Its been an up and down thirty one days for the Virginia Tech football team. The morning of December 31st saw the Hokies coming into El Paso riding an emotional high after defeating rival Virginia for a series-high tenth straight time, but nightfall saw the Hokies battered and bruised after being pounded by UCLA 42-12. The Hokies were outcoached and outplayed in all phases of the game. Senior quarterback Logan Thomas took arguably the biggest hit of his career; this hit knocked Thomas unconscious, out of the game, and ended his playing days wearing maroon and orange.
Things in Blacksburg only got worse on January 15th when “the bubble that Frank Beamer built” was rudely popped by the LSU Tigers of the big, bad Southeastern Conference. One-year offensive line coach and recruiting whiz Jeff Grimes was offered a deal that he just could not refuse. Grimes was reportedly offered a deal nearly double that of his at Virginia Tech. Hokie fans got their first taste of big time college football and the force that drives it all: money. One would have to go all the way back to 1992 to find an assistant who only stayed for one year; that man was Gary Tranquil. 1992 was Virginia Tech’s last losing season, and also its last season not playing postseason football. Changes were made and evidently they paid dividends. However, in 2014 college football is big business and millions – if not billions – of dollars are at stake for the universities, TV networks, conferences, and coaches working in the game.
Though Grimes is regarded as a family man and seemingly a man reluctant to uproot his family – the compensation offered by LSU was too enticing of an offer. The bottom line is that Virginia Tech cannot match or compete financially with the “big boys” of the SEC or even the Big 10. The alumni base and donor base is simply not there, nor is the administration fully committed to becoming a football powerhouse a la Alabama or Ohio State. Get used to this Hokie fans – it’s a reality check. If your school has good coaches, then schools that can pay them more money will offer them more money to leave, and typically they will.
In the third week of January, the Hokies received some mixed news on the recruiting trail. Highly touted class of 2013 safety prospect Holland Fisher met the requirements for enrollment at Virginia Tech and started classes for the Spring semester. However, the rest of the news was not so positive as the Hokies lost Cequan Jefferson. Jefferson was also a 2013 recruit who prepped at FUMA, but he failed to meet the standards for admission to Virginia Tech and chose to enroll at Temple University. Tech also lost big time Ohio o-line recruit Brady Taylor to the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU came late to the party to offer Taylor – a Columbus, Ohio native and Buckeyes fan since childhood. This was almost to be expected after the departure of Coach Grimes – Taylor’s primary recruiter – and the fact that Taylor grew up an OSU fan.
The last week of January ended on a high note however. Virginia Tech announced the hiring of new offensive line coach Stacy Searels – formerly of the University of Texas at Austin. Searels comes in with the task of keeping together the remaining four recruits in Tech’s beleaguered 2014 o-line class. Searels task is a daunting one to say the least.
The biggest news of the month of January was the hiring of new athletic director Whit Babcock. Babcock is a native of Harrisonburg, Virginia and was hired from the University of Cincinnati, where he had served as AD for two years. Babcock has experience as an assistant AD at a number of other institutions where his primary task was fundraising. This skill will come in real handy, as the Hokie Club –Tech’s alumni donor club – has seen declining membership and donations recently. However, Babcock has big shoes to fill as Tech’s outgoing AD – Jim Weaver – oversaw arguably the Golden Age of Tech athletics. It’s hard to argue with Weaver’s administrative talent as he managed to keep Virginia Tech’s athletic department one of the few profitable athletic departments in the country. Babcock will be left the ability to imprint his legacy, as his tenure will probably see the retirement or replacement of Frank Beamer. Beamer has been the face of the football team, athletic department, and arguably the university for over two decades. Babcock’s potential choice as a replacement will be the biggest decision ever made in the history of Virginia Tech athletics. Babcock seemingly holds the fortune of Tech football in his hands. Football is the spiritual and financial backbone of the department; it’s the moneymaker. Let’s hope that when the time comes: Babcock makes the right choice.