5. Coordinators Bud Foster and Bryan Stinespring
Which story is bigger, Bud Foster's unparalleled excellence as a college defensive coordinator over the past decade, or Bryan Stinespring's on-the-job training as offensive coordinator, and the fact that he kept his job after three years of near complete offensive futility?
We couldn't decide, so we chickened out and lumped them together.
These two storylines are big for different reasons. In Bud Foster's case, his achievements are what makes him stand out as one of the biggest stories of the last decade. Five times in the last decade, Bud Foster's defenses ranked among the top five nationally in total defense:
At other times in the decade, Bud's defenses ranked #7 (2008), #12 (2009), #27 (2000), and #32 (2002). The only truly bad defense Bud put on the field was 2003, when VT suffered from a lack of talent at defensive tackle and linebacker, and a lack of discipline in the secondary. Opponents also started doing a better job of exploiting the defensive scheme's weaknesses, which included isolating the whip linebacker in coverage. The 2003 defense finished ranked #51 in total defense, but the truth is that it was one of the worst defenses in the nation by season's end.
Those 2003 problems were fixed immediately, and the Hokies were #4 in defense the next season, starting a string of four straight seasons of top-four defenses, a remarkable accomplishment.
Bud Foster is appreciated by Tech fans for his impressive achievements as a defensive coordinator, throughout changes in his roster, defensive scheme, college football offenses, and position coaches. He is the best. We have honored him for it before, in print, and haven't changed our minds since then.
Bryan Stinespring, on the other hand, is a big story because, well, people have never stopped talking about him, from the time he took over the OC job at the end of the 2001 season until now.
Stinespring has been the apple of Frank Beamer's eye for a long time, and Frank fast-tracked him to the offensive coordinator job, even though Stinespring had no experience, other than cutting his teeth as an o-line and tight ends coach in a program not known for emphasizing offense. The Virginia Tech program is run by a head coach who is defense-first and special teams-first, and who learned his college football from Jerry Claiborne ... no big fan of offense himself.
Whereas Bud Foster learned how to be a defensive coordinator from Phil Elmassian, a man whom former players credit for turbo-charging the defense and the Virginia Tech program in his 1993-94 stint in Blacksburg, Stinespring had no such mentor and had to learn the trade mostly on his own.
Stinespring had to do so in a program that is constructed to emphasize defense and special teams above offense. His task was difficult, and the results have been inconsistent. Admittedly, Frank Beamer's system does not prize total offense (yards gained) when evaluating offensive performance, but having said that, here are Virginia Tech's total offense rankings under Stinespring:
The 2006-2008 rankings, along with the failure of the offense to produce in some critical losses during that time period, made Stinespring the target of some harsh criticism from Hokie fans.
Ironically, often referred to as Frank Beamer's "second son," Stinespring managed to survive Virginia Tech's offensive futility, when some true sons weren't so fortunate. Florida State's Jeff Bowden, son of Bobby, was forced out after six seasons of "futility" that look pretty strong next to Stinespring's numbers:
Likewise, Mike Groh, son of Al Groh, was let go after producing some horrid offensive numbers that were worse than Stinespring's:
Stinespring had a strong 2009, with his offense coming in at #50, the second highest ranking Tech has achieved in his eight seasons as OC, so the heat has been turned down. Stinespring is a sensitive subject among Hokie fans, but whether you're in his corner or decidedly out of it, you have to admit that he and his counterpart Bud Foster were huge storylines in Virginia Tech athletics in the last decade.
4. The Money-fication of Virginia Tech Athletics
We slotted this storyline as #4, but for many Hokies, it comes in as #2, or perhaps even #1. The explosion in athletic revenue, expenditures, and facilities from 2000-2009 is unprecedented, and so is the cost of being a fan.
We could dedicate an entire article to this one storyline, but to boil it down, here are some facts and figures. Figures from the 2008-09 academic year are not yet available, so we used the numbers from 2007-08 for comparison.
|Financial Figures (all dollar amounts in millions)|
|Athletics Revenue||$26.235||$64.412||$38.117 (+145.5%)|
|Athletics Expenses||$22.581||$59.157||$36.576 (+162.0%)|
|Football Revenue||$15.596||$37.125||$21.529 (+138.0%)|
|Men's Basketball Revenue||$1.016||$8.757||$7.741 (+761.9%)|
|Hokie Club Donations||$10.000||$24.200*||$14.200 (+142%)|
2007-08 Financial Report (TechSideline.com, 5/14/09)
2004-05 Financial Report (TechSideline.com, 3/28/06)
Hokie Club Donations Top $18 Million (TechSideline.com, 7/20/04)
* 2008-09 figure from HokieClub.com
Here are some facts and figures on season ticket costs:
|Virginia Tech Season Ticket Costs|
|Football||$138 (6 games)||$288 (6 games)||$150 (+108.7%)|
|Men's Basketball||$140 (15 games)||$437 (16 games)||$297 (+212.1%)|
It has gotten much more expensive for Hokie fans to attend games, based on ticket prices alone. With Hokie Club donations increasing greatly in the last decade, if you wanted to maintain the same seats or parking space, you had to donate a lot more money, as well. I personally went from a Lot 5 space to off the parking grid during the decade.
We won't even mention hotel rooms, concessions, etc. The rising cost of games has driven many fans out of the primary market and into the secondary market (hello, Ticket Board), or in some cases, completely out of the market.
Along with the explosion in revenue, expenses and costs, there has been a corresponding boom in facilities building. Prior to the 2000 football season, Virginia Tech sold out football season tickets for the first time ever. All home games in 1999 were sold out, but the sellouts occurred during the season, not in the preseason, as it did in 2000.
Increased season ticket sales, plus the need for additional revenue for the athletics department, kicked off a Lane Stadium expansion boom that brought bleacher seats to the North end zone, a South end zone facility with more seating, luxury boxes and premium seats, and a West side expansion project that added more luxury boxes and premium seats. The multiple projects that expanded Lane Stadium from 1999 to 2005 cost approximately $93 million dollars and increased stadium capacity from 51,907 in 1999 to 66,233 today.
An ambitious reseating project in the spring/summer of 2005 changed the distribution of fans in the stadium -- for the worse with regards to stadium environment and noise, some lament.
In addition, with revenue booming, the athletic department embarked on a list of extensive capital facilities projects, including football locker room improvements, construction of a new football practice field between Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium, and construction of a basketball practice and administration facility. There were other numerous improvements and enhancements to non-revenue (Olympic sports) facilities, as well.
In the 1990s, we watched the rise of the football program with wonder, and it was all about the Hokie Nation, being a fan, storming New Orleans, being proud, and hoping for full conference membership somewhere. Throughout the decade of the 2000s, once that conference membership was achieved and the athletics programs could build from a stable base, Virginia Tech athletics became about the money, as well.
Having a strong athletics program requires a lot of money, and how you feel about that as a fan varies from person to person. But no matter who you are, it was a big story.
3. Ongoing Football Success
On January 4th, 2000, the Hokies played Florida State in the Superdome for the national championship. Tech's appearance in New Orleans capped an incredible seven year run that saw VT go from 2-8-1 to #2 in the nation with a bullet.
In their 1993 college football preview issue, Sports Illustrated ranked VT #83 out of 106 Division 1-A programs, predicted the Hokies to go 3-8, and opined, "These are dark days in Blacksburg." In that same issue, they ranked FSU #1 and predicted a national championship. Six years later, at the end of the 1999 season, the teams squared off in the Big Easy for college football's crown.
The 1990s were a decade of phenomenal achievement for the Hokies. As difficult as that path was to travel, staying on top of the mountain is even harder, but throughout the last decade, the Hokies managed it.
Did Virginia Tech ever reach #2 and play for the national championship again? No. Did they continue to win conference championships, play in bowl games, grow their fan base, pile up winning records, and make frequent appearance in the top ten? Yes.
You've heard the statistics, and here are the two most prominent: 17 bowls in a row (equaled or exceeded by just two other teams, Florida and FSU), and six 10-win seasons in a row (equaled or exceeded by just one other team, Texas).
Here are some of the storied programs in college football that failed to make a bowl game in at least one season from 2000-2009: Michigan, Penn State, USC, UCLA, Tennessee, Alabama, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Miami, and Clemson.
The list of storied programs that have failed to win ten games in each of the last six seasons is very, very long. The mighty USC Trojans fell off that list this year. The Hokies didn't.
To me, the most critical season in the last decade was 2004. After suffering through late-season swoons from 2001-2003, and playing in pedestrian bowls like the Emerald Bowl and the Insight Bowl, it looked as if Virginia Tech would never return to its glory days of the 1990s.
After 2003, it appeared that Virginia Tech's Big East championships in 1995, 1996, and 1999 were just the result of two great defenses and a couple of great quarterbacks (Jim Druckenmiller and Michael Vick). It appeared that the program might have peaked and didn't have staying power.
2004's ACC Championship, after being picked sixth in the league in the preseason, changed all that. Sure, the Hokies had another great quarterback (Bryan Randall) and another great defense (ranked #4 in the nation), but when you win a conference championship with a third different group of players, it's not a fluke anymore ... you've got a great coaching staff that knows how to run a program and win games over time. My perception of Tech's program changed when Jim Davis and Darryl Tapp batted down three straight passes in Miami to clinch the 2004 ACC title for the Hokies.
The conference championships of 2007 and 2008 only drove the point home harder.
Virginia Tech's consistent winning ways in football have driven every single advancement in the athletic department, from increased donations, to Lane Stadium expansion, to a boom in revenue that has helped the Hokies improve almost every sport across the board. Through football, all things are possible.
And there are hundreds of us, probably thousands, who earn our living peripherally through Virginia Tech football. Yours truly would not be running a healthy, vibrant web site like TSL without football success. Hotels have been constructed, restaurants have been built, condos and homes have gone up, and a list of jobs too numerous to count has been created through the economic engine of Virginia Tech football success.
Millions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars, have moved around in various economic circles that would have otherwise been dormant if the Hokies regularly posted losing records in football.
The success of Virginia Tech football has drawn Hokie fans, students and alumni together in the last decade in a manner that would not have occurred without it. It has made Hokie Nation stronger and more cohesive than in any other time period before, in Virginia Tech history.
Hyperbole? Maybe. Maybe not. But there's no doubting that the success that started in the 1990s and continued throughout the last decade is an enormous story. For a long time now, Hokie football has been like pizza: When it's good, it's really, really good, and even when it's bad, it's pretty darn good.
I think that's how the metaphor goes.
2. Frank Beamer to UNC
Or, as the story unfolded, not to UNC.
In one respect, putting Beamer-to-UNC as our #2 story violates what I said about the list being more about "storylines" than "stories." After all, the drama of whether or not Frank Beamer was going to leave for UNC took place in just a few days in November of 2000.
But sometimes stories are big because of how they change things, what they make possible, and what they prevent from happening.
First, a walk down memory lane. In my office, I've got copies of The Roanoke Times sports sections from November 26th, 27th, and 28th, the three days over which this drama unfolded. Jack Bogaczyk ran point for The Roanoke Times back in those days, and regardless of what you think of Jack, he rose to the occasion on big stories like this. So I've got some good reference material.
After firing Carl Torbush, UNC started courting Beamer heavily in the week leading up to that year's Virginia game on November 25th. VT football was rife with storylines that week: Would the #6 Hokies make a BCS game? (No.) Would Michael Vick return to Virginia Tech for his redshirt junior year? (No.) Was this UVa coach George Welsh's last game against the Hokies? (Yes.) Would the Hokies win their second straight over their Commonwealth Cup rival? (Yes.)
But as the week wore on, and during the game and its aftermath, one question overshadowed those: Would Frank Beamer leave Virginia Tech for North Carolina?
The fissure between Beamer and Virginia Tech was created late in the 2000 season, when Beamer sought an additional $100,000 in pay for his assistants. He was, in the words of the newspapers of the day, "rebuffed or ignored." That angered Beamer, and when UNC came calling, he listened with both ears. The UNC job was a job that had always intrigued Beamer.
The Sunday after defeating Virginia 42-21, Beamer traveled to UNC to meet with Tar Heel AD Dick Baddour, and North Carolina's offer was stout, to say the least: an increase in Beamer's pay from $750,000 to $1.3-$1.4 million; a payoff of his $875,000 buyout to VT; and $1.1 million a year for Beamer's assistants, which would have made his staff the highest-paid staff in the nation, ahead of NC State's $1 million staff. Beamer would be allowed to bring all nine assistants with him, as well administrative aides, trainers and equipment people.
In short, UNC was looking to clean house on Virginia Tech's football program, and the Heels were willing to pay handsomely to do so.
Virginia Tech was in a financially weaker conference, to which they were paying basketball entry fees and not sharing basketball revenue. Given that, and without UNC's rich endowment and full athletic coffers, the Hokies couldn't match UNC's offer. Tech offered Beamer $1 million and his assistants an additional $60,000, which would bring them to $922,000, well short of UNC's offer.
Sources close to Beamer told The Roanoke Times that they were "99% sure he's gone."
Beamer flew from Chapel Hill back to Blacksburg on a private plane owned by UNC. "99% gone" appeared to be a little optimistic at that point.
The following morning, Beamer met with assistant coach (and UNC alumnus) Billy Hite in an emotional meeting that started to turn the tide. Afterwards, Beamer met for 70 minutes with Jim Weaver, VT President Charles Steger, and Executive VP Minnis Ridenour. Legend has it that former VT President Paul Torgersen also attended the meeting, but The Roanoke Times did not verify that.
After the meeting, Beamer emerged with a new commitment to Virginia Tech, a $1.025 pay package, another $100,000 for his assistants, and new contracts for everyone loaded with incentives for making bowl games, winning bowl games, wearing clean shirts, and cutting back on sweets. UNC, who felt like they had been promised something by Beamer and then left at the altar, stewed in their baby-blue juices.
The back-and-forth action of those three days captivated Hokie fans, who crashed the TSL message boards all afternoon. (The Roanoke Times even referred to our site, saying, "... the Hokie Central message board strained under the sheer mass of frustrated, then relieved football fans.")
That was the drama, and it was front page news, not just sports page news. As I said, sometimes stories are big because of how they change things, what they make possible, and what they prevent from happening.
How did Beamer-to-UNC change things? Primarily, it established Frank Beamer as the alpha male of the athletic department, ahead of Jim Weaver, who had only been at Tech for three years at that point.
Many interpreted the struggle between Beamer and Virginia Tech as a power struggle between Jim Weaver and Frank Beamer, although none of The Roanoke Times reports of the day paint that picture. Sources, however, whispered of friction between Beamer and Weaver, and the two men avoided eye contract during Beamer's press conference in which he announced he was staying.
I have been told that from the signing of that contract to the present, Frank Beamer now reports to Charles Steger as his boss, not Jim Weaver. Again, I have never read a written report that verifies that.
In any event, if you had any question as to who had the most power in Virginia Tech's athletic department, it was answered in those few long days in November.
What did Beamer-to-UNC make possible? It made storyline #3 (Ongoing Football Success) possible, and "ongoing football success" has made everything else in Virginia Tech athletics, as well as many non-athletics matters, possible.
Is it overdoing it to say that Frank Beamer staying at Virginia Tech made "everything" possible? We'll never know, but it kept things on track, that's for sure.
What did Beamer-to-UNC prevent? At the worst, Armageddon in Virginia Tech football and Virginia Tech athletics. Remember, UNC was going to gut Virginia Tech's football program, from the coaches down to the trainers to the administrative assistants. Imagine the turmoil if VT had to replace not just football coaches, but up to several dozen people overall. The bowl streak most likely would not be intact, and the ten-win seasons we are enjoying probably wouldn't have happened.
The presence of Frank Beamer at UNC would have altered the recruiting landscape, and the pipeline of recruits that was just developing between Virginia Tech and the eastern parts of the state would have been broken off at Blacksburg and re-routed to Chapel Hill. Imagine that.
Legend has it (and newspaper reports verify it) that Jim Weaver was fully prepared to hire then-Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell to replace Beamer. Weaver had hired Darnell to WMU in December of 1996, and at the time of Beamer-to-UNC, WMU was 9-2 and preparing to play in the MAC Championship Game. Darnell's record at the time was 31-14, and he had a strong resume in college coaching dating back to 1970.
But WMU lost the 2000 MAC Championship Game, and in the next four seasons, went 15-31, including a 1-10 season in 2004 that got him fired. He is now out of college coaching.
Can you imagine Virginia Tech going 1-10 in 2004, instead of winning the ACC Championship?
We'll never know what Gary Darnell (or anyone else) may or may not have accomplished in Blacksburg, but thanks to Frank Beamer's decision to stay at Virginia Tech, we didn't have to find out.
Beamer-to-UNC is our #2 storyline of the past decade because, when you get right down to it, everything else that happened the rest of the decade was possible because of the events of Monday, November 27, 2000, when Frank Beamer decided to stay in Blacksburg.
1. ACC Expansion
As if there was any question which story was #1 in the last decade.
On April 16, 2003, then-Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese went public with concerns that the ACC was trying to raid his conference of Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, and/or Virginia Tech.
"I have no use for the ACC right now," Tranghese told respected New York Daily News writer Dick Weiss. "They're a bunch of hypocrites. They operate in the dark. They'll never acknowledge this, but I'm aware the ACC for the last couple of years, without ever picking up the phone or calling me, has basically gone out and tried to convince our teams to enter their league."
It sounded exciting for the Hokies at first, but that feeling was very short-lived. One month later, on May 16th, ACC presidents voted 8-1 to enter formal discussions with Miami, SU, and BC, leaving VT out. Virginia cast the sole dissenting vote.
By June 4th, the ACC had made the required site visits to those three schools, and on June 10th, ACC presidents -- the decision makers in the expansion process -- had the first of many conference calls to discuss expansion. Expansion needed seven out of nine votes to pass, but the process quickly bogged down. The presidents couldn't get the seven votes, with UNC, Duke, and Virginia digging in their heels and saying no.
On June 18th, with expansion stuck, a third presidents' conference call yielded an unexpected event: Virginia Tech was re-introduced as a possible expansion candidate.
Over the course of the next few days, when a fourth conference call produced no vote, the ACC tasked representatives from Virginia, Maryland and NC State with producing a report on the state of Virginia Tech athletics. The three men called Minnis Ridenour at Virginia Tech, talked to him for 90 minutes, and compiled a report and presented it to the ACC presidents.
Resistance to Virginia Tech disappeared. On June 24th, the ACC presidents, in a stunning move, voted to expand with Miami and Virginia Tech, while voting no to Boston College and Syracuse.
On June 25th, the ACC made a whirlwind site visit to VT and extended invitations to VT and Miami. VT accepted immediately, Miami accepted later, and on July 1st, 2003, the ACC held a press conference to officially announce the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech, effective July 1, 2004.
Looking back, one of the most remarkable things about the ACC expansion process is that no one knew what was going on. The coaches and athletes didn't know, the athletic directors didn't know, and the media didn't know. Usually, in a process like this, there are sources that leak information. By contrast, for example, Jack Bogaczyk's and Randy King's writings about Beamer almost leaving for UNC were crammed full of inside information and juicy anonymous sources who knew what was going on.
Not so with ACC expansion. To this day, I think the only people who knew what was truly going on were the ACC presidents, and to my knowledge, none of them have ever spoken of the sausage-making process that was ACC expansion.
People tell me I should write a book about ACC expansion. I can't, because no one knew what was going on! The reason you haven't seen a book about ACC expansion, in my opinion, is that no one can write it. Only a few people know the full story, and those who do aren't talking.
This knowledge vacuum created the most compelling drama I've ever witnessed in almost 14 years of running this web site. Fortunes (literally) turned on a dime in a sequence of events that was a breathtaking thriller from day to day. All we could do was sit ... and wait. And in the end, the greatest thing to ever happen to Virginia Tech athletics happened.
It's not just the biggest story of the last decade, it's the biggest story ever in Virginia Tech athletics. My only regret -- and yes, I have one -- is that most of us, me included, don't really remember the raw emotion of hearing that Virginia Tech got the invitation. For decades, ACC membership was an unreachable goal, and the ACC itself was a mystical, shiny place shrouded in mystery. We could see what they were doing, sure, but we couldn't really understand what it was like to be in the conference. We were standing outside, noses pressed against the glass.
Since then, more than a bit of de-mystifying of the ACC has taken place. We have gotten used to being here, because, after all, we belong here. We always did.
Not only have we been competitive in ACC men's basketball, we have been pretty darn good, almost winning half of our conference games since entering the league. Duke and UNC have both fallen at our hands, more than once. And that insurmountable power duo of FSU and Miami in football? Not so much. They have one conference championship between the two of them since 2004. We have three.
We have looked behind the ACC curtain, and it's not the Wizard of Oz back there. It's just an ordinary man, pulling levers and pushing buttons.
Still, we love it. And if I want to recapture the feeling of that time, all I have to do is look back at something I wrote the day before Virginia Tech officially entered the ACC on July 1st, 2004:
Virginia Tech has been very fortunate. In the last 15 years, no other university has elevated themselves athletically like Virginia Tech has. The landscape of eastern intercollegiate athletics is full of schools that in 1989 were in a similar situation as Virginia Tech, but which either never got the chance to take that next step up, or didn't take advantage of it when they did. Schools like Southern Mississippi, East Carolina, Rutgers, Temple, Memphis, and Tulane are still where they were -- or worse off -- 15 years ago. Only Virginia Tech has risen from mediocrity to take a position in arguably the best conference in the nation.
ACC membership requires that Hokie fans put one thing aside that has become as comfortable to them over the last few decades as an old pair of jeans or a favorite pillow. Namely, that persistent sense of worry, paranoia and even fear when it comes to the subject of athletic conferences. There's no need to worry anymore, no need to be concerned, and no need to hold onto the notion that Virginia Tech can't compete at the highest levels because of their conference situation. That problem has been solved.
ACC membership doesn't just mean a long-sought sense of belonging for Virginia Tech. It means freedom. Freedom from everything that has ever held the Hokies back and kept them from succeeding on the fields and courts of competition.
As the sun rises on a new day in Tech athletics, the future seems limitless. Tomorrow, after decades of wandering, the Virginia Tech Hokies come home.
That return home is easily the top story of the last decade.