Posted: 12:56 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, 2013
By Brian Barbour
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has a memoir coming out soon called "Let Me Be Frank: My Life at Virginia Tech." As expected there are excerpts floating around out there and one such excerpt covers UNC's courtship of Beamer at the end of the Carl Torbush era.
North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour called me, wanting to talk about the Tar Heels job. He was about to fire Carl Torbush.We talked a while and I was very intrigued with what he had to say and with the prospect of taking the Tar Heels job.
Cheryl and I wanted to get away to our house at Lake Oconee, Georgia, and Dick told us to meet him in Charlotte. We talked through a third person in Charlotte, and Cheryl and I drove to the lake house to think about our future, knowing we had an off week ahead of us. I took a few days, I talked to him again, I talked to Cheryl, and on Saturday, November 18, I told Baddour I would accept the job.
It would be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
I didn't tell a soul other than Cheryl and my trusted assistant, John Ballein.
We prepared well and beat Virginia 42–21 the next Saturday to finish 10–1. Cheryl and I then flew to Chapel Hill on Sunday morning, November 26, to work out the details. I had totally convinced myself it was a great opportunity. In fact, I knew it was. I also knew we could win big at North Carolina. They had great facilities and support from the administration.
Once we arrived that Sunday, we toured the Dean Dome and all the football facilities and met everybody in the administration. They took me to meet the president and offered me a glass of hot cider, somewhat as a toast to the future.
I never signed a contract and they wanted me to stay that Sunday night and have the introductory press conference on Monday morning.
"No, we have to get back to Blacksburg tonight," I told them.
I know they were thinking if we got on that airplane to come home, I would change my mind.
And that's exactly what I did.
That Sunday night at my house, I got to thinking about everything. North Carolina had great facilities and great potential to win football championships to go with the many they already had in basketball. I knew we could win there. Some football coaches may have been scared off by what great basketball North Carolina always had, but I always thought that would be a plus. I never worried about basketball. What was most important to my decision-making process was the fact that those football facilities were built on somebody else's blood and sweat. They weren't built from my work.
What we had at Virginia Tech at that time, on the other hand, and what we have built for the future, were built largely because of the success we had since 1993.
Another thing was that our daughter, Casey, was in school at Virginia Tech at the time. How would she feel if we up and left for North Carolina while she was a student here? And how would she be treated if I left to take another job?
But most of all, I realized how much I loved Virginia Tech. I loved the people at Virginia Tech and the relationships we had developed over the years. I loved the town of Blacksburg. I knew that was -- and always would be -- my home. I realized there was no other place I would rather be.
I didn't sleep at all that night, weighing both sides of the decision.
"Whatever you decide, we will do," Cheryl told me. "You always make pretty good decisions."
I woke up Monday morning, or basically got out of bed since there is no waking up when you don't sleep, and I thought to myself, This is my alma mater. This is where I want to be. And this is where we will be as long as I am coaching.
I headed to the office, where everybody waited on my decision. When I walked up to the football facility, I noticed a few people carrying signs, such as "Don't Go Frank" and "Honk If You Want Frank to Stay." It felt good to be wanted.
By now, I had alerted my staff about what was happening. I think my assistants expected me to take the job even though they didn't know how far the discussions had gone. It wasn't very long after I arrived at the office when Dick Baddour called me. I didn't take the call, because I was a flat-out mess, a real basket case. I went upstairs to Jim Weaver's office and met with him, along with the school president, Dr. Charles Steger, and Minnis Ridenour.
As we talked, it became clear that if I stayed, they would offer what I wanted all along -- for my assistants to be taken care of with more money and better contracts. I received a raise, too, but my staff being taken care of was my main concern. I thought they had been vastly underpaid and that was the one issue that led me to listen when people called asking me to interview for other jobs.
I came back downstairs to my office and I called Cheryl at home.
"I can't leave honey," I told her. "We're staying."
I called all of my staff into a meeting.
"We're staying," I told them. "I just feel like I want to stay and get it done here -- not somewhere else."
At this point, Michael Vick hadn't decided whether he would return for his junior season.
"Whether Michael does or doesn't come back, it doesn't matter." I added, "I just can't leave."
I immediately felt support from all of them. One by one, they told me they would have supported me no matter what my decision was. That meant a lot to me.
Then came the hard part: I had to tell North Carolina.
I called Dick and I started my explanation, "Listen, this is nothing to do with you. It's me. I just can't leave here. I love this place and it's my alma mater. I want to tell you that you did everything right. It was perfect, but I just can't do it."
There was silence on the other end. I could tell he was upset and I understood why he would be, but he didn't say too much. He never yelled at me or anything like that. It was very cordial. He was a professional and I appreciate that to this day. Dick ended up hiring John Bunting and I think he has forgiven me over time, but it took a while. He was very cordial to me in recent years during the ACC meetings before he retired.
After the entire thing was over, I was relieved. I knew I made the right decision and I had no regrets. Not only did I not have regrets over the years, but every year that passes reinforces my belief that I made the right decision.
This largely confirms the story that has floated out there for years. The notable difference is Beamer portrays it as being about his loyalty to Virginia Tech whereas everyone else has always seen it as him leveraging UNC for a raise in Blacksburg. That is where the phrase "Beamered" comes from and is usually applied to any coach who looks as though he is about to take another job and ends up staying for more money.
For UNC, Beamer's change of heart bears remarkable similarity to Roy Williams' rejection of UNC just a few months prior. With Williams there was a verbal commitment in place but after he returned to Lawrence, KS decided he couldn't make the move. This is why UNC wanted Beamer to stay and do the press conference on Monday which he refused to do. Also of note is the fact Dick Baddour was spurned very publicly not one, but twice in one year, in strikingly identical fashion. This possibly resulted in Baddour making it profoundly worse by making two "in the family" panic hires with Matt Doherty and John Bunting. The rest, as they say, is history.
Beamer mentions that he has thought of what may have happened had he taken the UNC job. UNC football, in particular, seems like it is in a constant state of "what if?" What if Beamer had come and had a successful 5-7 years before moving onto the next bigger job? Would that have changed who UNC hired circa 2007? Would UNC have needed to go after a coach like Butch Davis(who brought in John Blake) to try and resurrect the program only to be fired amid a scandal? What if Beamer were still the head coach today? Would UNC be enjoying an unprecedented stretch of winning football matching even the Mack Brown era? On the flip side Beamer may have failed at UNC or not stayed very long leading to same sequence of events we witnessed except a few years later. And of course the biggest "what if" is would Beamer's hire, regardless of his tenure, have changed the sequence of events in such a way that UNC ultimately avoided the NCAA hammer?
Yes, it's all speculation but as a person who likes to think about alternate histories and the impact of one decision may have had on the course of a program, it is intriguing.