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Mar
13

One-Trick Ponies No More. The Hokies Are Now ACC Champs

It was March of 1973, Bobby Stevens hit a last-second overtime jumper to give Virginia Tech an NIT championship, and I went running through my house in Norfolk as only a teenager can do, yelling and screaming about how “the Hokies did it.”

What is wrong with you, my mother asked.

Now in my 60s, I watched last night as the Hokies claimed their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament basketball championship with my arms held high and maybe something moist in my eye. I’m too old now to run through the house and my wife of 41 years already knows what’s wrong with me.

But it felt just like that day 49 years ago.

Last night for long-suffering Hokie fans wasn’t just a basketball victory. It was an exorcism, a confirmation that after decades of being the red-headed stepchild, the Hokies belong. If you grew up in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina in the 60s, there were certain regional and cultural entities you enjoyed, and when it came to sports, ACC basketball was one of them.

The ACC was that group of cool kids at the table who scoffed at the notion of you even talking to them, much less sitting down at the table. And for most of my life, Virginia Tech has tried its damnedest to pull out a chair at the ACC basketball table and say “hey, what’s up?” For decades, however, the Hokies were turned down for admission into the league, and really only because they had developed a good football program at exactly the same time the league needed more good football teams due to television demands did Virginia Tech gain admission in 2004.

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Mar
01

Tonight, It's Time For A Long-Time Debt To Be Repaid...

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this a year ago about Virginia Tech's basketball game with Louisville, then the game got cancelled due to COVID. They play for the first time since tonight. The message still holds true:

Tonight, the most pivotal game of the Virginia Tech basketball season will come down to a matchup between the Hokies and Louisville.

Of course it will.

Much is written about the rivalry between Virginia Tech and those neighbors to the East in Charlottesville, but when you are discussing a pure and intense rival for another team in basketball, nobody stokes the fires for me like Louisville. I'm sure there's a better and more diplomatic way to say it, but I just don't like them.

Should you be too young to remember, it was the Cardinals who led the movement to cast the Hokie basketball program into the desert to wander around in search of a permanent home for many years back in the mid-1990s. Virginia Tech had joined what was then the Metro-7 in 1978, sharing a league with the likes of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Memphis, St. Louis, Tulane and Florida State.

Georgia Tech had just left the Metro to become the 8th member of the Atlantic Coast Conference after South Carolina had left, and the Hokies took their place. Eventually, South Carolina would join too in 1983 and as basketball conferences went, it was a pretty stout league.

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Feb
15

There Will Never Be Another National Like Ryan Zimmerman

With the news of Ryan Zimmerman’s retirement, there will undoubtedly be dozens of stories told about his exploits over a very memorable 17-year career, ranging from dramatic game-winning walkoff hits, to his home run in the 2019 World Series.

But the story I’ll never forget – and when No. 11 became my favorite Nationals’ player for all time – came back in the early days. It was a warm Sunday back in 2006, and was Father’s Day.

It was June 18th, and Ryan’s first full season in the majors. He had been called up to the Nationals at the end of the previous inaugural season, playing the last 20 games of the 2005 season, so he was a player the fan base was still getting to know. He was from Virginia Beach and played at UVA, so having also grown up and gone to college in the Commonwealth, I immediately liked him since he was a local.

He was the kind of player I wanted to see do well with the Nats.

A neighbor had called that morning with two tickets to the Nats game, saying the friend he was going to go with backed out. My wife, noting it was Father’s Day, said “it’s your day, go have a good time.”

When we got there, everything seemed perfect. It was at old RFK, which while not being a cosmetic beauty, had this air of DC sports history that helped any longtime area sports enthusiast overlook the flaws and effects of age. You remembered seeing the Redskins from certain seats. The really older guys remembered the Senators. And we all knew a new stadium was on the way.

But while it seemed perfect, seated right in front of us were three fans of the opposing team that day, the New York Yankees. If you’ve spent any time around Yankees fans, they’re a confident lot and not given to keeping their opinions to themselves. Much like traveling in the South and encountering an Alabama fan (don’t know how many national titles they’ve won? Just wait 3 minutes. They’ll bring it up in conversation) these fans started talking from the first pitch about their great baseball history and Washington’s lack thereof.

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Jan
04

Now If I Could Only Get My Apple Watch To Measure These...

A year ago, I wrote a story about my new year’s resolutions for 2021. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about it until the woman who owns all my stuff reminded me last week that I had listed a number of goals in that piece, but being nicer to her and being more receptive to what she wants was not in the top 3.

Do better this year, she gently suggested, as only a spouse of over 40 years can.

“Yeah, what she said, but for me too,” said a certain brown and white dog who answers to the name “Wonderbeagle.”

So there will be no goals or resolutions this year. In fact, the point of any resolution I might have made this year would be to avoid all the numbers and measurements that seem to have dominated my life these last 65 years.

It starts the first time anyone plays sports, as it is drilled into you to always strive to do better than you did the last time. You measure how long, how fast, how much, etc. and then next time out, see how you fare in pursuit of a “personal best.” It then progresses to your business life, where you compare previous performance in other months, quarters and years to determine success. If you can’t measure it, you find yourself saying, you can’t manage it.

Then at one point later in life you find yourself walking around in a circle in your living room at 11 PM on a Thursday night. Why? Because you’re 113 steps shy of 10,000 steps and you just can’t let that happen. Doesn’t really matter that 6 laps around the coffee table on carpet in your bare feet doesn’t have much of an impact on your overall fitness. But by then you’ve become a slave to the numbers.

The obsession ends up extending far beyond exercise. I like to read, but found myself looking up all the titles I’d consumed for the year in December to see how many books I’d read in 2021. Did it matter? No. But other people were posting on social media how many books they’d read, how many miles they walked, etc. And if you’re a competitive person, you HAVE to keep up with all these people on social media. That you’ve never met. And never will. And don’t even know their real names.

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Jan
03

I Don't Just Like The Hire Of Joe Rudolph; I LOVE It...

There are a lot of things Hokie fans can say they’ve been concerned about over the past few years, but the one question I’ve had trouble answering of late has been these three words: Who are we?

During the hey day of the Frank Beamer days, it was an easy question to answer. The Hokies were tough defensively with Bud Foster’s attacking defenses. They earned the nickname DBU for all the defensive backs the Hokies sent to the next level. They were a hard-nosed running team that got you two yards when you faced 4th and 1.

And above all else, they were stable and consistent. Meet the staff one day in Blacksburg, then come back five years later, and 95 percent of the staff would still be the same. Virginia Tech had a brand, and it meant many of the things.

The last few years, that changed and certainly contributed to why the program changed head coaches two months ago. But today, with the formal announcement that Joe Rudolph has been hired as associate head coach/run game coordinator/O-line coach, it sure looks like Virginia Tech is about to go back to the future.

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Dec
30

After Yesterday's Game, A Change WILL Do Us Good....

It was only a few minutes after Virginia Tech’s 54-10 loss to Maryland that the question arrived on my phone via text.

“Do you think,” asked the text, “that this was the most unsatisfying season you’ve seen as a Hokie fan?”

It’s an interesting question. It didn’t ask if this was the worst season. Or biggest disappointment of a season. Just if it was the most unsatisfying.

Since I’ve seen more than 50 seasons of Hokie football, I had to think for a few moments. That season in 1973 when the team went 2-9 and lost to Alabama 77-6 was a pretty bad one, particularly in light of the team under Charlie Coffey having a winning season the year before. But in that situation, I was a new Hokie fan – so I didn’t have much to compare it to – and change was immediate. Coffey had a bad year, and the next year he wasn’t the coach.

Then there was the famous Frank Beamer season of 2-8-1 in 1992, where just about every close game went against them. A 50-49 loss to Rutgers was that team’s version of the 77-6 loss to Alabama 19 years prior, and the Hokies only beat two teams – James Madison and Temple.

But even then, I can’t say it was unsatisfying. In at least 5 of those games, Virginia Tech had a better than average chance to come out the winner, no matter whether you wore orange and maroon colored glasses or not. You could see the potential, and when Beamer made some changes on his staff, the next year began the streak of 27 consecutive bowl game appearances.

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Dec
29

John Madden: He Was The Real Deal...

I think enough people have written about the greatness of John Madden as a coach and broadcaster in the last 24 hours, so I’ll leave that sort of story to others. Instead, I’ll talk about one aspect of Madden I’ve always admired and tried to take to heart throughout a lifetime of watching and listening.

Madden, when it came to the people he coached and the people who were around him, cared, and it was no act. He had a gift for understanding people, realizing everyone is unique in some aspect, and learned to push the different buttons we all have to get the very best of you.

It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people can’t or won’t do that. Over the years, I’ve worked with people who think everyone must be treated the same and conform to a similar outlook, and they’ve all had one thing in common: they were incompetent managers.

Madden understood that what works with one person and his unique experiences did not always work with someone with a different background. It’s why he took a collection of very talented but labeled by some as uncoachable misfits, and was able to mold this band of free spirits into a Super Bowl Champion in Oakland.

Some can coach a team full of No. 1 draft choices to a title. Madden could win with players from the island of misfit toys.

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Dec
23

Here's To Hoping This Holiday Season, Your Cup Runneth Over...

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and since every Christmas deserves a good story with a happy ending, allow me to tell my 2021 version of such a tale.

The adventure begins back in 1974, when in the first five minutes after I had moved into Pritchard Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, I met Doug. He was in the room next to mine, and after meeting each other, we became instant and lifelong friends.

We were both competitive sorts who enjoyed trash talking each other, but our skills were widely different, making competitions between us a bit interesting. When it came to sports, I was a 6-foot-4 white guy who couldn’t jump and had the quickness of a pregnant rhinoceros, but if left open, I could consistently hit an outside shot. This came in handy when Doug and I played either H-O-R-S-E or one-on-one, as I’d toy with him and let him get ahead, then drill three straight long jumpers to crush him.

Doug, conversely, was a table game wizard. On a foosball table, he could snap his wrists with no effort and score goals at will. I later in life bought a foosball table for my basement, trying to learn to be good enough to give him a run for his money. But every time he visited, he toyed with me in foosball the way I taunted him in basketball.

The rivalry went up a notch during my sophomore year at Virginia Tech, where I received at Christmas a gift that became the focal point of our competitions for years to come: It was an NHL Hockey game (the one where the players were connected to long thin rods that you’d push or pull to move your player, and twist the knobs connected to those rods to make the players shoot). After the holidays, I bought it back to the dorm, and Doug and I ended up playing this game all the time (this was before video games, cell phones, the internet, and a bunch of other stuff my daughter can’t believe we did without).

We knew nothing about hockey, but it provided everything we needed: a game you could play that allowed for constant trash talking, required no electricity or special equipment, was portable, and could be set up just about anywhere.

The game came with a miniature Stanley Cup, and whoever won that day’s game took it back to their room, as the trophy’s presence in your living area afforded you bragging and trash-talking rights until the next game. It went back and forth between us until for some reason, momentum shifted squarely to my side.

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Dec
07

To See Sunny Skies Again, Hokies Need A Confident Storm

Now that we’ve all had an enjoyable week watching the beginnings of the Brent Pry dynasty take shape, perhaps it might not be a bad idea to take a quick look at the men’s basketball program.

You know, the one that’s lost three of its last four and seems to be one big question in search of an answer?

It’s certainly not a time to be worried or panic in any way, but this was a team that started off against weaker opposition and still looked pretty good in the process. I judge teams not by the level of competition they’re playing early in a season, but whether when granted an open shot, do they consistently hit it. The ball and the rim have no idea whether the other guys on the floor are in the top 10 or the top 300, so if you’re a good shooting team, you make open shots when you get them.

Early in the season, Virginia Tech made these shots, particularly when they were moving the ball around the perimeter and finding open players. That, to me, is the magic of Mike Young’s offense, as he’s not one of those coaches from the movie Hoosiers who demands four passes before you take a shot. He wants as many or as few passes as necessary for the ball to find an open shooter, and when that happens, he expects his players to take – and make - those shots.

The Hokies did early in the season. But when they played Memphis right before Thanksgiving, they met a physical team that really pushed them around, particularly point guard Storm Murphy. Murphy had been one of Virginia Tech’s better shooters and playmakers, but finished with only five points against Memphis. It got worse, as he didn’t score at all in the next two games against Xavier and Maryland before finally hitting a couple of shots and getting 7 points recorded in the scorebook.

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Dec
05

Paging Brent Pry....Pick Up The Phone And Give Joe A Call...

While we’re all wondering who the next Virginia Tech offensive coordinator will be, allow me to draw your attention to that train wreck of a pro football team in Charlotte, NC known as the Carolina Panthers.

Today they announced they were parting ways with their offensive coordinator, Joe Brady. Why you would change OCs with only a little more than a month left in the season is beyond me, but they did. And as Brady looks for a place to land, further allow me to point out his background.

Brady is only 32 and has been considered one of the hot young offensive coaches in football land. Before taking the job with the Panthers, he was the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach of the very wide-open and high-scoring 2019 LSU Tigers, the same LSU Tigers who went 15-0 and won the national championship. He was recognized as the top assistant coach during the 2019 college football season, and was the winner of the 24th annual Broyles Award.

Before that, he was an offensive assistant under head coach Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints from 2017-2018.

He grew up in South Florida and was a 4-year letterman as a wide receiver at Everglades High School in Miramar, FL, about 22 miles north of Miami. He played collegiately at William and Mary from 2009 to 2012, and then stayed there for another two years, coaching the team’s linebackers.

Where was he between his stint at William and Mary and his time with the New Orleans Saints?

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Dec
05

Pry Seems To Clearly Have A Plan With New Defensive Hires

As it relates to defense, new Hokie Coach Brent Pry is not wasting any time.

On the day he was named head coach, Pry also announced the JC Price would be staying on to coach the defensive line. Today, two more additions to the staff were announced: Derek Jones, who most recently served as associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, and Shawn Quinn, who most recently was the head coach at Savannah State.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

There’s a definite pattern to the hires. In Jones, Pry is hiring a 23-year coaching veteran who has focused on the secondary and defensive backs in his coaching stops at Duke, Memphis, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee State, Murray State and Ole Miss. Pry's association with Jones dates back to the 2007 season at Memphis when Jones coached the secondary and Tech's current head coach worked with the Tigers' defensive line.

In Quinn, a quick look at his background shows his title was usually defensive coordinator/linebackers at stops that include Savannah State, The Citadel, Tennessee Tech, Western Carolina, Charleston Southern, Northwestern State, LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette and Tennessee. Pry and Quinn previously collaborated at Georgia Southern in 2010 when Pry served as defensive coordinator and Quinn worked as the linebackers coach. The duo also worked together at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2002-06 in the same roles.

So Pry has now hired three assistant coaches – Price, Jones and Quinn – that all have experience running the show as either a defensive coordinator/associate head coach or a head coach, yet each specializes in one of the three components of any successful defense: defensive line (Price), linebackers (Quinn) and secondary (Jones).

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