at heart. After six contentious months as Virginia Tech's athletic director, he headed home to Texas.

It was June 4, 1987, and the man Baughman hired to guide the Hokies' football program had yet to coach a game at Lane Stadium. No farewell was going to be more difficult.

"I'd steal a hot stove for Frank Beamer," Baughman says today.

As would legions of Virginia Tech faithful.

Beamer has led the Hokies to unimagined heights, and Saturday he begins his 25th season as Virginia Tech's head coach, remarkable longevity in a most nomadic profession.

All of which makes Baughman's hiring of Beamer not only the most significant moment in Hokies history but also the most inspired.

Inspired because Beamer, a 1969 Virginia Tech graduate, wasn't the most credentialed candidate. One of his mentors was.

So if you believe much of life's turns are fated, that some things are just meant to be, this is a story for you.

"When you are in a position to hire a coach," Baughman says, "especially a coach of a high-profile sport, that hire might as well be a tattoo on your forehead, because it is going to be with you for the rest of your life, good or bad."

Baughman's position was uniquely awkward.

He arrived at Virginia Tech in December 1986 to succeed Bill Dooley, who doubled as the Hokies' football coach. On Dooley's watch, Tech had violated NCAA scholarship limits, prompting his exit from both positions, effective Dec. 31, the same day his team was to play North Carolina State in the Peach Bowl.

So while Dooley prepared the Hokies for the bowl — they won 25-24 on Chris Kinzer's field goal at the gun — and the NCAA pondered sanctions, Baughman searched for Dooley's coaching successor.

"Early on," Baughman says, "my focus was on Bobby Ross."

With good reason.

A VMI graduate and Richmond native, Ross had coached Maryland to three ACC championships in five years. But amid campus-wide turmoil caused by basketball All-American Len Bias' fatal cocaine overdose, he had just resigned.

Surely Ross, with a sterling 39-19-1 record at Maryland and NFL experience as a Kansas City Chiefs assistant, was the most qualified applicant.

"Timing is everything," Baughman says. "Bobby had just left Maryland, and I mean like the next day he was in Richmond, visiting his mother if I'm not mistaken, and I contacted Bobby and arranged to visit with him. …

"We got to a point where he was genuinely interested in our position, but the prudent side of Bobby Ross (said) that this might be moving too fast. And so we had a conversation one day. …

"I said Bobby, 'Let's talk about your staff. If you were to come to Virginia Tech, tell me about your staff.' The very first thing he said was, 'Whether I'd come to Virginia Tech or not would depend in large part on whether or not I could get an assistant head coach to come with me.'

"I said, 'Who would that be?' He said, 'Frank Beamer.' He was very clear in his description of why he wanted Frank and how much respect he has for Frank as a person and as a coach. He said, 'If we're going to come in there in these difficult circumstances, this is the man I want at my side.' "

Beamer and Ross had met in 1972 while working at Maryland for Jerry Claiborne, Beamer's coach at Virginia Tech. Ross was a full-time assistant under Claiborne, Beamer a grunt graduate assistant.

When Ross became The Citadel's head coach a year later, he hired Beamer as his defensive line assistant, this on a staff that also included future head coaches Ralph Friedgen (Maryland) and Jimmye Laycock (William and Mary).

Beamer worked at The Citadel for six years before moving to Murray State in Kentucky, first as defensive coordinator, then as head coach. In six seasons leading the Racers, his record was 42-23-2.

"I knew of Frank and his Virginia Tech connection," Baughman says. "But his stock rose immediately (after Ross' mention), and as I continued to talk to Bobby, it was apparent that it was moving too fast. He still wanted to give this opportunity at Tech consideration, but I didn't want to crowd him. …

"So I said, 'Bobby, you continue to think about this, but I am going to move forward.' He said, 'What are you going to do?' And I said, 'Well, my next phone call's going to be to Frank Beamer.' "

"I can remember that meeting (with Baughman)," Ross says. "We were in a hotel restaurant, out by the (Richmond) airport I believe. … And I think at a later time my wife spoke with Dutch and told him he should hire Frank. …

"I felt like there was a very good guy sitting there in the waiting that probably deserved (the job) far more than I did, and that was Frank."

Beamer and Baughman met for the first time at a Marriott hotel in Nashville, Tenn. The bold Texan with the cowboy boots and epic mustache meshed instantly with the mild-mannered Virginian.

"We just hit it off," Beamer says. "I remember coming back and telling (wife) Cheryl, who was waiting in the room, 'I really think I'm going to get this job.' "

Baughman: "When I sat down with Frank and Cheryl, and she came to the interview in the beginning, and we met and talked for awhile and then she excused herself, you know, it sounds kind of, I hate to say hokie, but it sounds kind of strange, to say I knew immediately.

"But what I knew immediately was that there was a real compatibility with this man. People make impressions on others within the first four to six seconds and then an opinion is formed immediately. And ideally that's looked at through the lens of your own personal character. You're looking for people who have similar core values to what you have and when I sat down with Frank … I knew this was a person that I was very compatible with. …

"I was totally confident that not only was he the person that I wanted to hire, but (also) that I could support this man, I could trust this man to come into a difficult situation, and working together, and supporting him, that he could do something good."

Baughman interviewed others, including Virginia Tech alum and then-Temple coach Bruce Arians. But on Dec. 23, 1986, he introduced Beamer as the Hokies' new coach.

"It's like going to Grandma's home on Christmas day," Baughman said at the news conference that day, "and instead of getting a shiny new bicycle, you get a sweater. But the difference is, this sweater has a monogram that says VT."

Beamer's Virginia Tech pedigree and impressive record at Murray State notwithstanding, many were not appeased.

"Coaches who were friends of mine reacted very strongly," Baughman says. "They were very supportive. What a great hire. Colleague reaction was very, very strong. There were people in the Virginia Tech community who thought I was out of my mind, and told me so, vehemently, time and again."

Less than six months later, angered by Virginia Tech administrators' handling of potential NCAA violations in the Hokies' men's basketball program, Baughman resigned, vacating his Jamerson Center office. Beamer cried when he heard the news.

Baughman later served as Oregon State's athletic director before accepting his current position as executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association. Naturally, his office is in Texas.

Arians coached two more seasons at Temple before embarking on an NFL career that today finds him coordinating the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense.

Less than two weeks after Virginia Tech hired Beamer, Ross landed at Georgia Tech. He guided the Yellow Jackets to a share of the 1990 national championship, defeating Beamer's Hokies on the way.

Ross subsequently coached the San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions and United States Military Academy, the Chargers to the franchise's only Super Bowl. He retired in 2006 and lives in Richmond.

"Things, they just worked out," Beamer says. "I'm very fortunate Dutch decided to go my direction."

Baughman returns to Virginia Tech for the occasional football game and marvels.

"The outward, obvious indicators are that Frank has been an enormous success on a consistent basis," he says. "But I see something in addition to that. I remember very well hiring Frank and the situation we had to deal with at that time was very tenuous to say the least. …

"I know during the time I was there, and I understand since I left, that he's never once complained or made reference to the fact that this put him at a disadvantage. He accepted it for what it was. … He had to come in, accept difficult circumstances and literally build a program. And then to sustain that consistently is, I think, especially impressive in this day and age. …

"The chance to talk to people and help people understand what was going on at such a unique point in time is truly humbling, and it's an honor for me to be in that position."

Among the circumstances Beamer inherited: fan apathy, conference homelessness and impending NCAA penalties. Midway through his first season, the NCAA docked the Hokies 20 scholarships over two years.

The sanctions staggered the program, and after six seasons in Blacksburg, Beamer's record was 24-40-2. Since, his teams have played in postseason 18 consecutive years, winning seven conference championships, three in the Big East, four in their current home, the ACC.

Under Beamer, the Hokies have earned 15 finishes among the Associated Press' top 25, seven in the top 10. Prior to Beamer, they'd finished among the top 25 twice, never in the top 10.

When Beamer arrived, Lane Stadium sat 51,000. Capacity today is 66,233, and Tech has sold out 81 straight home games.

Among active Bowl Subdivision coaches, only Penn State's Joe Paterno, entering his 46th season, has been on the job longer than Beamer, and during Beamer's time at Virginia Tech, the ACC's other 11 schools have employed 51 head coaches.

Beamer's 240 career victories, 198 at Virginia Tech and 42 at Murray State, trail only Paterno among active coaches and rank ninth all-time. With just 18 more, two seasons at his current pace, Beamer would stand behind the Mount Rushmore of Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Jim Weaver, the Hokies' athletic director since 1997, is uniquely qualified to compare Paterno and Beamer. He played for and coached under Paterno at Penn State.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is both of them are comfortable in their environment," Weaver says. "I think it's the people, and not just the people on his staff. The people in the community. The people on campus. The people he interfaces with daily in the athletic department."

"There's a level of consistency about Frank," Ross says. "What you see is what you get. Calm demeanor, pleasant. Gets along well with people. Does a great job with alumni, media and people like that. But underneath there's a mental and physical toughness like you haven't seen. …

"I'm very happy he got (the Virginia Tech job). His loyalty and his love for that school and for that town and that community is a very special thing. … The way it happened was the right way for it to happen, for Virginia Tech and everyone else.

"They got themselves a heck of a football coach. They may not have known it at the time, but they know it now. They know it now."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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