- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Andy Griffith made a living telling people “What it was, was football,” and so has Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.

Griffith and Beamer were born in the same town, Mount Airy, N.C. — the inspiration for television’s mythical Mayberry.

Although Virginia Tech’s media guide calls Hillsville, Va., Beamer’s hometown, that’s because only the locals have ever heard of Fancy Gap.

A small mountain community known for its rural values, Fancy Gap is the final drop-off point before heading down the mountain to Mount Airy. Beamer chuckled when he heard the comparison but trumpeted the similarities. Proud of his rural mountain heritage, Beamer said his days at The Citadel and Murray State gave him angst about getting back to his roots.

“I didn’t realize how much I liked the mountains until I got away from them. Then I realized they were pretty special,” said Beamer. “But the thing I really realized is, there are just a lot of good people there, caring people. Everybody’s about the same and worked hard. Good people, that’s what I remember about it.”

As the Hokies prepare to meet Auburn in tomorrow night’s Sugar Bowl, many memories are taking Beamer back to Fancy Gap. That’s because he spent much of the summer and fall making trips to his hometown to visit his ill mother, Herma Beamer.

She died in the wee hours of Nov.18, but Beamer coached against Maryland that night to fulfill one of her final requests. His Hokies — who started 2-2 and had low expectations — showed a national television audience they were for real with a 55-6 drubbing of a Terrapins team that was picked to finish ahead of them.

The 1995 Sugar Bowl run was similar for Beamer, whose father died during that season. That team started 0-2 and then won 10 straight. Like this year’s Hokies, they were unranked for much of the season, but a 28-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Texas meant a top-10 finish in the polls.

The man from Fancy Gap is aiming for a finish similar to 1995, this time against unbeaten, third-ranked Auburn in a BCS bowl. Beamer knows the Tigers are upset about being left out of the national championship game. As the Hokies prepared for an angry Auburn team, they carried with them lessons learned from their coach.

Respect is the theme in the Virginia Tech locker room, not only for teammates but for opponents as well. When Beamer saw his team fall apart at the end of the 2003 season, he began looking for ways to re-establish respect, one of many forms of discipline.

“We roomed offense with defense, black with white — really made it a team concept,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I think [Beamer] learned a valuable lesson last year.”

Several players said they chose Virginia Tech over other programs because they were liked the respect and the down-to-earth approach of Beamer and his staff.

“I had heard in the past how they had treated their walk-ons,” said Chad Grimm, a walk-on linebacker and the son of Washington Redskins “Hog” Russ Grimm. “Just how the coaches treat and respect everyone. I mean, they treat everyone equal.”

By re-establishing his Fancy Gap values this season, Beamer instilled respect and discipline in the ranks without micro-managing.

“He lets you do your job is what I’m trying to say, and I don’t know how many head coaches in the country are like that,” said Billy Hite, Tech’s associate head coach and running backs coach and the only remaining coach from Beamer predecessor Bill Dooley’s staff. “I personally wouldn’t want to work for anyone else in the country. I’m sure that’s why I’ve been here so long.”

One episode that demonstrated Beamer’s penchant for respect and discipline occurred during his 1990 contract negotiation, which came amid a recession and the freezing of all Virginia state employee salaries. Although his contract included a substantial raise, Beamer refused to take more money until the classified employees and faculty received raises as well.

Beamer, like TV star Griffith, could easily have taken a different path.

Griffith, a North Carolina graduate, went to college to become a minister but studied music instead. Beamer thought he would end up at Wake Forest but chose Virginia Tech after being passed over by the Winston-Salem school just down the mountain.

Hokies fans will be forever grateful.

You see, there’s nothing fancy about the man from Fancy Gap — just a lot of things that are right.

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