Frank Beamer writes poignantly and modestly, confesses about a broken promise, questions a rival’s recruiting and censures one of his most talented players. Those were my primary takeaways from “Let Me Be Frank — My Life At Virginia Tech ,” the autobiography Beamer penned with college football author Jeff Snook.
The 293-page offering, due for September release, traces Beamer’s path from his rural upbringing in North Carolina and Virginia through the 2012 season, his 26th as the Hokies’ head coach. Most of the material is rehash, unavoidable for a public figure, but even those segments are well-presented, a credit to Snook and the extraordinary access Beamer granted him for two years.
Beamer opens up as never before about the shootings that struck Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, some coaching decisions he second-guesses and the severe burns he sustained at age 7 — he endured more than 30 subsequent surgeries.
“I was around the hospital so much as a kid,” Beamer writes, “I really did think for a while that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. Then I realized you had to be pretty smart, and that ended that idea.”
There’s Beamer at his self-effacing best, a theme sustained throughout the book with tales of his playing and early coaching days — the frog in his flooded bedroom was amusing — and obsession with golf.
Beamer also details his initial struggles at Tech and the satisfaction that accompanied the first bowl bid of his tenure: the 1993 Independence.
“Now I am telling you,” Beamer says, “we would celebrate Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl invitations in years to come, but nothing matched that day. It was our first bowl berth and it felt like we had won the Super Bowl.”
But every book needs some surprises, and “Let Me Be Frank” obliges.
For example, Beamer for the first time acknowledges what many have long known: He agreed to leave Virginia Tech for North Carolina in November 2000.
Beamer recalls the exact date: Saturday, Nov. 18. The Michael Vick-led Hokies were 9-1, ranked sixth nationally and had the week off prior to their regular-season finale against Virginia.
“It would be one of the biggest mistakes of my life,” Beamer concedes.
The morning after Tech defeated U.Va., Beamer flew to Chapel Hill, N.C., to finalize details and tour the school’s football complex. Then-Tar Heels athletic director Dick Baddour suggested a Monday news conference, but Beamer insisted on returning to Blacksburg to inform his staff and team.
After a sleepless Sunday night at home, Beamer met with Tech athletic director Jim Weaver and university president Charles Steger, secured raises for the entire coaching staff and decided to remain at his alma mater.
“What was most important to my decision-making process was the fact that those football facilities were built on somebody else’s blood and sweat,” Beamer says of North Carolina. “They weren’t built from my work.”
To say the least, calling Baddour was awkward, and Beamer led with the classic break-up line: “Listen, this is nothing to do with you. It’s me.”
How the respective programs would have fared -- North Carolina hired John Bunting, who went 27-45 in six years -- is anyone’s guess, but there’s no denying the Beamer-Blacksburg fit.
“Of course, the one regret I do have is that I went back on my word,” he writes. “My word has always been solid my entire life and this was the one time I broke it. But I broke it for a good reason, probably the best reason: loyalty.”
Beamer shows similar loyalty to Vick, the quarterback of Tech’s benchmark teams of 1999 and 2000, the former of which reached the national championship game.
“He changed the whole culture here,” Beamer says. “He made Virginia Tech a name brand. He made Virginia Tech cool.”
Beamer remains incredulous that Vick, who often brought a dog to practice, nearly ruined his NFL career with savage treatment of dogs. But the two remain close, and Beamer admires how Vick has resurrected his life on and off the field.
“I will always hold him in a very high regard,” Beamer writes.
The same does not apply to Vick’s younger brother, Marcus, a Hokies quarterback whom Beamer dismissed from the program in January 2006 after repeated transgressions.
“I never saw another Michael Vick,” Beamer says. “The only guy I ever saw who was close was his little brother, Marcus.”
But: “Unlike Michael, Marcus just didn’t seem to care if he disappointed me. … One of my assistants joked that his, ‘Yes, Coach’ answers really meant ‘Screw you, Coach.’”
Marcus Vick has had myriad legal entanglements since exiting Tech.
“He had the ability to be in the NFL for many years,” Beamer says. “Now I worry about his future.”
Beamer also states his views on various college football issues, among them recruiting, where he takes a none-too-veiled shot at Virginia, a rival his Hokies have defeated nine consecutive years. In comparing the proliferation of offseason 7-on-7 combines and tournaments to summer basketball, Beamer notes the rising influence of third parties on prospects.
“We are seeing certain mentors tied to different colleges,” Beamer writes. “They are getting involved in recruiting and may direct a kid, or group of kids, to a certain college. Our coaches tell me they have been seeing quite a bit of this in the Virginia Beach area.”
Beamer doesn’t specify Virginia and coach Mike London, for whom he later professes respect, but he doesn’t have to. The Cavaliers’ recent recruiting success in Virginia Beach and south Hampton Roads has been well-documented, and absent concrete facts, Beamer’s indirect jab is petty and out of character.
Beamer remains in character writing about his affection for and admiration of Virginia Tech. For example:
“Here’s a statistic that tells a special story: Every one of those 25 students who were wounded (April 16) not only stayed at Virginia Tech but eventually graduated from Virginia Tech.”
“This has been my home since I arrived here as an unsure freshman quarterback in the summer of 1965, and it will remain my home until the day they put me in the ground.”
At the risk of playing spoiler, some other nuggets from the book:
* Beamer confirms that he interviewed then-Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton for the same position at Virginia Tech in January. But Hamilton, Beamer writes, was set on other opportunities — he later became the Indianapolis Colts’ coordinator, joining former Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck.
* Among the many elite quarterbacks he’s coached against, including Luck, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb, Beamer says that the best against Tech was California’s Aaron Rodgers in the 2003 Insight Bowl.
* Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster tells Snook that he turned down an opportunity to join Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M staff prior to last season.
* Bob Knight’s short foreword is worth the read, if only for the officiating critique.
* Beamer reveals that he had surgery last July for a blocked carotid artery that doctors told him could have caused a stroke.
* After mentioning Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe and Texas’ Mack Brown as coaches he admires, Beamer says, “You know who else impresses me? Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett. I am a Hokie through and through, but I like the way he handles himself and how he coaches his team.”
* In the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Beamer remains conflicted over removing the 2010 Joseph V. Paterno Award from his office. He says it was a “politically correct” decision and that he still doesn’t fully understand Paterno’s role. “The bottom line was that I considered him a friend,” Beamer writes.
* Paterno’s widow, Sue, called Beamer in January to suggest he hire Bill Kenney, one of her husband’s assistants at Penn State.
* The book misspells Beamer’s Scotch of choice: Johnnie Walker Black.
* Losing hurts now more than ever: “I also think I am having a tougher time getting over losses than I ever used to. Maybe that’s because we are expected to win every game since we turned the program around. I don’t know. I just know I hate letting our fans down.”
* On retirement: “I will know when the time is right. I am well aware that it is possible to stay around too long.”
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