Local Hokies reflect on Beamer’s legacy ahead of coach’s final game

Former Virginia Tech linebacker Ben Taylor doesn’t remember all of the specific details of his first face-to-face interaction with Frank Beamer during Taylor’s first recruiting visit to Blacksburg.

Taylor, a product of Bellaire High School in Ohio, recalls entering Beamer’s “huge” office and noticing the accolades that had begun piling up for the head coach, who was just a couple years removed from a Sugar Bowl win over Texas in 1995, the moment often regarded as the turning point for Hokie football in the Beamer era. Taylor remembers being wide-eyed as he chatted with the man who would become not only the face of Hokie football, but of Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community.

What was said during that interaction wasn’t important – for Taylor, simply having an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting was enough.

“When I went on a visit with (the University of Virginia), you know, I didn’t meet (former Cavaliers head coach) George Welsh and those people. But Coach Beamer made it a point,” said Taylor, who now teaches physical education at Millbrook High School in Winchester and volunteered as an assistant coach with Shenandoah University’s football program this past fall. “… Just the fact that he took time out of his day to come talk to me and stuff like that. I wasn’t a highly regarded recruit at the time but it didn’t matter.”

Since Beamer announced his retirement as Virginia Tech’s head coach at season’s end on Nov. 1, so many former players, fellow coaches, colleagues, fans and the like have shared their personal stories of Beamer’s impact during his 29 years as the Hokies’ head coach. The last two months became a well-deserved farewell tour, and Virginia Tech’s players rewarded the legendary coach by locking up the school’s 23rd consecutive bowl appearance – the nation’s longest active streak – with a win over rival Virginia on Nov. 28.

On a personal level for Taylor, who played for the Hokies from 1998 to 2001 and helped Tech to its only national championship game appearance in the 1999 season, Beamer’s greatest impact was that he simply gave Taylor a chance.

“I think so many things are being said about him it’s kind of hard not to repeat certain things. The thing is, it’s all true,” said Taylor, a two-time All-American at Virginia Tech who went on to play five seasons in the NFL. “He’s such a great guy and the biggest thing probably for me was giving me an opportunity because I wasn’t a highly regarded (recruit) … but they saw something in me and they took a chance and I tried to reward them for that.”

Taylor describes Beamer as a man who “always carried himself with class” and handled people the right way, a trait Taylor said was supported by the 25 different sets of brothers who have played under the longtime head coach. Taylor also called Beamer a father figure to many, even to coaches on his own staff, and a “down to earth guy” who always did what was best for Virginia Tech.

Jay Neal, a Strasburg High School graduate who played football at Virginia Tech in the pre-Beamer years from 1972 to 1975, likened Beamer’s impact on his players to Neal’s own experience playing for Strasburg’s former longtime coach Glenn Proctor, who coached the Rams for 44 years before stepping down in 2007.

“I think Coach Beamer has been, to the guys that played for him, like Glenn Proctor was for me and for anybody else who played for Glenn Proctor,” Neal said. “Coach Proctor was a coach that knew the game and could teach the game, but you learned a lot more than the game while you were learning the game. And you end up just absolutely respecting these people to death. I mean, Coach Proctor I’ve got on a pedestal and he will always be there. And I think for the guys who played with Beamer and the comments I’ve read through the years, Beamer’s kind of the same way.”

Taylor, who can speak from personal experience, agrees.

“He didn’t tear you down as a person, never challenged your character or anything like that. It’s all about making yourself better, and really just about life,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot more lessons being taught than just football.”

Virginia Tech ascended into college football relevancy under Beamer’s watchful eye. A former Hokie himself, Beamer returned to his alma mater when he was appointed the school’s head coach in 1987.

In those 29 years since Beamer’s hire, Virginia Tech won four ACC championships and three Big East Conference titles and made six BCS appearances and a trip to the national championship game. Since 1999, Beamer has earned eight national coach of the year awards, and his 277 career wins rank sixth all-time among Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision coaches.

Neal, who experienced just two winning seasons under two different head coaches during his Virginia Tech career, said Beamer “took Tech to a totally different level” by placing an emphasis on strength and conditioning and providing counselors to help players develop the right frame of mind to succeed, among other things.

“Beamer brought all of that in there and developed that through the years,” said Neal, who, like Taylor, praised Virginia Tech’s hiring of Justin Fuente to replace Beamer. “Of course, having that guy named Michael Vick didn’t hurt him, but they went to unheard of heights. When I was playing, for folks on the West Coast Virginia Tech might’ve been a score on the bottom line. … Well Beamer put Virginia Tech on the map. He really did.”

Beamer’s coaching career will come to an end Saturday when the Hokies (6-6) take on Tulsa in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana – a fitting venue considering it was in the 1993 Independence Bowl that Beamer and the Hokies began their 23-year bowl streak.

Of course, Taylor would like to see Virginia Tech send Beamer out a winner. But he’d also like to catch a glimpse of “Beamerball” one final time.

“I tell ya, I’d like to see a blocked punt,” he said.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com