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Here Is How I Hope The Frank Beamer Story Ends...

One week from today, I hope to be hearing of a press conference in Blacksburg, where Frank Beamer announces his retirement at the end of the season.

It’s not that I don’t like Frank. Quite the opposite, I think Frank is a legend who has taken Virginia Tech football to heights unimaginable. The two images I will always have when I think of Frank are the Sports Illustrated cover that said “We Belong” and standing on Bourbon Street the night before the 2000 National Championship game in New Orleans watching 40,000 Hokies adorned in maroon and orange.

Those two images showed the Virginia Tech program I have watched since the early 70s had mushroomed into college football royalty. In our wildest dreams, none of us thought that could ever happen. And it’s all because of Frank.

As such, I have looked forward to the day I could stand, cheer and give ovation after ovation at the final home game Frank coaches. He deserves to hear the love, support and respect he’s earned for what he’s done. Unfortunately in sports, that rarely happens as the decision to no longer coach – either due to health or performance – comes after that final season and there is no adequate way to say thank you.

Frank’s farewell has been coming for some time. The program is in a 4-year skid, sliding from playing in the national title game and being a regular occupant of the top 10, to a barely ranked team, to a team not ranked at all fighting to just have a winning record and keep the streak of making a bowl every year since 1993 alive.

That streak will end this year as the team is 3-5 and will not win its remaining 4 games. The Hokies play this week at Boston College, a venue they have historically struggled at; go to Atlanta to play a Georgia Tech team that is sky high after an upset of Florida State Saturday; come back home for 6-1 UNC, then finish on the road at UVA. Going 2-2 would be a best-case scenario, 1-3 is more likely, and 0-4 is certainly possible.

Nothing good lasts forever, and it has been the hope – and fear – that things do not end badly when it is time for Frank to retire. To quote an old movie line, however, “things usually do end badly…or they wouldn’t end.”

More importantly, Frank – who just turned 69 – doesn’t look or sound good health-wise. He couldn’t be on the sidelines for last year’s bowl game because of a medical procedure and if you listen to his postgame interviews on the radio, he just doesn’t sound 100 percent healthy. I’m no doctor, but I’ve heard Frank for decades, and something isn’t quite right.

All this reminds me of Bear Bryant in his final year at Alabama, and illustrates exactly what my biggest fear is. Bryant – who turned 69 in September of that year (Frank turned 69 in October) – decided toward the end of the 1982 season that the sixth-place finish in the SEC wasn’t good enough. He was quoted as saying, "This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players. But in my opinion, they deserved better coaching than they have been getting from me this year."

Bryant too had health issues, having suffered through a mini-stroke and heart problems the previous year that affected him to the point he occasionally slurred his speech when being interviewed. Only four weeks after he coached his final game in the Liberty Bowl, Bryant died.

I don’t want to see that happen to Frank. I want to see a full crowd in Lane Stadium for the game against North Carolina with the sidelines packed with all of his old players. I want to see him carried off the field by all of them win, lose or draw. I want to be there for if nothing else, to say thank you for the memories of a lifetime. Then I want to enjoy seeing pictures of him living the good life with his grandchildren while being a great ambassador for the university in any way he chooses.

In a way, I wish Frank had done this last season. He had beaten the eventual national champion, beaten in-state rival UVA in the final game of the regular season to make a bowl, then won that bowl game against a pretty good Cincinnati team. All despite struggling all year to barely have a winning record.

In any event, I have two tickets on the 30 for the Nov. 21 game with UNC in Blacksburg. I will be there to cheer on Frank one more time, because whether any of us know it officially or not, it probably will be his last game in Lane Stadium as head coach.

It would just be great if an announcement could be made beforehand so we could all celebrate the moment. And say thanks…for some great, great football memories.

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Charlie Was Right; This Kid McSorley Could Be A Good One...

It was a hot August night in 2010 when Briar Woods took the field. Starting at quarterback was a young man who barely looked bigger than the large number 7 on the front of his jersey. He was listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, but that looked only to be true if he were weighed in his uniform and had just finished eating a couple of triples from Wendy’s.

(Photo Courtesy Of Marianne Thiede)
Briar Woods QB Trace McSorley

Then on the first play of the game, the horse Briar Woods expected to ride all season – star running back Michael Brownlee – went down with a leg injury and would be lost until the final games of the season.

Things, as they say, just got real for freshman starting quarterback Trace McSorley.

It’s probably safe to say at that moment no one on the planet expected to one day see McSorley have 105 touchdown passes and three state championships to his credit, plus be only two games away from setting a record that can never be broken: being a starting QB on 4 straight state championship teams. But the seeds of all that success were planted that night.

At the time, he wasn’t even Briar Woods’ sole quarterback, alternating with Mark Leith. But with 2:37 left, the ball at his own 9 and trailing 8-7, McSorley was under center. Long passes to Alex Carter (now at Stanford) and Cam Serigne (now at Wake Forest) moved the ball to midfield. On a key 4th down, McSorley stayed cool and found Scott Rolin (now at Virginia Tech) for a 29-yard gain. The plays would set up David Clements’ winning field goal.

“Trace was never a very loud person nor was I; we let Brownlee do all that stuff,” Rolin remembered of that night. “But you could just tell Trace had a calming effect and ice in his veins.”

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A Perfect Picture Of Broad Run's State Championship Season

(Photo Courtesy John McDonnell of The Washington Post)

It is a picture, I believe, that embodies the reasons Broad Run captured its first football state title in school history Saturday.

Captured by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell, the picture (shown above) shows Broad Run coach Mike Burnett and linebacker Kenny McAdow celebrating seconds after the game ended. One is smiling. The other appears to have a tear in his eye.

I first met Burnett a couple of years ago when Comcast was broadcasting a Broad Run game against Potomac Falls. Burnett was in his first season as the Spartans coach, and he was trying to turn around a team that had gone 1-9 the previous season. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but his team looked like one struggling to adapt to a new coach, committing literally dozens of penalties while losing to the Panthers. Broad Run, though, was improving, finishing the year at 5-5.

The next season was different. Broad Run won its first five games, and after another broadcast, I had the chance to talk a little with Burnett and McAdow. You could tell that the team was no longer struggling to adapt to its new coach, and with this newfound belief, results were clearly visible.

The more I talked with Burnett, the more it became evident that he was anything but a typical football coach. He was a former attorney whose eyes sparkled not only when he spoke of football, but developing young men, building a team, and caring. He was, in short, a leader.

For over 20 years, I’ve had the chance to manage other people, and there are certain undeniable truths when it comes to motivating and managing them. One is that you can’t fake caring: Either you do or you don’t. If people believe you do care about them and are not just using them to win games or get a bigger bonus, they are more likely to listen to you, more likely to work together, and if you have a game plan that makes sense, more likely to succeed. Burnett sincerely cared about this group.

But to really get things done, you need key people to buy in early to what you’re selling. McAdow, you could see last season, was emotionally “all in.” He talked of hard work, believing in his teammates, and getting to the next level. His excitement for getting out on the field, working hard in the weight room, and dealing with his teammates was barely containable. He seemed to be the kind of teammate who would come looking for you if you missed a workout. And if you declined his invitation, he’d just drag you back to the gym any way.

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"I Am Truly Sorry To Say That You Were Right"

Last Friday, my good friend Paul Draisey and I were talking about a former co-worker at a local radio station we both worked at. The co-worker, who I’ll call Mike, hadn’t been heard from since losing his job a little over a month ago.

Our concern was real. Paul had known him for decades, while I only knew him the year I worked with him. But we both knew he had a drinking problem. Everyone did. As his boss, I had many conversations with him about it. And in the process, I learned a lot about the demons that haunt those afflicted with alcoholism.

When I was growing up, getting drunk was seen as harmless recreation. It’s what you did on Friday and Saturday nights to blow off steam. When I was going to Virginia Tech in the 70s, you were somehow less of a man if you didn’t drink until you passed out. Frats had “hairy buffalo” parties, where some sort of hay or straw was put on the floor. You drank until you couldn’t walk, then rolled around on the floor like a “hairy buffalo.”

Beer consumption was measured in six-packs, not cans. Hung over? Hair of the dog will get you back in the game. Mess with drugs? That will get you kicked out of school. But alcohol? No problem.

I could never handle it. The more I drank, the sicker I was the next morning. And thanks to youth and peer pressure, I kept at it. As the years passed on after college, however, I noticed it became easier to say “no thanks, I don’t feel like throwing up for hours tomorrow morning.” And after one flight too many where I found myself praying “Dear God, make this a smooth flight or just kill me right now,” I realized I didn’t want to drink any more.

If I'm at a party and not drinking makes someone uncomfortable, I'll nurse one for an entire evening. But as most of my friends will tell you, Diet Pepsi is my beverage of choice, and has been for many years. Offer me a bottle of scotch or a big piece of chocolate, and I’ll take the chocolate every time.

Folks like Mike never got to that fork in the road. They just kept on going. Sober, Mike was a good guy. On Mondays, however, when I’d guess he’d had a weekend to imbibe, he could be a terror. In the year I worked with him, he must have turned in his resignation a dozen times. Something would set him off, he’d blow up, and he’d quit. Hours later, he’d come back, hat in hand, and say he was ready to go to work again. I’d say fine, and we’d go on.

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clear sky

45.0°F

Ashburn

Clear Sky

Humidity: 42%

Wind: 16.11 m/h

Mon

broken clouds

28/45°F

Tue

scattered clouds

20/37°F

Wed

snow

28/33°F

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