Turn Up the Wick!
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Book Review: Turn up the Wick!
By Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 11/21/00

"Do you think I captured his voice?" Chris Colston asked me during a recent interview about Turn Up the Wick!, the Frank Beamer autobiography that Colston wrote following Virginia Tech's magical 1999 football season.

Yes, Colston no doubt captured Beamer's voice. This book is chock full of enough "Aw Geez"'s to last a lifetime, and as you read every one of its 220 pages, you feel that Frank Beamer is talking to you. And sometimes, you'll even wonder if maybe he's saying too much (more on that later).

As Hokie fans, we all know the public Frank Beamer persona that we see nearly every day during the football season. But Turn Up the Wick! gives us much more insight into the man that otherwise may be a total mystery to you.

If you're like me, you have tons of questions about Coach Beamer and the Virginia Tech program that you have always wanted answered. And finally, after 13 seasons at the helm of the Tech football team (the 2000 season is his 14th), Colston answers them, in Beamer's voice.

Colston is a Virginia Tech graduate who served as the editor of The Hokie Huddler from 1985 to 1996, so his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Tech sports are as deep as that of any Hokie around. Despite that background, he tackled the task of writing this book very seriously, putting in weeks of research and conducting dozens of hours of interviews with Beamer, his staff, and current and former administrators in the Tech athletic department. Colston even tracked down former Tech AD Dutch Baughman, whose tenure at Tech was very brief, but his contribution was lasting: he hired Frank Beamer, way back in 1987.

This book is not a softball effort full of platitudes and game recaps. Those of you who are so used to hearing Beamer's coach-speak on the radio and on TV will find yourself glued to this book as Beamer discusses a number of topics that have heretofore been off-limits or simply not discussed:

  • the details of the childhood accident that left burn scars all over his upper body, and how he fought through the burns to get on with life
  • how Frank got hired for the Tech job (and more interesting than that, how Bobby Ross almost got hired, instead)
  • the dismal 1992 season, and why and how Beamer decided to rework his staff (including the "most important hire I ever made," according to Beamer)
  • the changes Beamer made after 1992 that built the Hokies into what they are today

To Colston's credit, he asked the hard questions, and to Beamer's credit, he answered them. And that alone is responsible for making this book a must-read for fans of Virginia Tech football and Frank Beamer.

The book covers Beamer's entire life, from childhood to the present, but the main focus (160 of the 222 pages in the book) is on his efforts to build the football program at Virginia Tech. "The book could have been subtitled, 'How Frank Beamer Built Virginia Tech Into a National Football Power.' That was my take on it," Colston says.

It's an easy read, one that you'll devour in just one or two sittings, if you so desire. At some points, though, you'll become admittedly nervous at the amount of detail that is included. One of the book's more interesting chapters is titled "20 Key Steps to a Seven-Game Turnaround," and in that chapter, Beamer lays out the twenty beliefs, habits, and traditions that he bases the Tech football program on -- things like Friday night video sessions with highlights from the week before, game awards for the players, and sticking to a consistent schedule every week. You will find yourself reading this blueprint for coaching success, which has its origins in a 1992 conversation between Beamer and Ross, and saying, "Coach, don't give so much away!"

The book even includes a photo section in the middle, and oddly enough, a photo that you might not think would be of interest really caught my eye. It's a picture taken back in 1986, in Beamer's last year as head coach at Murray State.

The photo was taken on a football field. It shows Beamer, his wife Cheryl, and his daughter Casey, the three of them surrounded by a throng of people. Casey is tearful and pouting, and she is lunging out of Beamer's arms and towards her mother. Cheryl too is tearful, but her tears are tears of joy and relief. The caption reads, "After we tied for the OVC championship in 1986, Casey got lost in the celebration. When Cheryl and I found her at midfield, it was a happy reunion."

I found myself thinking about how small Frank Beamer's world was back then. Celebrating the OVC championship, of all things, in front of a crowd of just a few thousand, no doubt, and probably thinking that there was no greater day in his coaching career. He had no idea that thirteen years later, in the bright lights of the Superdome, he would come within one quarter of winning a national championship at his alma mater.

The undefeated season of 1999 probably makes that OVC Championship and the frantic search for his daughter in the post-game celebration small by comparison, and it must seem like a long time ago. But that's what this book is all about: how far Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech football program have come.

Perhaps you haven't read this book yet. If not, it's time. If you have read it, and you know a Hokie who hasn't, then it's also time to give them a great Christmas present.

The full TSL interview with Chris Colston appears in this month's TSL Extra.

Buying information for Turn Up the Wick! -- You can buy Turn Up the Wick! at the Tech Bookstore in Blacksburg, at the VCU bookstore in Richmond, at the Maryland bookstore in the Northern Virginia area, and at the Old Dominion bookstore in the Virginia Beach area. You can also purchase it from TechBookstore.com by clicking here.

          

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