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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Patience pays off in college football — just ask Beamer

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

With the current football season having reached the halfway point, there are a number of likely developments as the final games are played.

This is the time of the year when the cream rises. Many teams will advance toward the ultimate goal and others will fall by the wayside.

For years, we have been reminded that the football world always remembers November, which is right around the corner. College football has some unsettling issues right now. Schedules for 2013 are incomplete, owing to conference expansion. The bowls are nervous about how things will play out, and there are coaches who are nervous about their future.

With all the pressures and money involved today, athletic directors are less patient than ever. The constituency demands it, but if you checked the final results of Saturday’s games on Sunday, you probably noticed that half the teams lost. Demanding a winner is one thing, but getting it is something which is not so easy to come by.

The successful coaches are able to win over a long period of time. Even so, the coaches considered the best, based on a career, usually win about 75 percent of the time or less. The Alabama model is what everybody uses as a guideline.

When Alabama fired Mike Shula and hired Saban for $4 million, the school pretty much recouped its investment with merchandising and marketing options. Johnny Majors, the former Tennessee coach, asked Mal Moore, athletic director at Alabama, if “any coach is worth that much money.”

Moore’s reply, “Every penny.”

There is a message there. Athletic directors, if they can find a winning coach, are willing to pay big sums for championship consistency. What worked for Alabama might not work for others, but many decision makers make note of what took place in Tuscaloosa when Saban was hired.

An interesting development took place in Blacksburgh, Va., when Frank Beamer was hired as head coach of Virginia Tech in 1987. Beamer who is considered one of the top coaches in the business with six Atlantic Coast Conference championships (plus three Big East titles prior to that) and 19 bowl appearances was the beneficiary of remarkable patience in his first six years when he won 24 games, lost 40 and tied two.

His record during that time: 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 5-6 and 2-8-1. What athletic director today would stick with his incumbent coach with that record today?

If you said, “none,” you would probably be right.

There was a big turnaround at Virginia Tech in 1993 when Beamer fielded a 9-3 team. In 1995-96, his teams won 10 games in back-to-back seasons, and he has won 10 or more games eight times. He has won over 200 games in his career and remains active in the game today.

About the only thing he hasn’t accomplished in his career is to win a national championship. He played for the championship in the 2000 Sugar Bowl but lost to Florida State, 46-29. His quarterback was Michael Vick, and Mark Richt was the Seminole’s offensive coordinator. Richt would become Georgia’s head coach in 2001.

Once Beamer won nine games in 1993 and took his team to the Independence Bowl, he has had double digit winning seasons every year but five. He won seven games in 1997 and eight games in three other seasons and nine twice. Beamer’s consistency of success is exceptional.

With a reputation for his defensive expertise and his penchant for developing extraordinary special teams, Beamer has won 66 per cent of his games, a percentage affected negatively by his first six years when he lost sixteen more games than he won.

In the last 19 years of his career, Beamer has been one of the most successful coaches in college football. If he were coming along today, however, he likely would not have lasted five years, based on his 1987-92 start.