Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. HokieCentral is pleased to bring you columns from Jim in the HokieCentral Columnists area. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.
As we continue to enjoy a terrific season that may indeed culminate in a date with destiny and bask in a football program that is rapidly staking its claim among the best in the land, there is something that has occurred to me. Correspondence with many of you, perusing the HokieCentral message board and enjoying the fellowship of fellow Hokies at various gatherings has proved to me beyond a doubt that you are indeed some of the finest football fans on the planet as well as a really great bunch of people to hang around with.
The above has also shown me that I am quite a bit older than most of you. With the obvious exception of that senile old goat Atlee, whose face is always a welcome one to me at Tech tailgates or in Nashville bars prior to bowl routs of Alabama since it means I won’t be the oldest Hokie around, I do seem to be somewhat longer in the tooth than most of you.
This does not particularly bother me, since 1) I feel much younger than my advanced years, due no doubt to what my ex-wives unanimously refer to as my refusal to grow up, and 2) there appears to be very little I can do about it, although God knows I have tried.
There are advantages to possessing what I steadfastly claim and cling to, (not unlike a drowning man to a raft or a West Virginia fan to the latest conference expansion rumors that include them), namely, experience. So many of you young Hokie bucks feel that terrific Special Teams and stout Defenses are a birthright and as normal a part of the Tech experience as that bracing wind as you cross the drill field in the morning. Take it from me, it ain’t. I am old enough to have seen the other side.
I was a freshman at Virginia Tech in the Fall of 1970. Football coach Jerry Claiborne was in his tenth, and what would turn out to be his last, season at Tech. Claiborne had run a decent little program, winning more than he lost with strong defense (including, for a time in the mid-Sixties, a defensive back by the name of Frank Beamer) and an offensive strategy based on not turning the ball over. He had spent the Sixties amassing 6-8 win seasons and occasionally going to a bowl, and he occupied a coaching comfort zone ... until something happened.
That something was raised expectations, in the form of a Top Ten ranking prior to the ‘69 season. That team fizzled to a 4-5-1 season, and the grumbling that ensued grew to deafening proportions the following year when what should have been a very good team staggered out of the gate to an 0-5 start en route to a 5-6 finish.
The natives were restless, among them Tech President T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. Hahn was in the middle of his grand experiment of turning a small military school that focused on Agriculture and Engineering into a comprehensive state university, an experiment that seems to have worked fairly well. Hahn deduced that a major university needed a major football program, and Claiborne wasn’t going to deliver one. Out the door Claiborne went, and in came Charley Coffey.
Ah, the Coffey years.
Charley ‘MNC’ Coffey was an ambitious Tennessee assistant and native who foresaw big things and never hesitated to predict them. We were going to win and win big. An annex would have to be built on Cassell to hold the trophies. He also never failed to demand and receive huge sums of money, including a private airplane for recruiting trips and one of the first indoor practice facilities in the nation, the Rector Field House.
Coffey had learned football at the feet of the great General Neyland at Tennessee, and he was going to duplicate that success in Blacksburg. The football budget tripled in a year, and Coffey in 1971 unveiled a Virginia Tech team and program resplendent in the most miserable uniforms we have ever worn (that awful maroon and orange combination Beamer once inflicted on us was tame compared to the bright orange jerseys and helmets with the outline of our state that Coffey clad the team in), a team dedicated to an offensive notion that Claiborne had regarded as a passing fad but seemed to have caught on around the rest of football — the forward pass.
Don Strock was our quarterback, and Lane Stadium was filled with a passing exhibition the likes of which we still haven’t seen since, even with DeShazo, Druck or Vick. We put the ball in the air. The Sugar and Orange was what we were promised; 12-20-1 was what we got.
Unfortunately, Coffey’s defensive ideas seemed to center on allowing the other team to score as quickly as possible so Strock could get back onto the field. Some of those Tech-Rutgers games in the early Big East days were defensive struggles compared to what we saw in 1971-72. While we saw plenty of offense, what we didn’t see were plenty of wins. Coffey’s first two years with Strock produced a 10-11-1 record, which was decent, but not exactly what we had been promised.
By 1973, Strock was gone and so was the offense. The ‘73 team was wracked by dissension created in large part by Coffey’s habit of allowing stars much more latitude in the areas of curfew, schoolwork and decorum, and his patented inability to realize that he had to put a defensive team on the field. That 1973 team ended 2-9 and was a year that saw what was unheard of in a Tech team before or since, the players simply quitting on the coaching staff.
Charley was shown the door. Dr. Hahn decided that a president meddling in athletics was perhaps not the wisest course, and to hire a new coach he turned back to Athletic Director Frank Moseley. Moseley was an Alabama alumnus and friend, teammate and former assistant under the legendary Bear Bryant. Moseley did the sensible thing and asked the Bear who should be hired. The answer was Bryant assistant Jimmy Sharpe.
Jimmy "Last Call" Sharpe arrived in Blacksburg with a serious Southern drawl, a homespun wit full of "Y’all", and "Dadgummit" and a fondness for brown liquor. His first year produced the obligatory 4-7, but eyebrows shot up when his second season produced an 8-3 slate that included a win at Auburn. Expectations were again over the moon in 1976, when a 6-2 record and knocking on the polls ended in three straight losses and a 6-5 record.
Two things were conspiring against Sharpe: he was a lousy recruiter, and his drinking was beginning to take precedence over coaching football. There have been many anecdotes related about some of Sharpe’s alcoholic antics, including some before and during games. Who knows, some of these tales may actually be true, but what is known is that prior to the 1977 season he showed up at a Roanoke Hokie Club meeting blasted and proceeded to produce quite a spectacle, a binge that involved rude comments to Golden Hokie Club contributors and hurling.
Insulting high dollar Roanoke Hokies is not exactly the way to enhance one’s job security, and Sharpe cooperated in his ouster by turning in a useless 3-7-1 record in ‘77. He was history. Tech was now searching for its fourth coach of the Seventies. AD Frank Moseley had also decided to retire, and Tech President William Lavery, who often expressed admiration for the presidency of Dr. Hahn, decided to copy Hahn’s most notorious failure and stuck his nose into the Athletic Department.
The result was Bill Dooley.
Next: The Dooley Years and Beyond
Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.
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