Big Picture: Top eight coaches to succeed Va. Tech’s Beamer
Frank Beamer did a terrific job building a football power at his alma mater Virginia Tech. On Sunday, in a move that had been expected for weeks, the 69-year-old Beamer announced that this would be his last season as the Hokies coach.
Beamer leaves behind quite a legacy. He turned special teams play and kick-blocking into an art. In fact the first story I ever did for ESPN The Magazine back in the late 90s involved traveling to Blacksburg, Va., to spend a few days with Beamer and his staff while several coaches from around the country came in to try and learn some of the Hokies’ special teams secrets.
Beamer’s staff was a big family and they were welcoming and gracious, and it was cool to see just how much bigger the Hokies program would get over the next few years. Tech is trying now to sustain an active bowl streak, which sits at 22 games.
The Va. Tech job offers good facilities, a terrific home-field environment and a strong regional recruiting base. It is definitely one of the top-four jobs in the ACC, along with Florida State, Clemson and Miami. Va. Tech AD Whit Babcock also is one of the more highly regarded athletic directors within the sport and considered a terrific guy to work for.
Sources tell FOX Sports that Babcock will likely hire Beamer’s successor from out of house. Who might Babcock look to as the next Hokies coach? Here are some expected options.
Justin Fuente: The Hokies may be in a battle with South Carolina and perhaps even Miami — and who knows whatever else may spring open this year — for the 39-year-old Memphis coach. The Tigers were a complete mess before he took over and now they’re rolling. They have a good win over Ole Miss and are undefeated this season. He was 4-8 in his first year and is 18-3 in his last 21 games. Fuente, like several other guys on this list, would bring a potent offense to a place that has long struggled with scoring. That’s big. This year, Memphis ranks sixth in total offense and third in scoring at 48 points per game.
Rich Rodriguez: The Arizona coach goes way back with Babcock from their time at West Virginia. The 52-year-old Rodriguez has won two Big East Coach of the Year honors and won the Pac-12’s Coach of the Year last season. His dynamic personality also would seem able to handle replacing a local legend in Blacksburg. Rodriguez would be in line to make around $4 million a year if he remains at Arizona long term. He also should have a better team in 2016 in Tucson, Ariz., than he does this fall as the team battles lot of big injuries. Problem is, at U of A, you’re going to be battling ASU to be at best the third-best football job in the Pac-12 South. Rodriguez figures to be a strong candidate here as well as at South Carolina, although his team is struggling now at 5-4 and will have to hustle to get bowl eligible.
Larry Fedora: Quietly, the Tar Heels are 7-1 and have won seven in row. Fedora is very well-regarded as an offensive mind and UNC is averaging 37 points a game. The 53-year-old is 63-37 in eight seasons as a coach. I’m not sure if Fedora would leave Chapel Hill, NC, for Blacksburg. One is still seen as a basketball school. The other is much more of a football brand.
Tom Herman: If Babcock is in fact looking to make a splashy hire, this would probably do it. The hottest name in college football coaching now, Herman has led UH to an 8-0 start after helping Ohio State win a national title as the OC/QB coach despite being forced to play its third-string QB. The California native is going to have some very good options, whether that means Tech, South Carolina or — if UH keeps on winning — maybe even USC. He’s also at a program on the upswing led by a talented junior QB, Greg Ward. Recruiting’s going very well. But Herman hasn’t been thrilled that, despite the Top 25 ranking, the fan base still hasn’t really been turning out. His team is No. 5 in the nation in scoring. Plus, being an Urban Meyer protégé is a good thing in coaching circles.
Matt Rhule: A Pennsylvania native, his Temple Owls just suffered their first loss of the season in a tight game against then-No. 9 Notre Dame, and in the process Rhule’s program impressed a lot of folks with its grit and toughness. The 40-year-old Rhule was just 2-10 in 2013, but has definitely got the Owls on the upswing and he figures to be a strong candidate at many of the Big Ten openings this winter as well.
Chad Morris: The former Clemson OC is trying to get some traction in his first year, rebuilding the SMU program, but he’d also bring a lot of offensive cache. The Mustangs are just 1-7 but they’ve been a lot more competitive this season than last year’s debacle. They’ve gone from No. 128 in scoring to No. 68 this season. Morris also has a fairly big buyout that would have to be finessed if that was the direction the Hokies wanted to go.
Butch Jones: It would be crazy to think Jones could be on the Hokies sideline when Tech meets Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway in September. My hunch here is that Jones has invested too much in the UT program to really consider making this move. He and his staff have done a lot of heavy lifting and have stocked the Vols program with a ton of good young talent. The wild card here, though, is Babcock was his old boss at Cincinnati and their relationship was very good.
Bud Foster: For years he’s been one of the best defensive coordinators in football. While there will be some consideration for him getting promoted up to the head coach spot, I’ve heard it’s a very, very long shot as Tech brass would like to move in a different direction. Keeping the 56-year-old Foster on would be great if that worked for him and the new coach but that may be a tricky fit.
● Defensive coordinators don’t get as much traction these days in coaching searches as the offensive guys. However one name to keep in mind over the next few months is Florida DC Geoff Collins. The Gators have gone from allowing 21 points per game and 330 yards on defense down to 15.5 PPG and 303 this season as they’ve emerged as a strong favorite to win the SEC East and perhaps make a run at the playoff. UF also has gone from holding opponents to 39 percent on third downs last year to 33 percent this season.
I’m told Collins is a hot name amongst some UCF power brokers and could be in play in several other places as more things open up. He was a former assistant at UCF and recruiting coordinator. In addition to his prowess as a defensive coach, he’s also proven to be very adept in personnel. While on his way up, he held the title of director of player personnel at both Georgia Tech and Alabama. Worth noting is that three years after he had those titles, those programs won championships — the Tide won the 2013 BCS title, Ga. Tech won the 2009 ACC title and after his time as the Knights recruiting coordinator, UCF won the 2013 Conference USA title and the Fiesta Bowl.
“He’s an awesome dude,” said one coach who has worked with Collins. “He’s incredibly smart. Football-wise, he’s great with the X’s and O’s. He understands kids and the psychology behind motivation. He knows ways to motivate kids — not just from a rah-rah standpoint. And he’s a great recruiter because he’s so football-smart and because he understands kids and people so well."
● Trevone Boykin closed the gap on LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the Heisman race this week. Here’s a key area where the TCU star been especially sharp. In the red zone this year, Boykin’s completed 29 of 41 (71 percent) passes with 16 touchdowns, zero interceptions. He’s also run for five TDs in the red zone.
● Bob Stoops’ decision to go back to the Air-Raid tree last offseason by hiring young OC Lincoln Riley is looking shrewd right now. Oklahoma is averaging 46 PPG — up 10 from 2014. OU also is averaging a half-yard more per play than last season. The difference is even more dramatic when looking at what the Sooners have done against teams with winning records, going up almost 2 full yards per play. On third downs, the Sooners are converting at 46 percent — up from 40 last year. All this is even more impressive when considering they also had to rebuild the O-line.
● The Gus Bus at Auburn has hit a really rough patch in the road. With Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss, Gus Malzahn’s Tigers have now lost seven of their last eight SEC games after having won 11 of the previous 12 against league opponents. The Tigers’ defensive struggles have been well documented but it’s also been a dismal season offensively, where they’re 12th in the SEC in yards per play (5.32) — almost a yard and a half worse than last year’s 6.71 mark.
● Sorry to see Norm Chow fired at Hawaii. Chow’s team was 2-7 and blown out 58-7 by Air Force Saturday. He was 10-26 in four seasons for a program that is a financial mess, I’m told. There’s been massive cuts to the UH recruiting budget in the past year and all sorts of other issues. Coaches who have worked at the school are skeptical there are the resources to keep the program afloat much longer.
For Chow, a guy who as an assistant had groomed as many top QBs and offenses as anyone, finally getting to be head coach proved to be bittersweet with more headaches and administrative hassles that he could’ve ever imagined. I came away thinking Chow’s time as a coach at Hawaii was akin to Red from “The Shawshank Redemption” (Morgan Freeman’s character) working in that grocery store longing for the structure and pace of his old existence.
● One of the bigger stories of the weekend occurred early Saturday morning. Just when we thought the Ohio State QB situation had been cleared up came news that starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, a team captain, got cited for operating a vehicle while impaired. Barrett was suspended for the Minnesota game next week, but coach Urban Meyer who spent some of last week on the media circuit promoting his new leadership book, “Above the Line,” has yet to comment on the Barrett news. Knowing how off-field issues ruined Meyer’s program at Florida, it’ll be very interesting to see how he handles Barrett, as I wrote Saturday morning.
● Most bizarre game that wasn’t Miami-Duke Saturday: Colorado at UCLA. The Buffs ran a staggering 114 plays, had 34 first downs against the beleaguered Bruins D, but CU still lost 35-31. Mike MacIntyre’s team is playing hard and getting better, but they’re still just 2-21 in Pac-12 play under him.
● USC has had some special skill guys over the years. Ronald Jones, a tailback from Texas with some serious burst, is one to keep an eye on. He had 11 carries for 80 yards (a 7.3 yard average) against Cal. USC’s other two RBs — Tre Madden and Justin Davis — had 102 yards on 29 carries. Jones is averaging 7.6 yards per carry on the year. The other two backs are combining for about two-and-a-half yards less per carry.
● Todd Grantham’s defense at Louisville has really come in. The Cards are allowing just 1.65 yards per carry and 51 rushing yards per game in their last four games. Grantham is a guy who may be able to get a look from the UCF search folks for the Knights’ coaching vacancy.
● I’m hearing the North Texas coaching search is progressing. A few of the names I’m told are in the mix: Baylor OC Kendal Briles, a 2006 grad of Houston; Arizona State OC Mike Norvell and James Madison coach Everett Withers. Another potential option for UNT is Texas play-caller Jay Norvell.
● Stat of the Day: For the month of October, Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson had a QB rating of 210.1. The 6-foot senior completed over 78 percent of his passes for 1,561 yards and had a 16-1 TD-INT ratio.
● Stat of the Day, Take II: With the huge game against Alabama looming, LSU has held two ranked opponents to just 1.72 rushing yards per carry and a total of 98 yards on the ground.
● Stat of the Day, Take III: Ga. Tech, which has been one of the biggest disappointments of 2015, is averaging 361 rushing yards per game and 7.1 yards per carry at home, but just 151 with a 3.3-yard average in road games.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.