Two interviews highlighted the research for a column on Frank Beamer’s silver anniversary as Virginia Tech’s football coach.
Dutch Baughman and Bobby Ross were gracious with their time and insightful with their responses. Baughman was the Hokies’ athletic director who hired Beamer in December 1986; Ross, Beamer’s mentor, was the other finalist for the job, having just resigned from the University of Maryland.
It was great catching up with both. I hadn't spoken with Ross since 2004, his first season as Army's head coach, when I traveled to West Point to profile Cadets defensive back Ray Stith of Newport News. Baughman and I had last talked in 1999, prior to Tech's national championship game against Florida State.
The column publishes Aug. 28 and will be posted online the evening prior. Here are some outtakes that won’t make the print version:
* Ross was a Maryland assistant in 1972 under Jerry Claiborne when Beamer joined the staff as a graduate assistant. A year later, Ross landed his first head-coaching gig, at The Citadel, and took Beamer with him as defensive line coach.
“Frank had a great way with players,” said Ross, retired and living in Richmond. “He was a guy who would not give up on a player. That was the thing that really caught me eye. Sometimes coaches can be very quick in judgment.
“He was a tough coach but in a reserved way. In other words, he spoke softly, but he waved a pretty big stick. He really did. He didn’t get angered too often, but when he did, he got your attention, he got the players’ attention.
“I remember early on in my career at The Citadel we had a defensive back who we thought was a pretty good player. But his background was not real good. In order to bring that player around, Frank would go in and play racquetball with him almost every day in the offseason. Just as a way of getting to know the guy and help him along. And he did, he helped him along, not only as a player but more so as a person.
“I think that’s what they’ve done so well at Virginia Tech. They develop players. They know what they’re looking for. They all want good players and good people, but beyond that, they’re looking for work ethic, which Frank had, and they’re looking for toughness, which Frank had. Those qualities are things he’s built Virginia Tech’s program on, things that are very much a part of his makeup as a person and a coach.”
* Angered by Tech administrators’ not informing him of possible NCAA violations in men’s basketball, Baughman resigned in June 1987 after only six months on the job. But he returns to Blacksburg for occasional football games.
“I do follow Virginia Tech, and I do follow Frank, very, very closely,” said Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association. “I try to get back when I can, and I thoroughly enjoy the chance to come back. I keep in touch with Frank and Cheryl and several folks there at Tech. It’s still a place of very, very fond memories and very high regard for me personally.
“When I come back I typically come incognito, drift around the sidelines during the game. I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and I certainly don’t ever want to be in a position where I detract from Frank, Jim Weaver or anyone else. It’s not about me.
“I come back for personal reasons, sure. But I don’t come back to get any recognition or to be on anybody’s radar screen. I come back because I want to be there and I want to be around the people there and express my support and gratitude for the great job they’re doing.”
Baughman also remains in touch with Charlie Moir, the Hokies’ basketball coach from 1976-87. In fact, he credits Moir with bringing him to Tech.
“I tried to hire Charlie in the worst way when I was (athletic director) at Furman,” Baughman said. “I was so intent on hiring Charlie that when Charlie and Betsy came to Greenville for a visit, it was scary how well we got along, and I wanted to hire Charlie so badly that when he and Betsy left to go back to Blacksburg, I actually bought a plane ticket and got on the plane with them and tried to convince them on the plane ride that he needed to come to Furman.”
Moir declined the offer, but in 1986, with Tech searching for an athletic director to replace Bill Dooley, he contacted Baughman, then an assistant commissioner of the Southwest Conference.
“He called me out of the blue one day and said, ‘Would you consider coming to Virginia Tech?’” Baughman said. “I said, ‘Charlie, I’m back home in Texas, I like what I’m doing.’ So he arranged for three people to come to Dallas and interview me for the athletic director position, and it was just incredible.”
Baughman accepted the job and chose Beamer rather than Ross to replace Dooley as football coach.
“In the case with Frank, I knew from the very beginning it was going to be the right fit,” Baughman said. “Not because this was his alma mater, coming home and all those kinds of things. But right fit means much more than that. Right fit also means right fit for right now.
“So it was the right fit for Frank to come home to be at his alma mater. But it was a right fit for right then because he was exactly what Virginia Tech needed [amid the controversy of NCAA violations and impending sanctions]. He was what the community needed. …
“When you get down to the last two or three candidates for whatever the position is, every one of those candidates can do the job. So I learned early in my career there has to be some basis upon which you make the decision, and when you reach that point in time, that you always make the decision based on personal character. I can say that was clearly on my mind when I hired Frank and is even more so today.”
Baughman, 62, called his resignation “clearly one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my career. I was so impressed with Frank and eager to work with Frank. I had come to have enormous respect for Virginia Tech as an institution.
“Bud Robertson was our faculty rep, and he’d become a very quick good friend. … The deans, provost. So many people were just as receptive and professional, just had wonderful relationships. It was a gut-wrenching situation to say the least.
“There were other issues that became very, very public that I had great difficulty with and would not compromise my core values in dealing with the situation and issues. When I left, I signed a statement saying I would not discuss the details … and I have not in 25 years and I’m not going to now.”
Hope that whets your appetite. Sunday’s column will relive the search that led to Beamer’s hiring through the eyes of Baughman, Ross and Beamer. Please check it out.
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