Here's the final installment of our "Top Ten" series recapping the last decade in Virginia Tech athletics. The final topic is the top ten people involved in Virginia Tech athletics from 2000-2009, and it's an impressive list. We'll count down the movers and shakers, out front and behind the scenes, and we'll talk about people who captured our imagination over the last ten years, both good ... and bad.
How does someone qualify as a "top ten person"? That's a tricky concept. A list such as Time Magazine's Annual 100 Most Influential People (don't click it yet -- come back to it later) is pretty clear cut. It's the 100 most ... well ... influential people. The only twist is that Time divides the people up into categories: leaders, heroes, artists, etc.
But what do we at TSL mean by the Top Ten People of the Last Decade? It's admittedly a mish-mash. Some are on the list because they were influential, others were charismatic, some were heroes, some were villains, and some were even both. Some captured our imagination, some were talked about endlessly, and some were just always there. (You'll see what we mean.)
Some shaped the course of Virginia Tech athletics over the last decade, while others just entertained us.
For the most part, we stayed away from the athletes when compiling this list, because we have already included top football and basketball players in separate lists. Some of our best athletes in the last decade -- Spyridon Jullien, Joe Saunders, Drew Weaver, Patrick Nyarko, Queen Harrison, and the like -- were great athletes, yes, but they weren't necessarily captivating to the general Hokie public at large, and once they were off the field or the court, they weren't necessarily influential in any way. So we didn't include some of VT's more decorated athletes in our list.
Having said that, there are four athletes on our list, and you'll see that in addition to being good (or great) at their given sport, their influence went beyond their chosen field of play. Sometimes negative, sometimes positive.
Without further ado (I do like to talk too much) ...
(in alphabetical order by last name)
Dave Brown of ESPN: Who? I asked a friend with a completely different angle on Virginia Tech athletics for his input, and he named Brown, saying, "Dave Brown is the guy who schedules our football games for ESPN. He is a big believer in Lane Stadium and every AD in our league has Dave on the top of speed dial. He also cuts deals. He brokered the Bama-VT deal [last season], got the USC game done [in 2004], got the Boise game moved around to Labor Day, etc. He does our Thursday games."
That's good enough for us. Very few of us ever encounter Dave Brown or ever will, but he has been an influential person in Virginia Tech football, and is responsible as anyone for helping to build the Virginia Tech football brand.
Dave Cianelli, Director of Track & Field and Cross Country: Dave Cianelli seems to have taken it as his personal task to bury Bill Brill, the former Roanoke Times & World News sports editor who predicted back in 2003 that Virginia Tech would never win an ACC championship in his lifetime. Under Cianelli, the Hokies have won multiple ACC team championships, NCAA regional championships, individual national championships ... tell you what: read all about it here, because recapping Virginia Tech's accomplishments under Cianelli takes more room than I can dedicate here.
At the dawn of the last decade, when Athletic Director Jim Weaver decided to revamp Virginia Tech's track and field programs, his decision to remove long-time men's coach Russ Whitenack and replace him with Cianelli angered many in the Virginia Tech community. Cianelli arrived in the fall of 2001 and has been a brilliant hire. Cianelli is very, very good.
Ben Sutton and ISP (International Sports Properties): Sutton has grown ISP from a small startup in the early-mid 1990s to a huge, growing, sports marketing company. Former Tech Athletic Director Dave Braine gave Sutton and ISP their first contract with a major university back in the 1990s, and since then, the partnership between ISP and Virginia Tech has completely revamped VT sports marketing and has brought in millions of dollars to Virginia Tech athletics.
Former women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson: Respected and loved by Hokie fans during her tenure as VT's head women's basketball coach, Bonnie Henrickson made women's hoops relevant at VT. When she departed for Kansas in the spring of 2004, it caused a minor uproar, and Hokie fans were sad about the loss of a well-liked, charismatic coach. Since Henrickson's departure, the program, which once packed Cassell Coliseum for NCAA Tournament games and often played in front of crowds of 5,000 fans or more, has slid into mediocrity and irrelevance. (No emails of complaint, please -- it's true.)
Now, onto those who made the top ten.
#10. "Voice of the Hokies" Bill Roth
A friend of mine likes to remind me often that Virginia Tech has enjoyed remarkable consistency and longevity at many key positions related to athletics: university president (10 years), athletic director (13 years), head football coach (23 years), and head men's basketball coach (7 years).
Include Bill Roth in that list. Roth arrived at Virginia Tech 23 years ago, fresh out of Syracuse, and is now smack-dab in the middle of a Hall of Fame career. Roth's iconic "Touchdown Tech!" has been heard hundreds of times over the air waves, and his call of Jim Druckenmiller's 1995 touchdown pass to Jermaine Holmes against Virginia ("Jim Druckenmiller has engineered the greatest comeback I've ever seen!") and DeAngelo Hall's strip of Miami's Roscoe Parrish and subsequent fumble return for a touchdown in 2003 ("Give it to me, Roscoe! Give it to me!") are legendary.
Beyond the taglines and classic calls, Roth distinguishes himself with the little things. He is a true professional, never mispronouncing names and always letting you know the time and score. It sounds trite to call him a professional and to appreciate him for that, but if you ever spend a little time listening to the radio crews for other universities, you'll appreciate Roth and broadcast partner Mike Burnop for how good they truly are.
#9. (Tie) Bryan Randall and Angela Tincher
Over the last ten years, Virginia Tech has had some good athletes who were also great people, and whose pull among Hokie fans extended beyond the playing fields and the courts. Athletes like Darryl Tapp, Jamon Gordon, and Deron Washington are respected for their athletic accomplishments and well-liked for their personalities. Coleman Collins' intellect exceeds that of most people we know, never mind athletes.
Among the many charismatic athletes to go through Virginia Tech from 2000-2009, Bryan Randall and Angela Tincher captured the attention and respect of Hokie fans more than any others, and that's why they made our top ten list together.
Bryan Randall started for the Hokies for three seasons (2002-2004), and he holds five Virginia Tech passing records, including career passing yardage (6,508 yards). Randall also holds two total offense records, including total yards (8,034 yards).
Early in his career, Randall presided over two teams that faded down the stretch (2002 and 2003) and are remembered as two of Frank Beamer's worst teams. Randall himself played a part in that, throwing game-ending interceptions in an overtime loss to Syracuse in 2002 and a home loss to West Virginia in 2002, as well as a critical interception early in the Hokies' 2003 meltdown in Morgantown. Prior to 2004, Randall was an average quarterback, and he suffered the indignity of being platooned with Marcus Vick in 2003, as Frank Beamer tried to figure out which direction he wanted to go.
But in 2004, Randall's career took off, and his legendary status among Hokie fans was cemented. After three straight bad seasons, including a disastrous 2003, the Hokies announced their presence in the ACC by winning the conference, primarily because Randall caught fire in the last half of that season and finally played nearly flawless football. He was named ACC Player of the Year.
It was his leadership and grace that separated Bryan Randall from the ordinary. Randall showed remarkable resiliency, restraint and persistence throughout the difficult early years of his career, and in 2004, he was rewarded for his maturity and dedication. Virginia Tech football rose from the ashes in 2004, and it was Randall who led the Hokies back from the brink. He is the very epitome of leadership and class, and he is the model of character for a team leader.
Angela Tincher is, in many ways, Bryan Randall's opposite. Female, blond, beautiful, playing a low-profile sport in front of a few hundred fans at most. But in many ways she was exactly like Bryan Randall, going about her business with grace, class, and a maturity belying her youth. Her athletic accomplishments exceeded Randall's. Bryan Randall was good at what he did, but Angela Tincher was great.
On the mound, Tincher was powerful and dominant, one of the best pitchers in the history of college softball. Her name appears in the NCAA's Softball Collegiate Records book a dozen times, including third in career strikeouts and career strikeout ratio. She was the type of on-field and off-field leader that you naturally fall in behind, and in May of 2008, she won the national Lowe's Senior Class Award for her overall excellence in athletics, academics, and community service.
Tincher had the rare charisma that draws attention and admiration no matter what she does, and like Bryan Randall, the mere sight or mention of her makes you proud to be a Hokie. Bryan Randall and Angela Tincher were both very good athletes at Virginia Tech, but they really excelled as people, and that's why they made our list.
#8. The Vicks
From one end of the spectrum to the other. After starting off our list with some of the most impressive, accomplished athletes of the last decade, why are the Vicks on this list? Maybe Michael, but ... Marcus? Seriously?
Like them or not -- and most people don't -- you have to admit one thing: we spent the entire decade talking about the Vicks. All ten years.
The decade got off to a fantastic start for the Vicks, with Michael putting on one of the greatest performances in college football history in the Sugar Bowl on January 4, 2000, when the decade was in its infancy. Vick followed up his stellar freshman performance with a solid sophomore season, then declared for the NFL Draft and was selected #1 in April 2001. He was a media magnet and the most dynamic player in college football at the time.
It was almost all downhill for the Vicks from there.
Michael embarked on an NFL career that showed promise (I'll admit that I'm not up to speed on his professional accomplishments, because I don't follow the NFL much at all.) Marcus signed with the Hokies in February of 2002, redshirted the following fall, and worked into the playing rotation with Bryan Randall in 2003, helping lead the Hokies to a great win 31-7 win over #2 Miami that season.
Since then, the fall from grace of both Vicks has been well-chronicled. Marcus was suspended from Virginia Tech for the 2004-05 academic year for activities involving a teenaged girl, alcohol, and sex, and after he rebounded with a good 2005 season that saw him finish second in ACC Player of the Year voting, Marcus was dismissed in early 2006 for multiple on-field and off-field transgressions.
Michael served time in prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring and eventually declared bankruptcy. It was one of the most spectacular plunges ever seen by a professional athlete from the penthouse to the basement.
Both Vicks did some great things on the field, and some terrible, stupid things off it. Their inability to make good decisions is astounding. Both have squandered a world of opportunity. And through it all, their shadows have loomed big over Virginia Tech athletics, and we have spent an entire decade talking about them. Like it or not, that puts them on our list.
#7. The ACC Invitation Crew: Mark Warner, John Casteen, Minnis Ridenour, Leonard Sandridge, Wayne Clough, Dave Braine, John Rocovich, et al.
In preparing this article, we asked several people for input, and as you can imagine, a number of names who facilitated Virginia Tech's entry into the ACC were bandied about. We decided to lump them all together.
When the ACC started pursuing expansion in April and May of 2003, their first candidates were Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College. The exact details of what happened between then and Virginia Tech's offer of admission in late June are open for debate, but it went something like this:
Figuring that being left behind in a depleted Big East would damage Virginia Tech's athletics and specifically its football program, which is a major economic engine in Southwest Virginia, Governor Mark Warner decided to move quickly to aid the Hokies. Warner also saw an opportunity to build political goodwill in Southwest Virginia, which traditionally votes Republican.
With seven (out of nine) votes needed for expansion, and Duke and UNC steadfastly voting no, Virginia President John Casteen also voted no, contingent on the Hokies getting an invitation. Casteen thus became the swing vote upon which expansion hinged. Whether Casteen was being pressured by Warner into taking that stand, or whether Warner was just providing political cover for Casteen, depends upon to whom you talk.
With Casteen (and UNC and Duke) standing firm, expansion stalled. Support for Virginia Tech as a compromise candidate continued to grow, spurred in part by Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough, a former dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering during his tenure at VT from 1982-1993, and Georgia Tech Athletic Director Dave Braine, a former VT athletic director.
On June 21st, 2003, University of Virginia executive VP and chief operating officer Leonard Sandridge was asked by ACC presidents to head up a three-person committee whose task was to compile a report on the financial status of Virginia Tech athletics. If Casteen was going to insist on the Hokies, the ACC presidents decided to take a more detailed look.
Sandridge called upon his friend and counterpart at Virginia Tech, executive VP and chief operating officer Minnis Ridenour. Ridenour is the most influential person in the history of Virginia Tech that you have probably never heard of. Ridenour's three-decade stint at Virginia Tech was one of tremendous accomplishment, as he set the course for Virginia Tech's financial systems and methods, helping the university grow from its regional roots in the 1960s and 1070s into the comprehensive national university it is today. (For more on Ridenour, click here for a 2004 Roanoke Times article.)
Ridenour's influence on Virginia Tech athletics began in the late 1980s. After Bill Dooley recklessly drove the athletic department deep into debt and onto NCAA probation, Ridenour was tasked with cleaning up the financial side of athletics. Ridenour put financial systems, policies and procedures in place that straightened out athletic finances and set the stage for the advances Virginia Tech athletics would later make under Dave Braine and Jim Weaver.
When Sandridge called on Ridenour, Ridenour was more than prepared to produce the information Sandridge needed. The picture that Ridenour painted of VT athletics was an impressive one, depicting a comprehensive financial and administrative framework that was fiscally responsible and provided the academic support for athletes that the ACC valued so highly.
"The level of long-range planning and the clear indication that Virginia Tech is anticipating its fiscal requirements was impressive," Sandridge told The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress in a July 23, 2003 article. "What was persuasive was the overall status of athletics."
After his discussions with Ridenour, Sandridge presented a ten-minute oral report to the ACC presidents ... and opposition to Virginia Tech as an ACC member disappeared. The Hokies were rapidly voted into the ACC, and the rest is history.
John Rocovich was rector of Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors at the time of ACC expansion. Over the years Rocovich has steered tremendous amounts of money to Virginia Tech academics and athletics, and during the expansion cloak-and-dagger, Rocovich flew many of the principals involved back and forth in his private plane. The use of Rocovich's plane helped avoid the scrutiny that using the university's jet would have involved. (Or so we're told; this kind of thing borders on the legendary.)
From John Warner to John Rocovich, some very powerful and influential people pulled all the right strings and made all the right moves to get the Hokies into the ACC. They are an impressive group, and that gets them, and others we may have left out, on our list.
#6. Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring
Here's another guy who had a decade that was anything but quiet. Since being promoted to the position of offensive coordinator prior to the 2001 Gator Bowl, Bryan Stinespring spent most of the last decade going through painful, public, on-the-job training.
Stinespring has headed up some pretty good Virginia Tech offenses (2003, 2005, and 2009), and he has been in charge of some real dogs, too (2006-2008). He has been cursed with operating in the shadow of a defensive counterpart, Bud Foster, who was statistically the best DC in college football, bar none, over the last decade.
Stinespring's tenure as OC has been one of constant debate, on many levels. Is he good? Is he bad? Is it him? Is it the players? Is it recruiting? Is it Frank Beamer's program philosophy? Ginger or Mary Ann?
(For the record, Mary Ann. Ginger is way too high-maintenance.)
Similar to the Vicks, whether you're with him or against him, you have talked about Stinespring. A lot. For almost ten years now. At times, he has been all Virginia Tech fans have talked about. Bryan Stinespring is front and center, when all he probably really wants is to just hang out behind the curtain and pull levers, Wizard-of-Oz style.
Through it all, while often being the subject of withering criticism, Stinespring has maintained his cool. He hasn't lashed back at his critics, and with the support of his boss, he has stayed the course, all the while continuing to do a good job on the recruiting trail. To our knowledge, Bryan Stinespring has always taken the high road, as difficult as that must be.
As we prepare for the 2010 season, things are looking up for Bryan Stinespring. His offense returns some of the most dynamic players in all of college football, and although the offensive line is a concern, the Hokie offense stands to improve upon its 2009 total offense ranking of #50, the best in Stinespring's tenure since 2003 (#35).
Maybe he (and Frank Beamer) have finally got this thing figured out, and maybe the sack-ridden offenses that finished ranked #100 or worse are a thing of the past. We can only hope.
Coming Next: The Top Five People of the Last Decade