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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.
Yes, the 52-22 loss to Pitt was pretty bad. Defensively, you have to go back to 1973 – when Alabama beat Virginia Tech 77-6 – to remember a day when opposing running backs similarly ran through the Hokie defense like hot knives through butter. This was the team’s fifth loss in its last 7 games, and in four of those games, the Hokies have given up 45 or more points. In three of them, 49 or more points.
Something clearly has broken.
But before we start heaving the baby out with the bath water, allow me to raise a few points, having lived through some of the dark years of the 70s and 80s as well as the good times of the 90s through the present. I’m not saying you don’t have reason to complain; there were plenty of things I saw today that made no sense. But I would ask that you at least consider this:
It is always best to work first with what you have if a season hits a bump in the road. Patience can be key, and some of the best decisions ever made in the history of the world are the ones that didn’t get made.
It’s pretty obvious this staff has been hit by extraordinary turnover on defense that few if any coaches have had to deal with. At the very top of this post is a depth chart before the first game as posted by Kevin Burke on Twitter, and the red lines are all the people lost to injury. Add in the people you lost who left early for the NFL plus the people that were asked to leave the team for disciplinary reasons and you’ve got the equivalent of the majority of a recruiting class. It’s like being put on probation and not being able to sign anybody one year. Few can win with those restrictions.
But I’m not saying all is right in Hokieland and you just excuse the year because of all the injuries. I watched the Virginia Tech and Virginia games this afternoon on two different televisions. At one point in the afternoon, there was a shot in Charlottesville of players on the sideline dancing, jumping, having fun and celebrating as a team. At the exact same time on my other TV, they showed the Tech sideline in Pittsburgh of players looking somber, deflated and defeated.
Something is wrong with one of those pictures. I’m not smart enough to be able to tell if it’s a locker room issue, coaching issue or what. But it has to be remedied soon. These kids looked miserable.
So what do you do? Just wait and watch the team get its brains beat out two more times and let the season end?
No. But you let football people who understand football coaching and football teams fix it. Don't listen to keyboard warriors on Twitter who just “feel” like despite winning 19 games in the last two years, the current staff was a mistake. You wouldn’t fire a successful salesman the first year he doesn’t make quota, and you don’t fire a coaching staff at their first disappointing year.
You do, however, hold them accountable. You do question curious decisions. You do demand results. I used to tell some of the managers I worked with that if they got results, you will rarely hear from me other than the normal “good job” and “how’s the family?” Don’t get results, however, and you earn the right for me to pay more attention to your department and ask questions.
Everyone needs to take a deep breath. Virginia Tech needs to be patient, and let their coaches coach and work their way out of this.
But Virginia Tech also need to start paying more attention.
Because that patience won't last forever.