How Can Virginia Tech Be Fixed?

Seven years ago, who would have thought that Michigan, Texas, USC, and Florida would have encountered such profound upheavals? Each of those programs has faced a coaching transition since the end of 2007. Two of those programs have already burned through multiple coaches in that period of time, and a third — Florida — will make another coaching change at the end of this season, barring a highly improbable series of events.

Now, you can add Virginia Tech to the list of “brand-name programs in 2007 that are currently floundering.”

The Student Section editors discuss the road ahead for the Hokies, and we also offer predictions on a very uncertain and unsettled season.

Today, the editors are pleased to welcome a guest to our roundtable. Student Section columnist Allen Kenney, one of the best college football thinkers in the country (long before his association with us — he’s been crafting high-quality commentary for many years in this business), joins our discussion on these and more issues. He’ll be with us for tomorrow’s roundtables as well.


Point-blank: How do you fix Virginia Tech football right now?

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

Quite frankly, the team needs to go back to playing Beamer Ball and running the football.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Virginia Tech’s offense hardly resembles the units that used to compete for Big East and ACC titles year in and year out. While many people want to place the blame on offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, the problem existed long before he arrived in Blacksburg. For whatever reason(s), the offense hasn’t been able to run the ball over the last three seasons.

As Tech’s ground game goes so does its offense. Sure, the Hokie rushing attack would generate on occasional clunker in the past, such as the 2011 Orange Bowl (66 yards, 1.9 yards per carry) or the 2011 ACC Championship Game (56 yards, 1.9 ypc). However, this inability to pound the rock has become a huge problem in the past three years, as Tech has failed to run for 100 yards in 13 of its 34 games. This has gotten worse over two seasons, with the Hokies eclipsing 4.0 yards per carry against just one power five opponent. Ironically, that came against Alabama in the 2013 season opener, which the Hokies lost, 34-10.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this needs to change. Until the Tech ground game forces opposing teams to put in eight the box to stop the run, the offense will continue to struggle. However, if it can at least establish the threat of the run, the Virginia Tech offense is extremely dangerous… just ask Ohio State.

I’d like to conclude this message with a warning to Hokie fans: YOU DO NOT WANT TO FIRE FRANK BEAMER. Sure, the team has fallen on hard times lately, but the fact of the matter is that the program is where it is today solely because of Coach Beamer’s brilliance over the years. To make a move now would be every bit as idiotic as Baylor’s move to fire Chuck Reedy at the end of the 1996 campaign after finish 4-7 in the Big 12. The school’s unwillingness to stick with Reedy proved costly as the Bears went 39-110 (.261) over the next 13 seasons.

That’s considerably worse than finishing 7-6 and going to a bowl game.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

I’ll put the matter very simply:

Frank Beamer, you’ve demonstrated uncommon loyalty to assistants in your decorated College Football Hall of Fame-worthy career. Sure, other coaches show and command loyalty, but that’s something you’ve demonstrated to a noticeable extent, such that you’ve stood out from the crowd in the coaching profession.

Loyalty to Scot Loeffler at this point seems misplaced, but loyalty to another one of your assistants can now give way to the moment a lot of Virginia Tech fans have been hoping for.

Hand over the keys to Bud Foster and make him Virginia Tech’s next head football coach, creating a line of succession and giving Foster the chance to make even more of an imprint on the program. Convince Foster — if he needs any convincing — that it’s his time and his choice to do what he wants.

It’s time.

Allen Kenney:

On Twitter @BlatantHomerism

If you’re talking about fixing Virginia Tech football this season, that looked like a lost cause Thursday night versus Miami. A finishing kick of Boston College, Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia puts the Hokies’ chances of getting two more wins and making a postseason bowl in jeopardy.

Longer term, it seems clear that Frank Beamer’s tenure in Blacksburg is drawing to a close. Beamer followed the blueprint that tends to work best for schools that aren’t generally thought of as traditional powers, focusing on the little things and building his program around a unique defensive philosophy. It took long enough, but everyone has caught up to Beamerball.

Tech can draw from an underrated talent base in the Mid-Atlantic region. In the ACC, however, the Hokies can’t plan on out-talenting programs such as Florida State and Clemson. They need a resourceful coach in the Beamer mold who can put his own unique stamp on the program. I wouldn’t pretend to have a specific name, but I wouldn’t hesitate to drop down a level to look at candidates.
Virginia Tech needs to consider the example of Tennessee at the end of the Phillip Fulmer era when planning its next step.

Virginia Tech needs to consider the example of Tennessee at the end of the Phillip Fulmer era when planning its next step.

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

I’ve always lived by the credo, “If you treat people right, you’ll get your desired result.” I think that applies here. Pre-Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech football was something of a dumpster fire with an eternal flame.

But you’ve got to do things the right way. Looking at Phil Fulmer at Tennessee or Lloyd Carr at Michigan and doing the exact opposite would be VT’s desired course of action. Look, Frank Beamer is a human being, and we all know when we’re on the back nine of our careers or relationships or anything else.

Beamer is smart enough to know this is probably closer to the end than the beginning. So you bring him in if you’re the school AD and just ask him what he thinks of the future. Assess. Be open. Talk about how things need to be better, and no matter what, a transition plan at some point needs to happen.

“What role do you want after you retire from coaching football here, Frank?”

Or: “Where do you see this program in five years?”

Or: “Ideally, what kind of transition plan do you see down the road when you decide to stop coaching, and what timetable would you apply to that vision?”

If you treat people right, everything will work out just fine. Tennessee and Michigan didn’t, and they suffer to this day for it, either directly or karmatically.


Question No. 2: Two months have come and gone this season; a little over one month remains until Selection Sunday, the football version. What’s one aspect of this season you think you have a handle on, one thing you’re extremely confident will happen in the coming weeks?

Bart Doan:

I’ll say the same thing I said after week three: The Big Ten is getting a team into the CFB Playoff. You can carp, moan, and whine all you want, but it’s going down.

I’ve said it for years … college football figures itself out. It’s not always the sexiest finish, but for the most part, things get to the point they need to be at with few exceptions. The 2011 season would be one of those.

The fact is, there are only five power conferences, so four of those conferences are likely to push through a playoff team unless something special happens.

Nothing special is happening in the B1G. Or everything special is, if you’re Jim Delany. Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State have distanced themselves from the fray and will end up getting a playoff spot out of one of them.

They’ll all play one another in some way, MSU and OSU on Nov. 8, Nebraska if nothing else in the B1G title game after winning a mostly flaccid B1G West. The Big 12 has disaster written all over it because every team plays every other team.

The Pac-12 is basically down to Oregon and whichever Arizona team makes the title game; the SEC West will eventually all play one another; the ACC is FSU; Notre Dame lingers.

With natural attrition bound to happen going forward, the B1G is going to be there. The saltiness nationally if it wins will be the stuff of legend.


Terry Johnson:

I can’t say with 100 percent confidence what’s going to happen this season. Who would have predicted that Mississippi State would be No. 1 or that Utah would even have a puncher’s chance to win the Pac-12 South after losing to Washington State in its conference opener? Who would have thought that Michigan fans would be whining about Michigan State running up a score rather than yelling at the defense to keep Sparty out of the end zone?

With those disclaimers in mind, I’ll go on record and say that the SEC West will not put two teams into the College Football Playoff.

That’s not to say that the division won’t be well-represented in Tuesday evening’s initial CFP rankings. After all, the division has four teams in the top ten, as well as LSU at No. 16. Since the committee uses the “eyeball test” instead of an actual formula to determine strength of schedule, it’s tough to see any scenario that doesn’t place all of these schools within striking distance of a playoff spot based on their respective resumes so far.

However, that’s what would happen if the season ended today. The reason that the division won’t place more than one team in the field is because of the carnage that will unfold over the next several weeks.

Just look at the schedule. Of the top five teams in the West, four of them play at least two top ten opponents, while Alabama will square off against three ranked opponents to conclude the year. And while LSU appears to have the “easiest” slate the rest of the way (only one top-ten foe), it still must travel to Arkansas and Texas A&M to close out the season. While that sounds easy, remember that rivalry games have a way of producing some mild upsets (see: the last two Egg Bowls).

Sorry, SEC fans, but that brutal docket is going to produce plenty of losses. Whether the teams at the top split these meetings (resulting in a two-loss champion) or a couple of them emerge unscathed, it’s going to be virtually impossible to keep two teams in the top four. Remember, the Selection Committee is going to place emphasis on conference championships won as well as strength of schedule.

Given the backgrounds of the various committee members, I don’t think the league (or more appropriately the division) will get the nod over a major conference champion or Notre Dame, provided that the Irish win out. Doing so would give another chance to a team that didn’t take care of business the first time around, while failing to recognize a team that beat everyone in front of it.

That’s not a message the committee wants to send. The last thing the new system wants to see is a controversy that’s even bigger than the ones the BCS used to generate on a yearly basis.

Allen Kenney:

If you don’t mind me answering with a negative: I really don’t see the SEC putting two teams in the new playoff.

For starters, the teams in that conference are so close that I’d expect plenty of cannibalization to come in the next month. On top of the SEC championship game, look at some of the games left to be played: Georgia at Auburn, Alabama at LSU, Alabama at Auburn, Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Auburn at Ole Miss. That looks like a big game of knockout.

Also, the idea that the shot-callers would just let one conference swallow up half the field goes against everything that the history of college football tells us. It’s built around seeing that the big boys’ interests are taken care of. For example, look at all the weird carve-outs that have been built into the sport in the past for Notre Dame or the Rose Bowl.

The selection committee members represent a wide array of conference and geographic affiliations precisely for that reason. The Oliver Lucks and Barry Alvarezes won’t be keen on handing over two bids to one conference if they feel like there are legitimate cases for representatives from the other leagues.

Matt Zemek:

A two-loss team is getting into the playoff.

Yes, it’s easy to think that with Mississippi State and Florida State still unbeaten, and a list of one-loss teams in good position, no two-loss team will crash the playoff party. Yet, we haven’t even begun to play games in November, a month in which the pressure of the moment typically picks off a number of teams that aren’t used to the extreme scrutiny and its klieg-light glare. This season has felt like 2007, especially since the beginning of October. A smooth November would seem to cut against the volatility found in the current landscape. One two-loss team looks like a solid bet rather than a reach at this point.