From the Outhouse to the Penthouse
by Will Stewart,, 7/2/96

Ever wonder how Tech managed to go from 2-8-1 in 1992 to 10-2 and Sugar Bowl champs in 1995? Sure, the obvious answer is "The Big East Conference membership did it, because it increased our exposure and led to better recruiting." As a simple answer, it's got a lot of credence. The day that Tech entered the Big East was the biggest day in Tech sports history, bar none.

But I've got my own version of why we're so much better these days. It's a little more complicated, but I think it has more to do with our success than any conference membership or all the Cornell Browns in the world could.

Flashback to 1992 (I know, it's painful, but bear with me here): Frank Beamer's Hokies have just gone 2-8-1 while making an art form of losing games late. The Rutgers game of that year, a last-second 50-49 loss, in particular has Hokie fans calling for Beamer's head. After all, it's been six years, and the Hokies aren't even standing still under Beamer's tutelage: they're going backwards.

AD Dave Braine was at a crossroads. It's the time-honored dilemma that all AD's and professional team owners face from time to time: is the coach the problem, or is it something else? If I fire the coach, will things get better, or is there something else I can do? With Beamer being a Hokie born-and-bred, and having resisted overtures from Boston College just two years earlier to stay at Tech, Braine was up against a wall. He had invested a lot of time and effort in Beamer, who had in return shown an inordinate amount of loyalty to his alma mater. Braine didn't want to give up on Beamer, because he felt that Beamer was Tech's long-term solution.

Meanwhile, Frank Beamer, one of the nicest men you'll ever meet and a class act all the way, was taking the criticism to heart. Scrambling for a chance to save his career, and the football fortunes of the school he loved, Beamer flew out to San Diego to visit his old friend, Bobby Ross.

Ross had piloted Georgia Tech to a share of the 1990 national title and had gone on to coach the NFL's San Diego Chargers, so Frank knew that this man knew how to coach. So the two of them had dinner together, and at some point in the evening, Frank basically asked Bobby Ross "What's the secret?"

Legend has it that Ross replied, "Get good assistants and let them coach."

So Frank flew back to Blacksburg (okay, probably Roanoke) for a pivotal meeting with Braine. The two hammered out an agreement: Beamer could live to coach another day at Tech, if he cleared out his staff of assistants and got new ones. For his part, Beamer agreed to those terms, on one condition: that Braine fork over the cash to hire some quality replacements.

The rest is history. 9-3, 8-4, 10-2.

If memory serves me correctly, only Billy Hite, the god of running back coaches, and Ricky Bustle survived the bloodletting. Since then, we've seen some great assistants at Tech, most notably Phil Elmassion, Rod Sharpless, and Todd Grantham. We've also seen a dog or two (Gary Tranquill comes to mind). But they've all been big-time, big-dollar assistants worthy of a program that wants to be among the national elite. Elmo is still touring the country (currently starring in the role of the defensive coordinator at BC), while Sharpless has gone on to Rutgers (poor guy) and Grantham has moved on to Michigan State. Tech assistant coaches are hot-hot-hot.

Among all of them, perhaps Elmassion was the most influential. His ghost still walks at Tech, as the defensive stars of last year's Sugar Bowl championship team will attest. They credited him with instilling the desire to win that ultimately resulted in the awesome D that led Tech to that victory.

The quality of the coaching staff is the reason we're this good today, folks. Sure, membership in the conference is great, but Rutgers and Temple have proven that Big East membership is not all it takes.

And Beamer has proven himself to be a man who learns things along the way. To this day, Frank has not forgotten the 95-yard back-breaking interception that Rod Wooten threw against ECU in 1991. These days, when the Hokies get inside the 10, it's smash mouth football all the way. Run, run, run, and the quarterback is under orders not to change the play.

And when the defense faded late in the 1994 season, getting plastered by Rutgers, Virginia (ugh), and Tennessee, Frank learned from that, too. In 1995, he cut back on the intensity of the team's workouts, so they'd be fresher late in the season, and the result was a team that got stronger as the games went on. Ask Virginia (ugh) and Texas what that feels like.

So there you have it. From the outhouse to the penthouse in three years. As far as I know, my historical facts are all correct, and it certainly makes for a good story, doesn't it? One with a happy ending.


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