I have to admit up-front I dislike inappropriate comparisons. Especially ones that may sound good on the surface but are seriously flawed when given any serious attention.
If you paid attention to some of the sportscasters and sportswriters in this area of the country recently, you’d think Virginia Tech didn’t play very good football before Frank Beamer set foot on the Blacksburg campus. If you believed that, you're mistaken. Those sportswriters and sportscasters are flat-out wrong.
With all of the talk in this area last week about NC State and North Carolina -- which program is in better shape for the future, and which head coach is better suited to the task -- comparisons to Frank Beamer and Tech were being thrown about. Most of them quite carelessly, I might add.
Usually the comments went like this, “how often does a coach come in and completely change the direction of the program? Frank Beamer came in and really turned-around the Virginia Tech program and they’re a national contender now”. Or, “just like Florida State, Virginia Tech wasn’t anything until Frank Beamer got them turned around.” Hmmm. Florida State had some limited success before Bowden, and he certainly DID change things markedly in Tallahassee, no question. But Tech, pre-Beamer, wasn’t anywhere near the football black hole that FSU was, pre-Bowden. Has anybody ever heard of Jerry Claiborne? How about Bill Dooley? Obviously a few sports "experts" hadn't.
Claiborne coached the Hokies from 1961-1970 (61-39-2, 2 bowl appearances) and Dooley coached Tech from 1978-1986 (64-37-1, 3 bowl appearances). Claiborne jumped from Blacksburg to the University of Maryland to try to turn-around sagging Terrapin fortunes. He did, too – 10 years, 3 ACC Championships, 7 Bowl appearances, 77-37-3 record. No slouch, Claiborne. Bill Dooley had turned-around UNC’s program (69-53-2, 3 ACC Championships and 6 Bowl appearances in 11 years) before he took over at Blacksburg in 1978.
When you look at the number of bowl appearances for Virginia Tech, you should note it was a member of the Southern Conference until 1964 (1st 4 years of Claiborne’s era) and then was an independent through the entire Dooley era, and into early Beamer. It joined the Big East in 1991. So, the possibility of making a bowl appearance was not nearly as easy for Tech then -- there were far fewer bowl games to go around in the early days, and Tech had no conference tie-ins, nor championships from 1965 to 1991 which would have put the Hokies in a possible “automatic” bowl berth.
True, Tech was NOT so hot between Claiborne and Dooley, when Charlie Coffey and Jimmy Sharpe combined for a 33-44-2 record. But Coffey did go 6-4-1 in 1972, while Sharpe went 8-3 in 1976 and 6-5 in 1977, so there were some winning seasons in that rough period.
As for coaching records, Bill Dooley’s .632 winning percentage in 9 years at Blacksburg looks suspiciously like Beamer’s 18 year tally of .636. Claiborne was not too far back of either of them at .608. It’s also interesting to note that it took Beamer 7 years before he would field a consistent winner: his 5 year mark was just 22-32-1; and it took him 9 years before he moved his career record at Tech to better than .500 (51-49-2). That’s giving the man a lot of rope. Something most coaches don’t get nowadays.
The point is none of that can take away from Beamer’s status as a top college coach right now. The Hokies ARE a national contender -- now. However, it’s also pretty lazy to paint the past with such a broad brush. In reality, Tech wasn't a football black hole before Beamer, and therefore does not qualify as a from-nowhere-to-the-top story. Not in the least.