- - Friday, September 2, 2011

BLACKSBURG — Dave Braine walked into Burruss Hall that Monday morning ready to lobby for a football coach who had few allies. It was a decision Braine knew could end up costing him his own job. Two days earlier, Virginia Tech finished the 1992 season 2-8-1 by losing to rival Virginia for the fifth time in six chances under Frank Beamer.

As Beamer walked off Lane Stadium’s field with his 15-year-old son Shane, a fan leaned over the railing. “Bye-bye, Frank,” he shouted. Earlier that fall, after a loss at Louisville, a man called Beamer’s house. His 10-year-old daughter Casey answered. The man “just unloaded on her, telling her what a bad coach her dad was,” Shane recalled.

Braine heard grumbling, too. Every Saturday morning, he met a dozen guys for coffee at Hardee’s on Main Street. The conversation often turned, Braine said, to “maybe I needed to make a change in the football program and I wasn’t smart enough to do it.” The demand for Beamer’s firing became so incessant that Braine stopped attending church.

Instead, he bought doughnuts on Sunday mornings and brought them to the football coaches’ meetings, where he listened to Beamer talk with his staff. Braine, a former assistant coach at Georgia Tech and Virginia, wanted to evaluate Beamer, so he sat in Beamer’s office after the meetings and asked him to explain his game-planning decisions.

Braine always thought Beamer gave the right answers. Moreover, Braine admired how Beamer never seemed upset or intimidated that his boss questioned his coaching. So Braine was prepared to defend Beamer that Monday morning when he walked into school president James McComas’ office. Braine wasn’t sure what to expect, and had no idea what he would do if McComas told him Beamer was finished.

McComas began the meeting by addressing his athletic director the way he always did.

“Mr. AD,” McComas said, “do we need to make a change in our football coach?”

“No, sir,” Braine replied. “He’s a good coach and we need to give him some help.”

The meeting lasted 10 minutes, and Braine left shocked by its brevity and outcome. Beamer would not only stay, but get more money Braine thought the coach needed to pay assistants. McComas never asked Braine, “Are you sure?” Others would question the move, but Braine said his decision to stand behind Beamer “was not tough at all.”

“I had a great deal of confidence after spending that period of time every Sunday with him,” Braine said. “It was probably 10 or 11 the most important Sundays in Frank Beamer’s life, because it basically saved his job. And look where he is today.”

Beamer, 64, is about to begin his 25th season at his alma mater. A homespun icon, Beamer turned his emphasis on game-changing defensive and special teams into a nationally known brand — Beamerball — and transformed Tech from a backwoods program to a fixture on the college football landscape.

His 240 wins are the ninth-most in Division I-A history. He hasn’t missed a bowl game since 1992. He coached in the national championship game after the 1999 season. He is a no-doubt College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

Tech’s athletic department was about $4 million in debt when he arrived in 1987. Last year, the department made $7.8 million and the football program profited $14.8 million.

When that fan heckled Beamer out of Lane Stadium in 1992, Beamer’s record at Tech was 24-40-1 and the stadium sat 52,500 — and rarely sold out. Since then, Beamer’s record is 174-55-1, and Lane now holds 66,233. Saturday’s opener against Appalachian State will be Tech’s 82nd consecutive home sellout.

“When I took the job, you were trying to survive,” Beamer said. “I don’t think I ever really considered: OK, I’d like to stay here 25 years.”

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