Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, North Carolina, Clemson, and now Miami. The list of teams to beat Virginia Tech this season has added another member as of Thursday night.
Now you might be thinking that this post is a bit late, which it is. However, I wanted to have the rest of the weekend to collect my thoughts. I didn’t want to overreact, and I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I would say something stupid based on irrational emotion. Well, I’ve taken my time and I’ve collected my thoughts. You’re about to read my thoughts about the overarching state of Virginia Tech’s program. This article will be centered around one word – pride.
I want to address something that was mentioned regularly after the loss on Thursday night – that is – pride.
“I think the greatest thing you can play for, when it’s all said and done, is pride.”
–Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech Head Coach
This is what Frank Beamer said after Thursday’s loss to Miami. At this point what Frank said might not be too far off. This is the worst Virginia Tech team in 20 years, meaning this is the worst I’ve ever seen Virginia Tech in my lifetime. That also means that for the players on the team, this is the worst Virginia Tech has been in their lifetimes too. The difference being that they are a part of the team and have the power to control things.
Pride is a weird thing to play for at this point in the season, and it’s something Virginia Tech has rarely HAD to hold onto in order to salvage a season. But what is pride? How do you define pride within the context of a season as unique as this? Is it making the ACC Championship game again (which is still potentially possible if Miami imposes a bowl-ban/post-season ban on themselves)? Is it beating Florida State in what some most consider one of the best atmospheres in college football (Lane Stadium on a Thursday night)? Is it beating your in-state rival, UVA? Is it reaching a bowl game for the 20th straight year?
Or is it something else?
We all hope and assume that the players and coaches are giving it their all during the games. It would be hard to second guess about effort on the field. But what about off the field? What about the times in-between games? What about during the off-season?
Todd Washington, a former Virginia Tech player and current assistant offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens, had this to say recently:
“The Entitlement Generation has no idea what is really needed to compete. Instead of letting Gentry do what is NEEDED, the new generation of players bitch and moan to anyone that will listen…
…Days off? Not practicing during bowl weeks? 6 am mat drills? PHASES? (former players know what I’m talking about with this one) Ironman competition? Sumo wrestling? Stadium runs? Things that are needed are gone…
…Players play, coaches coach. PERIOD. If a player isn’t performing, the bench is a great motivator. If he wants to transfer, let him. Don’t worry about redshirts. Play the players that buy in.”
-Todd Washington, former Virginia Tech offensive lineman
Let’s go back to that question – what is pride? I’d argue that when it comes to sports, pride is equivalent to effort. But effort has to go beyond gameday. I know these players work their asses off during practice, in the weight room, and on the field. However, it appears that what the coaches used to take pride in has now shifted.
Virginia Tech football came into prominence based about taking pride in the toughness of the players. The tenacity of the players and coaches to get prepared to smack the other team in the mouth – that is what exudes pride. Somehow over the course of the past 20 years, the pride in Virginia Tech’s program has become results-based instead of work-based.
Simply put – perhaps Virginia Tech got caught up in the bowl-appearance streak, the 10-win season streak, or maybe even the string of wins over UVA. Whatever the case may be, maybe the results got elevated in significance over the work that the players and coaches put in.
And Todd Washington is right – the removal of two-a-days, the days off during bowl week, those are things that build toughness and improve execution.
One of Frank Beamer’s favorite talking points after a loss always involves execution. Something along the lines of “we just didn’t go out there and execute” always seems to find its way peppered into every post-loss presser. Perhaps there’s a reason the team isn’t executing as well.
Leading up to Miami the Hokies had a bye week. The coaches decided to give the players essentially four days off following a Saturday loss at Clemson. Instead of using those extra days to prepare, practice plays, watch film, etc. the coaches decided to give the players over half a week off to “mentally and physically recover.” The coaches decided to treat that bye week like a mini-vacation and only prepped with the players for Miami for the usual four or five days before a game.
Perhaps that’s something that Todd Washington was alluding to. Pride? If I were a player I would want to get back out there on the practice field to improve. For a team that has looked so ugly over the past five games (the Hokies have lost four of their last five), where is the pride in resting? Pride is going out there and busting your collective asses to get better. Pride is revving up the engines before a game that was imperative to Virginia Tech’s chances of winning the ACC Coastal this season.
Resting? Days off? These are things that Todd Washington wouldn’t have taken pride in doing. On Thursday you could hardly tell the Hokies were coming off a bye week. They looked sloppy, sluggish, and unprepared for handling a Miami team that had the 119th ranked rushing defense in the country. Instead of working extra hard to exploit their opponent’s biggest weakness, the Hokies rested and relaxed in the midst of the worst season in 20 years.
Where’s the pride in that?
One of the worst aspects of Virginia Tech’s team this year has been the special teams play – once the pride and identity of Virginia Tech, and more specifically, Frank Beamer. On Thursday against Miami, these were the special teams blunders:
- A.J. Hughes mis-handles a snap, gets his punt blocked (sets up a touchdown)
- Hokies continually kick the ball off to Duke Johnson who takes one for a ridiculous 81-yard return (sets up a touchdown)
- Cody Journell misses an extra point
- Cody Journell misses a 47-yard field goal
Beamerball? What a concept! One that I said earlier this season that Virginia Tech fans took pride in. It was certainly a concept that Frank Beamer took pride in. Where’s the pride now? Where is the pride in a concept that has been on the down-slope for years, and is frankly no longer being executed even to a decent degree?
Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times had this to say about the state of Beamerball:
“Beamer insists the issues are execution-related. And he has a point. Simply catching the snap and staying in your lane are execution problems. But coaching has to have something to do with that. Tech reps special teams as often as it ever has, yet these problems keep popping up on a weekly basis and have for a while (roughing the kicker penalties in last year’s ACC title game and Sugar Bowl proved costly, and Danny Coale’s ill-advised fake punt attempt will not soon be forgotten). Beamer made his reputation on being a special teams guru, but that part of the Hokies’ game has lagged for years now. If “Beamer Ball” wasn’t already long-expired concept, last night might have cemented it as one.”
–Andy Bitter, Virginia Tech beat writer
Frank Beamer would certainly disagree with these sentiments, as he is one to do, but is Bitter really wrong? All this talk of pride and playing for pride this season is great, but are we really taking pride in watching a staple of Virginia Tech’s success die?
The fans should take pride in their team. The players should take pride in their team. But so should the coaches – they, too, should take pride in their team. Over the past five years we’ve seen a dramatic decline in the effectiveness of “Beamerball,” but not much has been done to address it.
We’ve seen the same thing on the offensive side of the ball. Band-aids in the form of NFL caliber talent on the offensive side of the ball have covered up the blemishes of a wholly ineffective offensive mindset at Virginia Tech for quite some time now. Those band-aids are gone now and we see what’s really left – that is – an ineffective combination of conservative mindedness, yet forced modernization, that has blended together to form a gumbo of confusion and ineptitude.
Sometimes pride means making changes for the greater good. Sometimes pride means letting go of something that you once held very dear to your heart. And sometimes pride means taking a step back and realizing that all good things must come to an end.
A lot of good things are coming to an end this season – the 10-win season streak for sure, maybe the bowl streak, and maybe even the beating-UVA streak. There’s still time to salvage some of those good things though, and maybe even some other things as well.
What is clear though is that the players do still need to play for pride this season. They need to go out, bust their asses, and try to win out. They need to continue to work hard not just for the fans or coaches, but for themselves.
For Frank Beamer though, if pride really is as important as he says it is, perhaps this is the off-season that finally results in some much-needed changes. The future of Virginia Tech football is hanging in the balance right now, and it’s time to see where Frank Beamer’s pride is really at. Will he put the well-being of the program above that of his long-time assistants and coaches, or will try to ride out this storm?
Only Beamer knows the answers to these questions, but it’s about time we see how far loyalty and pride can really take a team.