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Nov
17

The Wheels On The Hokie Bus Are Going Round and Round....

Back in my corporate days, there was an expression about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus that was used repeatedly when an organizational problem needed to be fixed.

It never really worked because the people who needed to be moved out of their seats on the bus were the very people making the decisions and leading the meetings. As a result we would end up spending a lot of time in meetings to essentially rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If you look at Virginia Tech’s resurgent football season, however, I strongly suspect that plan was successfully executed a month or so ago.

Or, to be precise, about the time Jerry Kill joined the staff.

I don’t know for a fact if he is the impetus for the change. But something clearly has changed in Blacksburg, and the Hokies have managed to turn the ship around without burning down the house and starting all over again. This generally comes about when someone with an outside eye comes into a situation, points out the tools are there to accomplish the goals set, but that the talent may not be being used optimally.

In other words, getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Virginia Tech’s 45-0 thrashing of Georgia Tech Saturday seemed to be one more data point in Blacksburg that the bus is now correctly organized and heading down the right road. Yes, Georgia Tech is not a very good football team, so the win in and of itself is not a great surprise.

But the Hokies have played other teams not considered good football teams this season – Old Dominion and Rhode Island come to mind – and they struggled. Over the last two years, I can’t really recall a game where Virginia Tech came out, executed well, and dominated a team they were supposed to beat. There have been times the Hokies have looked like they would have struggled even if you put a high school team out on the grass of Lane Stadium.

They have in the past been a collection of football players. But not necessarily a team.

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Nov
09

This Was An Evening To Enjoy An Ice Cold Bud....

On a freezing evening in Blacksburg, long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster was being mobbed by some players, while others maneuvered to be in position to douse him with a cooler of ice and even colder liquid, all to celebrate a huge upset win over Wake Forest on a day set aside to honor his legendary career.

Because everyone enjoys an ice cold Bud, right?

Now that I’ve managed to work in that absolutely awful pun, man, what a game. If you had to write a script for today, you’d have it so the defense would return to the aggressive days of old and toss that 98-pound weakling of a 3-man rush in the round file; they’d hold Wake Forest to its lowest output in yards and points for the season, and the offense would come up with several big plays so Bud could ride off into the Montgomery County sunset a winner.

Which is what happened.

Despite Wake being the favorite, Virginia Tech won 36-17 and beat a ranked team at home for the first time in 10 years (Miami and Nebraska were ranked in 2009 and the Hokies won both). Much like the Washington Nationals were declared dead after a 19-31 start, the Hokies were embalmed and buried after losing a Friday night game to Duke by 35 points, prompting many fans to change their favorite two-word cheer from “Go Hokies” to “Fire Fuente.”

Things were looking pretty dark for both.

But the Nats came back and won the World Series. This Hokies team isn’t shooting that high, but they’re now coming back to life too. With three games left, Virginia Tech is 6-3 and still controls its own destiny in the Coastal. They’ve won four of their last 5 since the Duke debacle, and had it not been for the insane clown posse that also goes by the name “ACC Football Officials,” could easily have won 5 in a row and the Hokies would be ranked next week.

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Nov
06

The Mike Young Era Certainly Opened With A Nice Surprise

It is quite common to overreact to the first game of a sports season (the court turns your attention to the Virginia Tech-Florida State football game last year as a prime piece of evidence). But with that warning issued, you can’t help but be impressed with Game 1 of the Mike Young era.

He clearly knows how to make an entrance.

The Hokies stunned Clemson 67-60 on the road in an Atlantic Coast Conference game last night, and I doubt even those wearing the darkest shades of orange and maroon glasses thought that was possible.

The Hokies just don’t win in basketball at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum. Last year’s team came to Littlejohn ranked No. 9 in the country and left with a 59-51 loss. In the last 10 years, they’ve only beaten Clemson on the road once – an 82-81 win on Jan. 22, 2017, and that game was moved to Greenville because of renovations being made to Littlejohn.

For the Hokies, they have consistently put the “L” in Littlejohn.

Then there was the matter of Young as the new coach. Many have been optimistic while silently thinking “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Gone is last year’s carpetbagger coach, and at one point most of the team seemed gone too, as several starters last night occupied at one time during the year both the dorms on campus and a little place called the “transfer protocol.”

So in a best-case scenario, the team would play hard, perhaps one player would emerge as a centerpiece and go-to guy the Hokies could build on, and hopefully the game would be close.

What happened even exceeded that.

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Nov
01

Sometimes, Lightning Does Strike Twice If You Wait Long Enough

It is wonderfully fitting for me this weekend that Virginia Tech travels to Notre Dame only a few days after the Washington Nationals won the World Series.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less and less a fan of watching sporting events live. Part of it may be I was a sportswriter for a decade when I got out of college, so those hundreds and hundreds of days/nights in a press box or on a sideline may have fulfilled my lifetime quota. The other is the advancement of big screen HD televisions – of which I own far too many – that make it so much easier to see the action.

My wife would say the overriding factor is that I’m also cheap. At home, the food and beverage are far more reasonable.

She does have a point.

But back in college, I was ready to go anywhere at any time to see a live game. Promises were made to friends that if a certain event ever happened way out in the future, we’d go no matter how old we were. One involved the World Series with my friend Tim, which I mentioned yesterday.

The other was made when I was a freshman at Virginia Tech in 1974 and involved Notre Dame. The Hokies were in their first year under Jimmy Sharpe, and football at Virginia Tech was about as far away from the big time as the Nats were from the World Series when they were 19-31. Notre Dame dominated the airways of pre-cable television, and after one particularly festive and ambitious moment, my friends Rick and Doug and I proclaimed if the Hokies ever played Notre Dame, we were going to South Bend.

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Oct
20

This May Be The Game That Turns Things Around For The Hokies

If you’re a long-time watcher of Hokie athletics, there’s one premise you eventually learn: you will have good times and bad, but in the end, the Hokies will always break your heart.

This particularly applies to the historically tight games that go back and forth, where either team could make a play and win. Hokie history is filled with tales of sorrow in losing these narrow games when there were at least 2 or 3 moments where victory could be rescued from the jaws of defeat.

Such was Saturday’s game at Lane Stadium with North Carolina. Five times I prepared myself for the fact VT was going to lose. Six times I got my hopes up that instead, the Hokies would win.

Seven times I just thought they were trying to kill me.

When the dust cleared, Virginia Tech pulled it out and won 43-41 in SIX – count ‘em – SIX overtimes.

The game could end up being the proverbial fork in the road for Fuente and this team. It had all the things the great teams of the past had, with players battling through injuries and making big plays; the crowd turning electric, shouting until they were hoarse; the defense coming up with a big stop at just the moment it was desperately needed, and when all looked lost, the Hokies somehow found a way to win.

The whispers that Fuente may not be the guy to lead the Hokies hasn’t been subtle the last few weeks. People were suggesting he’s lost the team, doesn’t relate all that well to his players, and doesn’t put the right guy in the right seat on the bus, particularly at the quarterback position.

Yesterday’s game would be considered Exhibit A that such talk is pure, 100 percent, Grade A hogwash.

The group I saw on the sidelines and on the field yesterday was alive, full of fight and full of emotion. They rallied around their coach and each other. Players moved to other positions to help fill holes created by injury. Tight end Dalton Keene moved to running back and contributed; freshman Norrell Pollard got his chance at DT and made two sacks. Defensive back Khalil Ladler came off the bench and saved the game with an open field tackle at the two in the fifth overtime.

Then there was the matter of who played quarterback.

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Oct
18

Happy Birthday Frank Beamer!

Seems like just yesterday my daughter and I were driving down to Blacksburg to see the Hokies play North Carolina for Frank's last home game. Happy Birthday Frank, and may there be many, many more!

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Oct
18

Can't Help But Be Impressed With How Fuente Handled This

Justin Fuente isn’t the most popular guy in Blacksburg these days, and some of it is of his own doing. The main part is obviously a losing record last year and getting beat this season by Duke like a pack of rented mules.

The other is his reserved, introverted personality, which has led some to question his ability to relate to recruits, thus causing issues in getting the region’s best players to want to come play for him at Virginia Tech.

Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting feature on starting quarterback Hendon Hooker today, and I walked away impressed with how Fuente handled the situation with Hooker and his family when Hooker decided to enter the transfer portal for a brief time earlier in the year.

Fuente doesn’t want to talk about the situation and tends to brush off any questions about that time in the transfer portal. His father Alan, however, is more than glad to speak of it, saying this of Fuente:

"… He’s held up to be the guy he said he was when he recruited Hendon,” Alan Hooker told Niziolek. “He’s always going to tell us the information whether it’s good or bad. He’s never given us information to tickle our senses. He’s always said what it is, this is what Hendon needs to work on and this is where he’s at. He’s always believed in Hendon’s talent.”

So he didn’t blow smoke at the athlete, give him a sales pitch on all the blue sky that was just around the corner and make promises that might not be kept. I really like the line about Fuente being the same he was when he recruited Hendon. Too many people act one way before signing, and an entirely different way when you’re just one of the many on the roster. Fuente was consistent from start to finish, something I’d take note of as a potential recruit.

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Oct
13

Now That We've Seen Hooker Play, What Was Fuente Thinking?

It’s been two weeks since Virginia Tech decided to make a quarterback change on its starting offense.

Having watched the last two games, I have questions.

Not about Hendon Hooker. He’s been a pleasant surprise.

My question is about what the heck Justin Fuente has been thinking not playing him earlier.

Quarterback changes are always emotionally charged discussions, as the most popular QB in just about every town is the backup. Fans think since he’s not playing, he must be better than the guy who is, and they keep thinking that right up until the moment the backup plays.

Then they understand why he’s the backup.

In Hooker’s case, the suspicion has been that it’s been more than lack of experience that has kept him from consideration in being a starter. He’s rarely been used, and when he’s gotten in for the occasional play due to injury or mop-up duty, he’s been a run-only quarterback. In one situation last season, he showed his speed and running ability were pretty good too, scoring on a 69-yard run late in the 4th quarter against William & Mary.

But since he never got a serious look at QB after Josh Jackson went down with an injury against Old Dominion last season, the presumption was he was a one-dimensional QB. That was further fueled by Fuente’s decision to go with 5th-year senior Ryan Willis at the start of this season, because most coaches would only go with a guy that old because they felt they had no other option or that the other QBs weren’t ready.

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Nov
01

I Can't Say Thanks Enough For What Frank Beamer Has Done

To truly appreciate what Frank Beamer has done for Virginia Tech, allow me to share some of my earliest memories of being a Hokie.

The year was 1973, my senior year of high school. The check was in the mail to the admissions office, and I was going to be spending the next 4 years in Blacksburg. I picked up the Sunday Virginian Pilot in Norfolk (my hometown) and there was a story on Virginia Tech losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa. By a score of 77-6.

That’s no typo. 77-6. Laughingstock wasn’t a strong enough word for how the Hokie football program looked back then.

My four years at Virginia Tech would be the four years of Jimmy Sharpe. The wishbone worked in the second year, as the Hokies won 8 games, but didn’t get a bowl bid. Things then fell apart as the team would go 6-5 and then 3-7-1. Sharpe would be fired. A football player would die in the dorms the day after a game in 1977, and Virginia Tech was in the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference were the envy of all of us. "Why not Virginia Tech?" many of us thought, but the perception was simply we were not good enough. In 1977, an expansion committee actually sent a group to Blacksburg to examine the possibility, but they stayed all of about 45 minutes. Their minds were made up before they ever got there.

The Hokies were small potatoes.

Bill Dooley improved things slightly as the next coach, but he did it with a clock in his window that was a replica of a UNC football helmet. He didn’t particularly like Virginia Tech traditions, he wasn’t a Hokie, he was never going to be a Hokie, and he sure wasn’t going to stay around for a long time. Then he too was asked to leave.

Enter Frank. He was a Hokie and a gentleman. He showed respect to everyone, whether it was the press, fans who stopped him at the airport, donors or somebody out in the hall way. He was humble Fancy Gap Frank, and he set out to fix what was wrong. His only major failing was his loyalty to friends, and after a number of disappointing seasons, then athletic director Dave Braine essentially told him to fire some of his friends and bring in better coaches, or he would be shown the door. Frank did what needed to be done.

The next year, the bowl streak started, which was a big deal for those of us who had a couple of Peach Bowls to show for the last 20 years of being a fan. In 1995, Jim Druckenmiller and company made it all the way to the Sugar Bowl, but ESPN’s Lee Corso consistently said the Hokies had no chance against Texas. We weren’t a brand name and had no place in even being in the bowl. Texas fans bemoaned the notion they had to play a no-name like Virginia Tech. The game had the worst slot of all the major bowl games: New Year’s Eve at 8 PM.

Then, after trailing 10-0, Frank and the Hokies beat Texas 28-10. Corso even had to apologize the next day and admit the Hokies were for real. My daughter was 8 months old, and I thought how cool it would be if she one day went to Virginia Tech when they were considered a big-time program.

Back then you couldn’t buy Virginia Tech merchandise such as jackets, coats, etc. in regular stores. The Hokies were not a brand name, so you could buy Oklahoma, Nebraska..even UVA stuff at sporting goods stores. But anything VT was either in the bookstore or nowhere. When the Hokies came back and made the Orange Bowl the next year, jackets by Starter with the unique “square root of 1” VT logo started showing up. Maybe, many of us thought, we’re about to belong.

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Nov
11

Let's Not Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water Over Bowl Streak

I still remember the conversation clearly.

My friend Bob and I were making that long walk from the Superdome in New Orleans to our car. We had driven down from High Point, NC the day before to see history. Having graduated in the late 1970s, we’d seen our share of bad football, so with Virginia Tech playing Florida State for a national championship, we just had to be there.

We saw history being made, but for Florida State, not Virginia Tech. And like any fan, we were bummed that we came so close but didn’t grab the brass ring. We would drive all the way back to North Carolina hardly saying a word, but as we got in the car that night, we talked about what a ride it had been. We’d seen Fire and Rain in Virginia Tech football, and the loss was not going to deter how great the year had been.

“At least we can compare it to 3-win seasons under Jimmy Sharpe,” I said. “Can you imagine someone who was a freshman in 1995 and is graduating this year? The worst they’ve ever experienced is a 7-5 season. They’ve had a Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and National Championship game in 5 years. Their worst season is still better than our best seasons when we were students.”

“Wait until they have a season again when they don’t go to a bowl,” Bob answered. “They think it’s automatic. They’ll want to fire everybody.”

Little did we know that the next time the Hokies would not make a bowl game would not just be a few years down the road. It would instead be several decades later, to the point that entire generations would never experience a season where Virginia Tech didn’t have a winning record and didn’t go to a bowl.

Today, however, it looks like the streak is over. And Bob – who isn’t much to look at but nevertheless has been my friend since the 70s – nailed it on that January night in 2000. People today don’t appear to know how to act, and it sure seems like there is a group of people out there who want to fire everyone in sight.

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Nov
04

It's Time To Admit To Myself Something About Virginia Tech Football

It’s the day after another bad Virginia Tech loss. You’d think by now, I’d be getting really good at handling this sort of situation.

But yesterday’s loss really bothers me. This one showed me something I guess I’ve sort of known in the back of my mind, but the maroon and orange parts of my brain kept keeping it from rising to the surface.

I can’t ignore it any more.

It all centers around the state of the team in the third quarter of yesterday's game for the Hokies against Boston College. Virginia Tech played the first half with emotion, aggressiveness and momentum, and each good play seemed to feed that and create another good play. The team was confident, and they seemed to be having fun.

From the time they left the locker room at halftime, however, all of those elements were gone, specifically on offense. That's when the game for all intents and purposes was lost.

I'm not a guy who calls for people to be fired, as I don't know what was really called, what an athlete didn't execute, or what a quarterback did or didn't see when a play didn't work. I tend to judge those kinds of conversations as none of my business.

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