Shane Beamer played for his father Frank, you may have heard of him, in the mid-to-late 1990's, contributing to teams that would play in four New Year's Day bowls in his five seasons, including a Michael Vick-led bunch that battled Florida State for the national championship to close the 1999 season. But after growing up and then playing for his father, Beamer did not want to coach for him.
He insisted on beginning his coaching career elsewhere, landing a graduate assistant spot on George O'Leary's staff at Georgia Tech in 2000. He then migrated to Tennessee, Mississippi State and later South Carolina before returning to Blacksburg in 2011 as running backs coach and associate head coach.
FootballScoop caught up with Beamer over the weekend as asked about his trip to the Kentucky Derby, his journey through coaching, Virginia Tech's place in the ACC, where the program stands heading into 2015 and the game that set offensive football back half a century.
You were at the Kentucky Derby this weekend. How was that? It was good. Had a great time. Had never been before. I lived in Kentucky for eight years when my dad was the head coach at Murray State. I had always watched it on TV, never had a chance to go. It was a great time. My wife and I went, it was fun to people watch. The weather was great, there's so much pageantry and excitement. It was really cool.
How did you end up there? Did you buy tickets or did you have a hook-up? A guy by the name of Brad Prendergast was the football ops guy when I was at Mississippi State, my first full-time job. He's actually in Louisville now, works for Learfield Sports up there. He knew the right people and I got in touch with him. The timing was right. He took that job in the last year in Louisville, my wife has always wanted to go, it was a big thrill for her.
In talking to guys that have played and/or coached for their dads, most of them say they spent more time with them as a member of their team than they ever did while sharing a house growing up. Is that true for you? It was great for me when I played for him. I wasn't a great high school football player by any stretch of the imagination. I had some small school opportunities when I was coming out of high school, so it really came down to, do I want to walk-on at Virginia Tech and not play as much as maybe I would if I had gone to a smaller school. There were a lot of different reasons that I chose Virginia Tech but it was great as a player because I felt like we made up so much time that I didn't get to see him when I was in high school. Playing for him for four-and-a-half years was awesome. I saw him more in college than I did growing up in high school. Being back and being on his staff now, it's great from a personal standpoint, being able to spend time with your dad, but then also from a professional standpoint. I've been around some great coaches, I've been very blessed, but it was an opportunity for me to be with my dad but he's also a great coach. It was a great opportunity for me as from a professional standpoint, too.
Your resume reads differently than most position coaches, with experience hopping from cornerbacks to linebackers to running backs in addition to the special teams experience one would expect from a Beamer. To what do you attribute that versatility? A couple different things. When I finished up my playing career at Virginia Tech I didn't want to be one of those guys - and this is no disrespect to anybody coach's son that has done this - but I didn't want to be one of those sons of a coach that immediately out of college their dad hires them and they have not been anywhere else or have not been with anyone else and haven't gone out and made their own name. That was very, very important for me to do that. It just so happened that I was fortunate enough to start out as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech and was with a great staff there - Ralph Friedgen, George O'Leary, Bill O'Brien of the Texans was the running backs coach, Ted Roof was the defensive coordinator. It was a great staff. I started off working on offense there, had an opportunity to go to Tennessee and really wanted to stay on offense, that's what I thought I wanted to do. All Tennessee had open was a defensive graduate assistant position. I remember talking to Phillip Fulmer and I said, 'Coach, I really want to be an offensive coach but I'm worried about going over to defense.' He said, 'If you want to be an offensive coach the best thing you can do is to be a defensive graduate assistant. I did that at Wichita State. I was an o-lineman but I worked with the defense at Wichita and it was the best thing that I ever did, learning offense by coaching defense.' And that made a lot of sense. I spent three years as a graduate assistant at Tennessee coaching defense, and then when I got hired at Mississippi State it was coaching corners, and then after my second year, Freddie Kitchens, who's with the Arizona Cardinals, Freddie left to go to the NFL and we had a running backs job open. I just thought it would be a great opportunity. We were running the West Coast offense straight from what Coach (Sylvester) Croom had done in Green Bay with the Packers, and just thought it would be a great opportunity to learn that system, kind of spread my wings a little bit. And it was great. I loved it.
I always, whether I liked it or not, because of my last name was associated with special teams so I did that at South Carolina for the most part but also worked with defense. My first year there, with Tyrone Nix as the coordinator, was coaching outside linebackers. Tyrone left and we hired Ellis Johnson, I had been with Ellis at Mississippi State so I was familiar with what he wanted to get done, so that's where the whole corners thing came back into play with South Carolina, and then when I came back up here to Virginia Tech it was an opening on the offensive side of the ball and I enjoyed coaching offense. It's been good for me, learning all three phases. I really feel like I've grown as a coach.
Like anyone I have a goal of being a head coach one day and I think this has really prepared me. Am I a coordinator? No, but I feel like, honestly, I'm more prepared because of my background. I've coached all three phases, I've been a recruiting coordinator, I've been a special teams coordinator and that's really prepared me, hopefully, for an opportunity down the road sometime.
Do you think being a head coach is the next step in your career? Obviously I'd love to be a head coach. I've interviewed for some jobs and had some opportunities that just weren't the right situation at the right time. Hopefully other opportunities will come down the road. I really love where I am right now and like this group of players that I'm working with, this staff that I'm working with and coaching for my dad is a pretty neat thing.
In addition to coaching the Hokies' running backs you also hold the title of associate head coach. What does that entail on a day-to-day basis? Really if my dad was not here for any reason I would step in his place. There's some logistical things, conference calls with media or with other head coaches in the league if he can't be there that day, I've sat in on some of those things. It really came into play back in December when he missed the month and wasn't here for bowl preparations. In his absence I had to step up as the head coach for that month. That was tough with him not being around but it was a great experience for me.
Last season you go into Columbus and beat Ohio State by two touchdowns, a game that a lot of people thought announced Virginia Tech as a contender for big things again, and then you lost your next two games. What happened? In a lot of those games we just didn't play winning football. You go back and look at the amount of penalties, the amount of turnovers we had, some of the big plays that we gave up. That's not how you win football games and that's not how we won games here at Virginia Tech for a long time. That's not how anybody wins games. Turn the ball over too many times at critical situations, we've got to eliminate those things where we beat ourselves. We didn't play winning football a lot of times, and that's been a point of emphasis - cleaning up the penalties and turnovers.
And then the other thing, nobody wants to hear it, but we got decimated by injuries. Worst I've ever been around. This will be my 16th year in coaching coming up and I've never seen anything like it. Of the guys that played key roles against Ohio State that night, nine didn't finish the season for different reasons. It was just a crazy year from an injury standpoint, and then we played the most freshmen that we have ever played here at Virginia Tech. Because of that and those growing pains, we're excited, too. One hundred percent of our scoring returns this upcoming season. That's exciting. Our quarterback showed up on May 29th, never went through spring practice and was our starting quarterback all season. Our two starting receivers were in high school and they didn't show up until July. We played a lot of key guys that were starters and this was their first time playing college football. Everybody plays young guys, I get it, but this was the most youth we've played and the most injuries we've had, and that's a bad combination when you combine it with doing some things that aren't winning football, penalties and turnovers.
It seems like, with all the players coming back, hopes are higher for 2015 than they've been for the past couple seasons. We're excited. Obviously we've got that huge opener and a big, big, big challenge going up against Ohio State. But we've got so many guys that return off last year's team, we redshirted some guys that we're excited about, we've got guys that played last year that are just now going through their first offseason program in the weight room so they're a year stronger, so that's got us fired up. It's a good group of guys. They're hungry, they're driven, they're practicing with a chip on their shoulder. They're eager to get out there and prove the Virginia Tech team that beat Ohio State is the team that we want to be, and be better than that.
How much emphasis has the staff put on the Ohio State game this offseason? Quite a bit. You know how many eyes will be on that. We were the only team that beat them last year. The spotlight on the game - the defending national champions opening up on the road against the only team that beat them last year - it's a marquee game. When I was at the Kentucky Derby yesterday I bumped into Kirk Herbstreit and that was the first thing he wanted to talk about, the Ohio State game and the upcoming season, asking the same questions you did about the Virginia Tech team that night and the Virginia Tech team that finished the season. Our guys are excited. We've worked on them as a staff and then on our own, and that's no different than other years. We opened up with William & Mary last year, it's the same preparation for them. We're going to treat all our games the same, not put any of them on a pedestal, give every one our best shot and then regroup and get ready for the next game. I think it makes your summer conditioning better because our guys know what's waiting on them at the end of the road. It makes those summer workouts a little bit more exciting.
Virginia Tech put a lot of emphasis into the 2013 opener against Alabama, another team coming off a national title. You lost 35-10 in a game that played much closer than the final score, and then ran off six straight wins after that. So the Big Opener has served you well in the past. Yeah, it has. That was a great team. I think we gave up 21 points that night with our defense not even on the field. You can't win football games that way. It goes back to, we're going to give it our best shot and treat every game the same. After that night against Alabama we came back and gave it a good run and played good football. That's what we'll do regardless of what happens against Ohio State on Labor Day. There's a lot more football left to be played. Ohio State showed that last year after they lost to us in Week 2.
Virginia Tech dominated the ACC for most of the last decade, but Florida State and Clemson have pulled away from the pack recently. How does Virginia Tech close that gap? You've got to recruit. Those guys have done a great job of recruiting and a great job of coaching them. They're great programs, they've got great coaches and great players. The last three seasons have not been what we expect. We also know we're not that far off, either. For eight straight seasons we were the only team in the country to win 10 games or more. We did that eight straight years. We've won more conference championships than just about anybody in this league since we've been in it. We've got a great track record, the last three seasons haven't been where our expectations are. Some places the goal is to win seven or eight games. That's not the case here at Virginia Tech. Our guys come here to compete for championships and that's what our fans expect. You want to coach at a place that has those expectations, and that's what ours are. We've just got to keep coaching, keep recruiting. Recruiting's going awesome right now. Keep recruiting and keep getting better and we'll be, hopefully, back to Charlotte soon.
Have you ever been a part of a game that ends 6-3 in double overtime before? No, and I hope I never am again. I think offensive football was set back about 50 years by that game. That was a tough one to watch, I get it. Wake Forest, their corner was a first-round draft pick and they had a good defense. That was two good defensive teams going at it that day, but another game where you look at turnovers, we had some critical turnovers in that game as well. Give Wake Forest credit, they got it done that day. No I haven't, and I hope that's the last time I'm a part of a 6-3 double overtime game.
But, we're proud of the fact that we lost that game on Saturday, came back and beat our rival for the 11th straight year to get into a bowl game on a short week, we played on Friday night. I don't know many teams that would have had the fortitude to do that. Virginia was coming off a big win over Miami and our guys, a tough day in Winston-Salem, but we came back and regrouped and had a heck of a win against a good teams six days later to get us bowl eligible.