Frank Beamer’s connections to Bobby Bowden run deeper than interdivisional rivals in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In light of the announcement of Bowden’s retirement as Florida State head coach this week; it seems appropriate to consider the similar legacy Frank Beamer is leaving at Virginia Tech.
Like Bowden, Beamer took over a program vacant of tradition. Tech only played in six bowl games before Beamer took over in December 1986. Its record in those games was 1-5.
Florida State had also played in seven bowls in the 30 years prior to Bowden’s hiring. Its record in those games was 2-4-1.
It’s safe to say neither program was exactly on the Mount Olympus of the college football world.
Both coaches hail from rural backgrounds in the south. Bowden grew up in Birmingham, Ala., one of the richest breeding grounds for football talent in the country. Beamer grew up just down the road from Blacksburg in Fancy Gap, Va., where football was big and the mountains were bigger.
Both coaches have a reputation of being two of the friendliest, down-to-earth coaches in the business, thanks in large part without a doubt to their southern roots.
After taking over at their respective schools, the unheralded traditions of both programs were appositely reversed.
Bowden endured a single losing season in Tallahassee before leading the Seminoles to an 10-2 record, ending the 1977 season with 40-17 win over Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl.
Beamer took over a rebuilding Hokie program and spent two seasons in football misery before finishing the 1989 season with a 6-4-1 final record. Four seasons later, the Hokies were 9-3, capping off the season by winning the first ever bowl game under Beamer, beating Indiana 45-20 in the Independence Bowl.
Although it took Beamer six years before tasting postseason glory compared to Bowden’s two, it’s hard to blame the Tech coach for not arriving to the party as quickly.
Consider the natural recruiting base Bowden had to work with. High school football in Florida annually produces cream-of-the-crop athletes to choose from. Virginia’s reputation as a recruiting hotbed did not come until the late 1990s. It was much easier for Bowden to find the necessary talent immediately than it was for Beamer.
Once Beamer took the Hokies to that first bowl game, they have not missed the postseason since. 2009 marks the 17th consecutive season the Hokies will go bowling.
Once the ship was righted at Florida State, Bowden also took his program to unprecedented heights. The Seminoles missed the postseason in 1978 and 1981, but other than that have played a postseason game every year to date.
Every superhero needs a good sidekick; every CEO a right-hand man. Bowden and Beamer each have theirs in the form of a defensive coordinator. Mickey Andrews has been on the sidelines for Bowden since 1984. Bud Foster joined Beamer’s staff in 1987 and became defensive coordinator in 1995.
Both assistants have been instrumental in maintaining the high level of success at their respective schools, and neither Bowden nor Beamer would be the coaches they are today without them.
Between 1987 and 2000, Bowden’s Seminoles set an NCAA record by winning at least ten games every season. If the Hokies win their bowl game in a few weeks, they will be nearly halfway to reaching that mark themselves. The current streak of double-digit win seasons at Tech is five, the first of which coinciding with its inaugural season in the ACC.
The glorious run came to an end Tuesday, when Bowden walked away from the game at the age of 80. It seems only natural for the torch as college football’s elder statesman, and good ol’ southern boy to be passed directly to Blacksburg.
The one facet of program dominance that separates Bowden and Beamer is postseason success. At Florida State, Bowden is 20-9-1 in bowl games, while Beamer is 7-9.
One of those 20 bowl wins for Bowden came in the form of a national championship, against, you guessed it, Beamer’s Hokies. It took him 24 years at FSU before winning his first and only BCS national title. Beamer is in his 23rd at Tech. Isn’t that Taylor guy and that Williams kid coming back to Blacksburg next year?