Within the first minute after taking the dais to introduce Virginia Tech’s new offensive coaches in January, Frank Beamer made clear his distaste for change, even a change that Hokies fans have requested for years.
In 27 years at his alma mater, Beamer has carved out a legacy in college football, one he’s attributed to the consistency of his coaching staff at Virginia Tech.
But after the Hokies bottomed out in 2012, barely making a bowl game and finishing 7–6, their worst record in 20 years, even he admitted it was time for an overhaul.
Enter offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, a trio tasked with fixing what for years has been an underachieving Virginia Tech offense.
“Change is not easy for me. I don’t like change,” Beamer said upon introducing the three. “But at the same time, you’ve got to do what you think is right for your overall organization, and that’s what I’ve done in this case.”
With Bud Foster’s defense having been among the nation’s best for the better part of nearly two decades, critics of Beamer have long held the belief that the offense’s production, particularly in the post-Michael Vick era, has held the Hokies back from becoming an elite college football program.
Tech’s offense under long-time Beamer ally Bryan Stinespring, who remains on the staff as a tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, could never match the production of Foster’s defense.
In the 11 years after Stinespring was elevated to the coordinator position, the Hokies finished in the bottom half of the FBS in total offense six times. Only once in the last six years has Virginia Tech finished in the top four in the ACC in total offense, despite having either current pro Tyrod Taylor or future pro Logan Thomas at quarterback.
Nevertheless, the wins masked the issue. Eight straight 10-win seasons from 2004-11 and four ACC titles were all the justification Beamer needed for keeping things the same. When that wall came crumbling down in 2012, though, change was inevitable.
But it won’t be radical. In Loeffler, who cut his teeth at Michigan under Lloyd Carr, the Hokies have someone who Beamer believes is aligned philosophically with the style that has worked at Virginia Tech for years — control the line of scrimmage, run the football and pass off play-action. It’s an unsexy yet effective game plan.
“I think the marriage between what they’ve done in the past and what we want to do is excellent,” Loeffler says.
Still, Loeffler’s No. 1 task will be to fix Thomas, who is back for his senior season after a disappointing junior campaign that saw his draft stock drop from potential top-five pick to out of the first round.
Hardly a lost cause, Thomas still broke his own school record for total yardage in 2012, throwing for 2,976 yards and running for a team-high 524 yards. He accounted for 27 touchdowns, only three off his 2011 figure, but his efficiency numbers dropped significantly. His completion percentage fell from 59.8 to 51.3, and he threw 16 interceptions, tied for fourth-most nationally.
But Loeffler, who coached Tom Brady, Brian Griese, Drew Henson, John Navarre and Chad Henne at Michigan and Tim Tebow at Florida, might be the right guy to get Thomas on track in his quarterback-dependent offensive system.
“Some of the things that he does that are really, really difficult, he does them easy,” Loeffler says. “And you can’t coach that. I don’t care. There are some things that he does that are really, really hard. I watched him chin-over-toe escape to his left and make this freaky throw that not too many guys could do. So some things like that that are easy, I think we can make them a little easier for him to be more productive.”
Like Thomas, Loeffler had his own problems in 2012. After a successful season at Temple in his first year as a coordinator on any level, Loeffler was hired to replace Gus Malzahn at Auburn, where he was asked to install a pro-style attack with spread personnel. It didn’t go well. The Tigers finished 115th nationally in total offense en route to an 0–8 record in the SEC. Gene Chizik and his entire staff were fired.
Loeffler, a coaching itinerant who has made four stops in the last five years, remains unscarred by the experience, though.
“You’ve got to learn real quick that in this business — there’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs,” he says. “There’s going to be times when you play really well. There’s going to be times when you don’t. There’s going to be times when you coach really well and there’s going to be times that you don’t. Obviously, one little setback is not going to define who I am or what I believe in. I’m good.”
For his part, Beamer looked past those struggles at Auburn, hiring Loeffler, in part, because of a recommendation from Carr.
Loeffler doesn’t come alone. He has a kindred spirit in Grimes, with whom he worked at Auburn. The baritone-voiced offensive line coach earned points with the Hokies faithful by declaring upon his arrival that his goal was for his group to be “the toughest line in the ACC.”
“I believe we’re the tip of the spear, so to speak, the first in to fight,” Grimes says. “And if we do our job with the right approach and the right mindset, then I think the other guys will follow.”
It was music to the ears of a fan base that identifies with Foster’s Lunch Pail defense and watched in disbelief last year as the Hokies’ offensive line struggled to run-block. J.C. Coleman led the running backs with 492 yards, the lowest rushing total for Virginia Tech’s leading back since 1967.
In Moorehead, plucked from the Stanford staff, Tech hired an energetic receivers coach who at 32 years old is among the youngest assistants Beamer has ever hired.
It’s part of an overall youth movement in Blacksburg. Including the post-2010 shakeup that saw Shane Beamer and Cornell Brown replace long-time Beamer assistants Billy Hite and Jim Cavanaugh, the average age of the Hokies’ coaches has dropped from 50 to 42.
At age 66, Beamer is nearing the finish line of his Hall of Fame career. Before the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers, he admitted how much the 2012 season wore on him. He said he stopped eating and lost weight, looking gaunt and exhausted by the end of the season.
But in the spring, he looked re-energized, confident in what could be the last major shakeup to a coaching staff he’ll ever make, even if it went against his nature.
“The bottom line is that we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be,” Beamer says. “I feel like when things are not working as well as they need to, you need to change it around.”
Story written by Andy Bitter for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 ACC Preview Edition. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 ACC season.
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