May 14, 2014
Group of longtime athletics department employees decide to retire
Six of them combined for more than 150 years of service to the athletics department

BLACKSBURG – Longtime Virginia Tech athletics department fixture Billy Hite announced that he would be retiring from the school as of July 1, ending a remarkable 36-year tenure with Tech.

Hite is the latest among a group of prominent athletics department officials who have retired or will be retiring in the coming weeks. The group includes former Monogram Club director Russ Whitenack and former director of alumni relations Jim Cavanaugh, both of whom retired in April. Assistant softball coach Al Brauns and equipment manager Lester Karlin had already publicly stated they would be retiring July 1. Also, Clara Kinzie, a member of the housekeeping crew, is retiring after more than eight years of working in athletics.

Combined, the group had amassed nearly 160 years of service to Tech athletics, with Whitenack having worked 42 years and Karlin and Hite having worked 36.

“It’s been a great run for me and my family the last 36 years,” Hite said. “I want to thank all the coaches that I had the opportunity to work with, and I want to thank all the players that played at Virginia Tech. I personally want to thank all the players that I had the opportunity to coach. I also want to thank the Hokie Nation for all the help and support and all the great things they do for Virginia Tech.”

The popular Hite, who turned 63 in April, started working at Tech in 1978 as an assistant football coach and wound up becoming the longest-tenured assistant in college football. He got into coaching in 1974 at his alma mater, North Carolina, under then-coach Bill Dooley, who ultimately left UNC for the Tech job, taking over for Jimmy Sharpe. Hite followed Dooley to Tech, serving as the running backs coach.

In 1987, Dooley left, and Tech AD Dutch Baughman hired current coach Frank Beamer. Following Tech’s win over NC State in the Peach Bowl, Beamer called Hite and told him that he wanted to keep Hite on the football staff as the running backs coach.

Hite never left, turning down a couple of opportunities to become a head coach at the Division I-AA level (now the Football Championship Subdivision level) to stay at Tech.

“Anne [his wife] and I had been married for seven months [when he followed Dooley to Tech], and we bought our first house,” Hite said. “I told her not to get to know anybody in this town because we were going to be here a year or two and we were going to be out of here. Thirty-six years later, I’m still sitting here. I never dreamed I’d be in one place this long. I think I was the longest-tenured assistant coach in the country until I moved into another position, and that’s something I’m very proud of.”

Hite received two promotions over the years, becoming the assistant head coach one year after Beamer’s arrival and then the associate head coach in 2000. As a coach, he mentored some of the best running backs in Tech history. In fact, he helped produce nine of Tech’s top 11 career rushing leaders, and he was on the sidelines for more Tech football games than any other coach. He also coached in 21 bowl games.

In 2011, Hite moved into more of an administrative role, giving up coaching duties and becoming the assistant to the head coach and senior advisor. Last year, he moved into a role as the director of alumni relations for athletics, serving as a liaison between the athletics department and former players and organizing the lettermen’s reunion each spring game weekend.

Billy and Anne Hite plan to live in Blacksburg, and he is looking for the next challenge in life, whatever it may be.

“I’m looking for some new opportunities outside of coaching,” he said. “I’m looking for a new challenge in my life. I don’t know what it will be, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Like Hite, Karlin, a Norfolk, Va., native, came to Tech in 1978 after being hired by Dooley to handle the equipment needs for the football team. He graduated from Tech in 1974 with a degree in health and physical education, and after a stint working as an equipment manager in the old World Football League and then a stint in sales, Karlin returned to Blacksburg in 1978 to work for Dooley.

He has worked in Tech’s equipment room ever since, a span of 36 years, and has attended 438 straight football games.

“I’ve done it for 36 seasons, and it’s time [to retire],” Karlin said. “It’s become too much. I’m here seven days a week during the season. I’m still hoping to remain a part of it in some way, but I think it’s time for a change.”

When Karlin got the job at Tech under Dooley, he called it his dream job. He specifically works with the football program and has been responsible for the annual budget dedicated to equipment and for the football equipment itself.

But the best part of his job has been the relationships formed with the players over the years. Even today, he remains close friends with guys like Bruce Smith, Dickie Holway, John Gambone and Paul Adams. When former players come back, their first stop is usually the equipment room to visit with Karlin.

“They usually want a free t-shirt,” he joked.

In 2012, the Tech athletics department started sponsoring an auction for game-day experiences with members of the equipment room staff, and all the proceeds went to a Virginia Tech Athletic Fund endowment, which funds student-athlete scholarships. The ultimate goal was, and still is, to establish an endowment in the name of Karlin.

Karlin and his wife, Suzie, will remain in Blacksburg. He has no specific plans for his free time other than working in his yard and continuing his association with the Blacksburg Fire Department, which he loves.

The 70-year-old Brauns just wrapped up his 19th year of working in the department, with the past 16 of those coming as a member of the softball coaching staff. His decision to retire caught some by surprise, as those who know Brauns best know that he loves coaching softball.

“I made it quickly,” Brauns said of the decision. “It wasn’t planned or anything. It just hit me. I thought maybe it’s time, and I decided to do it.

“Everyone I know has been retired for 10 years, and I’m still out here working at 70. I want to spend a little time on my own and not have to do something before I croak. I figured I better do it before it’s all over. Seventy is a good time to retire.”

Brauns, a Uniontown, Pa., native, said that this will be the third time he has retired. A former Marine and a Vietnam War veteran, Brauns went to college a little later in life than most, and when he graduated from Penn State University in 1973 with a degree in criminology, he went to work as a state probation officer in Virginia. He retired from that and got into business for himself. He once owned a local restaurant and bar in downtown Blacksburg before deciding to get out of that business.

Brauns came to Tech to work in the equipment room under Karlin in the early 1990s, but when Tech started its softball program in the mid-1990s, Brauns went to work as an assistant under the program’s first coach, Scot Thomas. Brauns was a natural, having played fast pitch softball in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“I was just doing that for fun,” Brauns said of working in the equipment room. “I wanted to do something and found out there was an opening downstairs [in the equipment room] and had an opportunity to do something different and be involved in sports. I didn’t do it for the money.

“When I got the opportunity with Scot, I was at the baseball tournament, and he called me. I didn’t have any hesitation. I thought it would be fun.”

Brauns has been a part of a staff that has earned four NFCA Regional Coaching Staff of the Year honors and made it to seven NCAA tournaments and a Women’s College World Series appearance (2008). He has worked primarily with the outfielders and helped with the slap hitters over the years. He is also in charge of field maintenance, team travel, the program’s budget, the program’s equipment, and he has a heavy hand in recruiting. The longtime assistant coach also runs Tech’s summer softball camps, which have seen a huge spike in attendance over the past few years.

He has molded some of Tech’s best players over the years, including Bronwyn Blair, who played in more games than anyone in program history (252, 1998-01), has more at-bats than anyone (842); more triples (12) and more runs scored (151). He also worked with Jenna Rhodes, who holds the career record for batting average (.384, 2006-09); and Kelly Brown, who holds the career record for hits (2003-06).

“I’m going to miss the kids,” Brauns said. “I’ve developed so many relationships over the years and continue to have them. Between e-mail and phone calls and all, they keep in touch. The emotions of games, I’m going to miss. I’ve had so much fun over the years. It’s been a ball. This is about the best gig you could have.”

Brauns and his wife of 28 years, Michelle, plan on staying in Blacksburg. They have a son, Adam, who is a senior at Tech, and Brauns has two other sons, Eric and Jason, along with two grandchildren.

He hasn’t quite decided what he’ll do with the extra time on his hands, but looks forward to contemplating it.

“I’m going to get in my recliner and prop my feet up, and I’m going to decide,” he laughed. “It may take me a long time to decide, so I may be in that recliner for a while. I don’t know. I have all kinds of interests and hobbies. There’s a chance of getting back into business. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

Whitenack, who was the longest-tenured Tech employee, came to Blacksburg in 1972 from Miami, where the Massapequa, N.Y., native had been working as a track and field coach at a junior high school. He landed an assistant coaching job at Tech under then-coach Marty Pushkin.

Two years later, Pushkin left to take a job at West Virginia, and Whitenack, a 1969 graduate of the University of Tennessee, got the head gig at Tech – and never left.

“The reason I came to Virginia Tech, to be honest about it, was to get my master’s degree and then I planned to go back to Florida and hopefully get a job at one of the junior colleges,” Whitenack said. “I never ever thought it would work out that I would get to stay. It was just a matter of being at the right place at the right time. I couldn’t have been luckier.”

Whitenack, 69, guided the Tech men’s program for the next 28 years, while also serving a stint as the women’s coach in the 1980s and early 1990s. Early on in his tenure, he worked as the associate director of Tech’s summer All-Sports Camp for three years and the director for one year.

Under his leadership, the men’s track and field program produced 20 All-Americans, and he led the Hokies to two Metro Conference indoor championships (1993 and 1994). He was named the Metro’s Coach of the Year during the 1992 outdoor season.

He accomplished all this despite the program not having much in the way of resources. In fact, Tech did not have an actual track for years. He took his teams to Blacksburg High School to work out, and his teams also worked out at Rector Field House.

Despite a lack of resources, the Hokies often performed well against bigger schools in the big meets – a source of pride for Whitenack.

“A coupe of years, we went down to Florida State, and we have five scholarships and they were fully funded, plus a handful of football guys,” Whitenack said. “We would compete right up to the last event and scared the heck out of them a couple of times. We would go into the relays with a lead, and they would ended up beating us – but not by much.

“There were a couple of years … I know their coach, and he would come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe you challenged us that much.’ We had just phenomenal kids, usually from Virginia, and they didn’t let the lack of a facility really hurt them.”

The athletics department built a nice, new track adjacent to Rector in 1997 and also added an indoor track. After Tech joined the Atlantic 10 for all sports except football in the late 1990s, it became the premier track and field force in the conference. The Hokies won the indoor and outdoor titles for four straight years, and Whitenack received coach of the year honors after the each of those victories.

In 2001, Whitenack moved out of coaching and into an administrative role as the director of the Monogram Club, a club of former letter winners at Tech. The club serves as a way to keep a line of communication open between former letter winners and the athletics department. He organized football pregame tailgates and orchestrated reunions and other get-togethers for the former athletes of various sports at Tech.

He also helped take care of the luxury suite holders at Lane Stadium. With his office being in Lane Stadium, he had easy access to the suites, and he prepared them for game day.

“At first, I was hesitant to take the job [with the Monogram Club] because I didn’t think it would be enough work, and I like to be active,” Whitenack said. “Then Jim Weaver [former Tech AD] came back and said he had some other things for me to do. I really enjoyed meeting all those people in the suites, and I enjoyed working with and meeting the people who were in the Monogram Club, too. Many of them are good friends of mine, and they say they’re going to come down and see us.”

Whitenack and his wife, Judy, sold their home in Blacksburg and bought a home on Norris Lake, just north of Knoxville, Tenn. They plan on fixing their home the way they want it, while mixing in some kayaking, jet skiing and boating on the side.

Cavanaugh’s retirement on April 1 marked the end of a long, distinguished career of 42 years in college athletics, including the final 18 at Tech.

His career in college coaching began in 1972 as a graduate assistant at NC State, and he landed his first full-time college coaching job in 1974 as the receivers coach at VMI. He ended up coaching at seven different schools, and he coached in 27 postseason games.

Cavanaugh, 65, came to Tech in 1996, taking the spot vacated when Rod Sharpless left to go to Rutgers to be the defensive coordinator. He coached the whips and rovers in Tech’s scheme for 15 seasons, and he received a promotion after the first six of those seasons when Beamer named him the program’s recruiting coordinator. In his first year as the recruiting coordinator, Tech’s staff signed five prep All-Americans.

Cavanaugh, a native of Queens, N.Y., became known as one of the nation’s top recruiters. He landed guys like Michael Vick, Bryan Randall, Xavier Adibi, Nathaniel Adibi, Macho Harris, and Jonathan Lewis, among others over the years, and most of those players played key roles in lifting the program into national prominence.

In addition to being a great recruiter, he was also a terrific coach. Under his tutelage, players such as Pierson Prioleau, James Anderson and Cody Grimm developed into quality college players, and those three went on to play in the NFL.

In 2011, Cavanaugh was moved off the field and into the role of director of recruiting and high school relations. This past year, he was moved into the role of director of alumni relations.

Cavanaugh and his wife, Marsha, plan on moving to Charlotte, N.C., to be closer to their daughter, Lauren, and her family.

In addition to those five, Kinzie, a member of the housekeeping crew, decided to retire after more than eight years of working in athletics. She had been working at a local church prior to coming to athletics in April of 2006, and she has been a member of the Lane Stadium housekeeping crew ever since.Kinzie plans on spending time with her daughters, traveling around and attending music concerts.

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