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To All Of My UVA Friends On This Rivalry Day...

On a morning when I thought we’d be getting ready to watch Virginia and Virginia Tech play football, I find myself instead thinking of a time back in 2007.

It was a day when the television trucks had finally left Blacksburg after round-the-clock coverage of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. The dead had been buried. The memorials had been planned. The who, what, when and where’s of the situation had been fleshed out.

No one, however, ever answered the why. And because of that, as people were saying it’s time to move on and start healing, many of us didn’t.

Those next couple of months, I recall, is when it really got tough. The lives of both young and old were gone, including the shooter. The warning signs that went unheeded were identified. Each day bought more information, but all the data did was add to the grief and recognition that this was a senseless tragedy that could have possibly been averted.

I found myself postponing chances on several occasions to go back to the campus after that. Visiting Virginia Tech for decades had been like going to visit an old friend. The times were always fun, the memories were warm, and it reminded me of younger days when you could have fun in the safety of the cocoon of a college campus, far, far away from the pressures of going to work, paying a mortgage and being an adult.

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File This Under "Why The Hokies Continue To Make Me Crazy"

If it’s possible to find both hope and discouragement in the same football game, I managed to do so watching Virginia Tech’s 22-21 loss to NC State last night.

In a season where it now seems like half of Hokie fans (mostly the younger ones) want to fire new coach Brent Pry, and the other half (the ones referred to in posts that start out with “OK, Boomer”) want to give him 7 years to turn things around, I’ve been looking for the one sign you tend to see when a new leader is about to get a turnaround going.

Which in the third quarter, I thought I saw.

That sign is one of a team believing in its leader, and that leader in turn believing in its team. It’s an overused expression coaches use all the time, and the sign I’m talking about is something you don’t see in media interviews and other off-the field activities, because to be honest, talk is cheap.

You instead see it in the play calling. Particularly as it relates to the offense.

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In Final 5 Games, It May Not Be Wins Or Losses That Are Important

With the Hokies enjoying a bye week – meaning there’s no pending game to complain about – I have found the conversations I’ve been having with old Hokie friends the last few days interesting.

There is no talk involving the play of the quarterback, the performance of the new head coach, or much of anything football related. Instead, there is conversation – and concern – about the one question every recruit asks and every coaching staff must answer.

“Why should I come to Virginia Tech?”

It’s not nearly as negative a question as you may initially think. It’s something every student asks whether it involves education, social life, class size, having fun, etc. And as it relates to football, there’s always been a good answer to it for as long as I can remember.

Go back to when I was a freshman in 1974 (I really liked the guy on Twitter who referred to our ilk as Metamucil-swilling dinosaurs who are in bed by 11 PM every night) and the answer was opportunity. Back then the scholarship limits were different, so a good player go either go be the fifth QB at Ohio State or come play and possibly start at Virginia Tech.

I can even remember when part of the pitch was we were going to be the next Penn State, so come to Blacksburg and be part of it.

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Ricky Don't Lose That Menu, You Don't Want To Call Nobody Else...

Since I’m not spending as much time on social media these days, I worry up and coming chefs like Ricky LaBlue won’t get enough meal ideas and instead will make the same steak meal he specializes in over and over again. To alleviate that, here are my meal plans for the weekend, of which little money was spent.

This morning, for example, I went looking into my freezer for stuff to rescue from an almost certain frozen death. I buy stuff when it’s on special in some quantity, put the excess in the freezer, then hope I remember to use the various chicken, shrimp, fish and other stuff before the Nationals win another World Series.

Today’s search prompted me to go to the grocery store to pick up about $20 worth of stuff to turn what I found into several meals. Here’s how it turned out:

  1. Found a package of frozen Northwest white fish I’d obviously gotten a great deal on at LIDL a while back. I bought some cabbage to make slaw, a cucumber, some fresh tortillas and a tomato. Those ingredients, plus salsa and sour cream I already had, will make for some very nice fish tacos.
  2. Found a Tupperware container of chopped BBQ. When I take a pork shoulder and make it into BBQ, it’s too much for just the two of us. I bought some fresh hamburger rolls, and along with the slaw being made for the fish tacos and some thinly sliced onion, can be made into some nice BBQ sandwiches. Will also bake a tray of baked beans so we can be like cattlemen and eat BBQ and beans.
  3. Found a couple of frozen chicken breasts (I’ll buy the big pack at $1.99 a pound when they’re on sale and split them into two portions, freezing one of them). They’re now defrosted and I bought some apples to peel and chop up. The apples, chicken, sweet pickles, boiled eggs, mayo and the rest of the onion from the BBQ sandwiches will make a nice vat of chicken salad which will become lunch for few days.
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It Will Be Interesting To See How Fixing The Defense Is Handled...

If you’ve followed my ramblings on this site for any length of time, you know my one concern when Brent Pry was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech was the fact he’d never been a head coach.

It’s not that this was some insurmountable obstacle, but when you’ve never been the head guy, you really don’t know what you don’t know. While the tendency is that you pick up things fast, you’re really not tested until you run into a crisis.

It’s during that time most new head coaches, company presidents, etc., have to fight the inclination to focus on the areas they’re most comfortable with instead of continuing to be the captain of the ship. The head coach’s job is to hold assistants accountable, provide advice and - if necessary - tough love.

Above all else, a good head coach keeps everyone in their lanes.

Failure to do so for many teams tends to result in everyone on staff offering their two cents about areas that are not their direct responsibility and you end up with a management by committee atmosphere that never works. If you look back to the waning years of the Frank Beamer era, you saw a little of that.

With that in mind, I think the next few weeks are going to be interesting in the development of Pry as a head coach. Two weeks ago against North Carolina, the offense and defense were big problems, but against Pitt, you could see some changes had been made in strategy and the offense scored 29 points. Take away some untimely penalties and dropped passes and the offense could have scored 40 points.

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How I Spent My Weekend; It Was Different...In A Good Way

I don’t know if it will end up being a personal turning point, but the discovery of an old computer artifact got my attention this weekend when it comes to online priorities.

It started Friday morning. I tend to be on Twitter a lot for discussions involving sporting events we’re all watching, because I can access it on a computer and type my posts on a real keyboard. Being born with fat thumbs and fingers has always been an issue for me when it comes to texting on a tiny phone keyboard, and as a result it’s not my favorite way to communicate with friends.

But while looking for something else in the basement, I came across a small keyboard designed to connect to smaller devices made by a company called Targus. It’s about half the size of a regular computer keyboard, and when I found it, it was as dead as a certain local football team’s chances to play in the Super Bowl. But with a new battery, it easily connected to my phone via bluetooth, and problem solved. I put the phone on a little stand I had bought on Amazon so I could easily see what’s on it, and started texting people with the tiny keyboard.

As the baseball games started Friday, I did not immediately join in on the conversations on Twitter. No longer tethered to the computers in my office, I took my phone and keyboard out to the den and texted a few friends I knew were baseball fans. They responded, more friends jumped in, and for most of the day, I was discussing the game with 7 or 8 friends I’d actually met, had meals with, and would not call me some spawn of Satan if I said something they disagreed with.

Well, most of them wouldn’t.

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If You're A Hokie Fan, You May Want To Keep An Eye On Wisconsin

If you’re a Hokie fan and are not doing so already, you may want to keep an eye on Wisconsin.

There’s a soap opera going on up there that has already benefitted the Hokies 10 months ago, and with the Badgers unbelievably firing head coach Paul Chryst Sunday, there’s a possibility of more to come.

It seems something has been brewing up in Madison for a while if you put the pieces together. I was absolutely elated that the Hokies were able to hire Joe Rudolph away from Wisconsin at the beginning of the year, because he was the architect of their run game, particularly when it came to the development of offensive linemen in their program.

He was exactly what the Hokies needed to start the process of re-establishing an identity in Blacksburg back to the days when if Virginia Tech needed a few tough yards between the tackles, the Hokies were able to get it.

But even with Rudolph coming to Blacksburg, I privately wondered why he’d do it. Rudolph played for the Badgers, coached tight ends from 2008-2011, spent three years at Pitt (including a short stint as interim head coach) and spent the last seven years back at Wisconsin in charge of their offensive line and run game. He was a Badger through and through, much like Frank Beamer has blood type orange and maroon plus.

Based on Sunday’s developments, maybe he saw something coming before the rest of us.

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Sometimes It's Best To Sit Back, Be Quiet, And Watch...

There are times when judging the quality of a football season that it’s perfectly fine to say what’s on your mind.

Then there are times where it’s best to sit back, watch, and see if what you think you are seeing is a trend or a mirage.

I’ve kind of reached that second stage after yesterday’s loss by Virginia Tech to North Carolina.

Doesn’t mean I don’t love Brent Pry, doesn’t mean I’ve given up on what I still believe is going to be a turnaround in the program, doesn’t mean anything other then there’s a time to speak and a time to be quiet.

Now’s the time to be quiet.

If you’ve read my ramblings over time, you know I equate coaching with sales. In both professions you need to keep people fired up, have to make tough decisions on who you keep and who gets let go, and despite everything you do, you know it’s a produce or perish situation. You’ll be given years to turn around bad situations, but you consistently need to show signs that there are new ideas that can produce a turnaround, or you won’t get those years.

That’s where I’m at with Virginia Tech football on this rainy Sunday morning. The initial months of a new coach’s regime have been filled with all the right moves off the field and all the right words behind the podium. Hope has sprung eternal to the point “it’s going to take 4 or 5 years to get this turned around” has become a mantra for most fans.

That’s huge if you’re the new guy because managing expectations is a crucial task in the first year.

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If You're A Hokie Fan, You've Been Here Before...

At 6:58 AM this morning I found myself out on the patio, enjoying the cool 47-degree temperatures, and wondering how many times I’ve found myself feeling this way after a disappointing Hokie loss.

Let’s not put lipstick on the pig, shall we? Last night’s loss to West Virginia was bad.

Having experienced these kinds of mornings for the last 50 years, I pretty much know how to handle it. Sitting outside and enjoying nature is far better than, say, looking at social media, where I can see folks like the very overrated Pat Forde call Lane Stadium “the most overrated home venue in college football.”

You see, when you’ve never been good, people don’t say things about you when you have a bad loss. That’s because they don’t say, think or care about you at all, as it’s like you never existed.

But when you have been good, then go through the rebuilding process Virgnia Tech is now dealing with, that’s the morning they dance on your grave. Opponents taunt you on everything from your team’s losses to the song you play entering the stadium. One UVA fan even suggested it’s time to retire the tradition of Enter Sandman after the defeat.

Dear UVA fan: fill your stadium first. Then we might consider anything you have to say.

In many cases it’s not even your opponents. A lot of the vitriol last night and this morning is coming from Virginia Tech fans themselves. They want to fire Coach Brent Pry, Athletic Director Whit Babcock, the mayor of Blacksburg and probably the guy that didn’t make their coffee to their liking this morning.

After only 4 games.

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They Didn't Win By 100, But Hokies Took One More Step Saturday

You just knew coming in that Virginia Tech’s game with Wofford was a no-win situation, as the game was such a mismatch, even if the Hokies won by 100 there would still be people saying “yeah but it’s Wofford. You should have won by 107.”

Virginia Tech didn’t win by 100 Saturday – the margin was 27-7 – and yes, there were fans who said it wasn’t enough of a margin.

But there were enough good things that happened that give credence to the belief that each week this program is moving in the right direction.

Everyone had their hair on fire after the season-opening mistake-filled loss to Old Dominion, and for good reason. Improvement needed to start the next week against Boston College, raged the barbarians at the gate, and continue each week.

Despite not gaining 1,000 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns, I believe that’s what the Hokies did Saturday. Against Boston College the previous week, they showed they could fix the mistakes, committing only 5 penalties (after 15 against ODU) and zero turnovers. My initial thought was if you do it once, it could be a fluke. Do it twice, and you’ve got a positive trend.

They made it two in a row against Wofford. Again, only 5 penalties and again, zero turnovers. And unlike either previous game, they had zero pre-snap penalties. No illegal procedure or jumping offsides before a play began, which really is a nice indicator of a team’s discipline. No special teams miscues, no fumbles, no interceptions.

No instances of shooting themselves in the foot.

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Pry, Coaching Staff Answered The Question. Resoundingly...

It is a question asked about all new coaches.

It doesn’t involve a new coach winning. Conversely, it asks how a coach will react after a loss. Does he have his finger on the pulse of the team as to what buttons to push when it comes to fixing what’s broken? Getting more talent is a season-to-season thing, but can a new coach make the adjustments half to half or week to week to incrementally make his team better?

Where the answer is yes, those coaches usually end up being the good ones.

Brent Pry showed last night that he, indeed, is going to be one of the good ones.

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