Sunday, January 06, 2008

Let's Talk Truth - Where is Hokie football?

Looking back over the 2007 season in its entirety, I believe the tragedy that occurred on April 16th, 2007 was kept in the appropriate context all season and the team opened with an emotional game against ECU and carried on to an ACC Championship overcoming several obstacles in the way.

There is nothing to hang our heads about as Superfans when these are the achievements of the program.  The Hokies can compete for ACC championships and win the right way on the field and carry themselves properly off the field.  This class of seniors accomplished it with a cloud hanging over the university making it, indeed, more impressive. But after the Orange Bowl game we all need to realize something and come to terms with it - this is the ceiling for Virginia Tech football with its current coaching staff. That might be ok for some, but I am getting so worked up about it that I am having trouble sleeping at night. Literally. 

Coach Frank Beamer is the 3rd winningest active coach in college football and a Hokie legend. He built the program and has helped bring it to this point. As long as the vast majority of fans are happy with the status quo (and I believe they are) then Beamer will remain as head coach. And as long as he remains head coach, Bryan Stinespring will remain offensive coordinator. Why? Because Stinespring has a 5 year guaranteed contract that Beamer fought to get for him and Coach Foster and if  Stiney's fired, he gets paid 4 years salary. More on that later. Regardless of the other awards and accolades that the program accomplishes, the trophy case in Michael Vick Hall for a national title trophy will remain blank while Beamer and Stinespring remain in their respective positions.

The reasons for this are several and I will attempt to cover them "objectively". But realize that I have PLENTY of bile to spew about what I've seen (remember this is what I'm thinking about while tossing and turning at 1:00 in the morning). So if you are happy with where Virginia Tech is right now in terms of football and you would be happy with it being at this level from here on out, you can quit reading. If you want the program to take a next step, read on but be prepared for some ugly truth.

Let's begin with Coach Frank Beamer. Starting at the beginning of the 2005 season, I expected the Hokies to have the talent to compete on a national scale with other elite teams. The team was coming off of a close loss to an Auburn team that I think was the best in the country that year and had their entire offensive backfield drafted in the first two rounds of the 2005 NFL draft. The Hokie defense was inspired that night, setting the stage for two straight years as the top defense in the country and three straight years as a top 5 defense. Unfortunately the offense was beginning a trend that night as well which would become a theme over the next 3 seasons - playing flat in big games.

Coach Beamer excels during the season of getting his players to improve. He built that skill over the years by taking players that the top programs didn't want and "coaching them up". He is excellent at it and many Hokies that never would have made it to the NFL otherwise got there because of Beamer. Starting in 2005, however, the level of talent was at that of the other top programs in the country (except perhaps Southern Cal) and has been that way since. So the skill set needed became different. On talent alone, the Hokies were good enough to win all their "regular" games in 2005. 

But in the two big games (Miami and Florida State in the ACC title game) that 2005 season, where the talent was similar Beamer was outcoached. Granted, so was Coach Stinespring and I'll get to that in a minute, but I mean the overall psychology of the team was awful. Their body language was terrible and they came out SUPER flat in both games. Because they were the favorite, Beamer couldn't play his usual "chip on the shoulder" mentality card and as a result the team just didn't have the killer instinct it needed to win. The 2005 Gator Bowl against a Louisville team WITHOUT it's starting QB nearly beat the Hokies because, again, the Hokies were flat on offense in the first half. What I had seen against Auburn and at other times in the 2004 season was starting to happen more consistently - it was taking the Hokies being down by two or more scores before they began coming to life and playing better when matched up with equally talented teams. 

In 2006, the offense was just miserable and I lay most of this on Stinespring's shoulders (again I don't want to digress just yet). But in the 2006 Chick-Fil-A Bowl Beamer was again badly outcoached, this time with a twist. The Hokies got out to a big LEAD and then couldn't maintain the killer instinct to finish off the Georgia Bulldogs (hurt of course by an all-timer of a bad performance by Sean Glennon at QB). Despite ALL of that, the Hokies had a chance late in the game, getting within a TD, but with 3:40 and a timeout left, instead of kicking the ball downfield to the Dawgs and letting the defense (that was playing insanely well, as usual) get a stop and maybe get a blocked punt or a good return or, barring any of those things, just giving the Hokies a chance to tie the game at the end, Coach Beamer went for the insane onside kick. Before he even kicked it, I was losing my "stuff" in the stands at what a bad call it was. It failed and the Hokie defense did get the stop (of course) but the Hokies took over on their own 20 yd line and the offense just didn't have a chance because they were awful. 

In 2007, again, in big games, the Hokies struggled from a coaching standpoint. LSU rolled and that was offensive, defensive and special teams disasters. BC had a miracle in Blacksburg, again with no killer instinct on the Hokies' part, and even in the ACC title game where the Hokies won, their offense in the first half was simply embarrassing it was so flat. And to cap it all off there was the Orange Bowl, which really works a perfect summary of the problems I have been talking about with Beamer. The offense plays poorly for most of the first half (which has been happening in big games since the 2004 Sugar Bowl against Auburn), and then the coup de grace was the onside kick at the end. With 3:04 and TWO timeouts AND the experience of the Georgia game from a year ago to learn from, Beamer STILL did not kick the ball deep and let the defense get a stop (despite yet another stellar defensive performance during the game). Let me explain something - with little time left in the game and the ball deep in their own end, Kansas' playcalling would have been forced to be conservative to try and run clock and not turn the ball over. But by taking over on the Virginia Tech 40 yard line, they could throw the ball on second down and take chances that allowed them to run the clock out. 

Three more stunning coaching blunders were - #1) Letting Kansas block a 25 yard FG that would have tied the game and given the Hokies all the momentum (special teams are Beamer's responsibility), #2) Leaving the gunner uncovered on a Kansas punt allowing them to make a huge 4th down conversion by running the fake punt to the wideopen gunner (special teams are Beamer's responsibility and #3) With the clock running down and Kansas' QB STANDING BESIDE THE REFEREE ready to call a timeout, the Hokies burned one of their own. They wasted it, when perhaps Beamer would have kicked the ball deep at the end if he'd still had three timeouts. Looking at all the mistakes, despite the excellent coaching adjustments by Coach Foster on defense, it was death by a thousand papercuts.

My point here is that recruiting and developing players is what Beamer has had to excel at to make it and he does those well. But the program has the players now and the national prestige to recruit more great players. Look no further than the 2008 recruiting class which just landed the 3rd best RB in the country and a top 10 offensive lineman. Making good decisions on gameday and handling the team's psychology in big games are what the Hokies need now from their head coach to take the next step as a program and those are NOT what you're going to get from Coach Beamer. A new head coach is needed in order to obtain that goal. Now Beamer can still do what he does and VT can continue to win ACC titles and be a good football program and that might be enough to satisfy athletic director Jim Weaver and the big boosters. I'm just telling you the truth about the coaching situation.

NOW........there's another problem that Beamer COULD solve without stepping down, but I am concerned that he won't do it -  and that is to remove Bryan Stinespring as offensive coordinator. You've heard my rants and raves about Stinespring for years now and I won't drudge up all the old arguments. What I will say is that it was obvious to the fans in the stands, the fans watching at home (both Kansas and VT fans), the announcers, my wife, and my 18 MONTH OLD DAUGHTER, that the Hokies could mow over the Kansas defense on the ground. Hell for one drive in the 2nd quarter it was obvious to Bryan Stinespring. Unfortunately, he got hit in the head at halftime and caught a case of amnesia and forgot about that in the 2nd half. 

This is simply the latest in a series of "offenses" (wow that was bad, sorry), that demonstrate just how completely out of his league Stinespring is as OC for this football team. I commend him on improving some throughout the 2007 season, but he still commits the same stupid mistakes. How many times does he send Eddie Royal down the deep post to try and catch a jump ball when he has two tall, big vertical receivers like Justin Harper and Josh Morgan available? Conversely how many crossing routes and WR screens can he throw to Morgan and Harper when he has super quick Eddie Royal available for those plays? It defies comprehension!!!

You may have heard that Auburn got rid of their offensive coordinator(Al Borges) 1 week prior to their battle against Clemson in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl (which Auburn won by the way). They dismissed a coordinator that helped take Auburn to a 13-0 season in 2004, won a 2005 offensive coordinator of the year award from and whose offensive rankings at Auburn since 2004 go like this (blue line) in comparison with Stinespring's (green line):

Remember that Auburn was doing that on offense in the SEC, and VT is in the ACC. Still looking at that chart I can understand how Al Borges was let go. Auburn's offense was continuing to decline. Give credit to Tommy Tuberville for making the tough decision as head coach. But the Hokies have never gone 13-0. The only time they played for the national title was in '99 when Rickey Bustle was the offensive coordinator. What has Stinespring done to earn the right to keep his job at the Hokie program when his performance has been worse than that of Borges? If you or I performed like that at our jobs (unless we worked for the federal government) we would be in some serious hot water considering that 99th out of 118 is the bottom 20% and the Hokies have been that the past two seasons and I don't know about you but I don't make $200,000/year like Stinespring does. 

The bottom line is that as I said above, Stinespring has a 5-year contract and if he were fired, the school has to pay him 4 years at his current salary. I'd say it was worth it to let him go (throw a booster fundraiser saying you need to raise $800,000 to buyout Stinespring as offensive coordinator and see the incredible groundswell of support you would get for that) but worst case, he can just be demoted back to tight ends coach until 2009 when his current contract expires.  The problem is that Coach Beamer would never do this. 

And so we are left with the prospect that unless we as fans do something about it before then, in 2009, when the Hokies have their greatest football team ever assembled, the offense will still be in the hands of a bumbling nincompoop who will likely crush the team's best chance of filling that national title case. 

Be honest, if you've read this far, you are as sick about that thought as I am. Well, maybe not AS sick. I mean, I'm having trouble sleeping. 


Matthew said...

I've crossposted your comments on Stinespring... good work, TSF.


Anonymous said...

You are right on on all points. The only thing keeping Tech from becoming a major power with the ability to win the "big" game is a fellow named Stinespring. His Middle School play calling mentality has to go.
Game after game proves his inability to use the "horses" he has available. He has no imagination for trick plays. No lateral pases, reverses, screens, etc. Everybody in the stadium knows what to expectfrom the play calling.
I personally would like to see the Alumni start screaming for his firing. I cannot believe that Coach Beamer and Jim Weaver can listen year after year to the complaints from the fans to get rid of him and do nothing. Does he have something on the two of them???????
Here's hoping for a change before the 2008 season. If not, plan on getting disappointed again when the important games come around.

Ern B said...

Agree, on the offense skills of Stinespring, if he ever wrote a book, it could be titled, "Second and Long" or "Three and Out" The VT offensive way.

As an offensive coordinator, he is a disgrace to the university. If they don't want to fire him due to the paycheck, demote him to the role of JV scout team offensive back coach. that way he can only have minor negative impact to the program.

Brent said...

I agree for the most part about Stinespring. We simply need a more talented offensive coordinator.

The big games problem is real and I am not so sure that Beamer will never be able to fix it, but I am more and more beginning to have doubts. Maybe some kind of sports psychologist or something! I don't know but whatever we've been doing for the past three seasons has left room for far too much disappointment.

Beaston said...

You've spoken the truth that every Hokie fan knows. Stinespring is a completely incompetent offensive coordinator. I was there at the Orange Bowl and it was almost depressing watching them throw the ball when EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THAT STANDS could see that the running game was just eating up Kansas' defense. Obviously if we hadn't even thrown the ball I'd would have predicted a score of 14-24 game with VT solidly out on top and orange bowl champs. :(

kilgore trout said...

Since we know, or at least assume Beamer will not fire stiney, is is reasonable too think that Mike O'Cain, the current QB's coach could call the plays next year? Beamer states in his book "Turn Up the Wick" that he always felt like the QB's coach should call the plays. Ricky Bustle was the QB's coach before being promoted to Off Coord.

MadJay said...

I would LOVE to see Mike O'Cain become offensive coordinator. He is a former head coach who is VASTLY more qualified than Stinespring to call the plays.

Doesn't it hurt your guys' hearts when you think about this program being held back from reaching its true potential by a guy who just isn't capable of doing the job of offensive coordinator? And if it hurts us, why aren't Beamer and the athletic department doing something about it? Surely it has to make them sick, too?

Just to throw this out there, in case you weren't mad enough - imagine 2009. The team will have the most talent on offense it will have EVER had (even in '99 with Vick there he didn't have this supporting cast) and if the school doesn't make a change before then, Coach Stinespring will be guaranteed to screw up the Hokies' best chance to compete for the national title in 10 years.

~Mad Jay