I was sad to learn of Pat Dye’s death today. I never met Pat, but for about 10 minutes over 40 years ago, our paths crossed.
He taught me a lesson that day I will always remember.
It was 1977, and the Virginia Tech football program was a mess. The Hokies had just finished 3-7-1 and a player had died in the athletic dormitories after being forced to run punishment drills. Coach Jimmy Sharpe and the entire staff were fired.
As is always the case when a coach is fired, the rumor mill immediately fired up as to who the potential replacement would be. I was the sports editor of a twice a week newspaper called the Blacksburg Sun (we even had T-shirts that said “now doing it twice a week”) and was also a senior at Virginia Tech, trying to take classes and work a fulltime job to pay the bills.
To make a few extra bucks, I also wrote some stories for United Press International, and the bureau chief in Richmond and I had become good friends (which we still are to this day). He asked if I had a story on who the potential replacements were I could send him, and given that I could write it for my newspaper, then send it to him and get an extra $15, the story moved to No. 1 on my priority list.
Back in the days before social media, rumors of who the next coach would be were usually rumors sportswriters themselves started. I’m not sure that’s changed any since that day, but if you looked at a map and tried to rationalize who would be a good coach and was nearby, East Carolina’s Pat Dye seemed like a logical choice. A columnist in the Greensboro News & Record had pretty much said the same thing, so as far as I was concerned, Dye was the leading candidate to become the next Hokie Coach.
These were the days of Watergate, and if you saw “All The President’s Men,” where Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were tirelessly calling everybody on the planet to chase down a lead, then you too – if you were at the young age of 21 as I was – did the same thing.