March 15, 2011
With recent staff shake-up, Beamer shows he's not afraid to make bold changes

Fifteen months ago, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had probably never heard of Facebook. He likely had no idea what Twitter was, how it worked or how new social media platforms were growing in popularity worldwide.

Why would he care? He’d been the president of a country with a population of about 80 million people for 30 years. It was one of the region’s most stable countries, too.

But in a country where 50 percent of the population is under 25 years of age (per United Nation’s data), on-line communication – and not Mubarak – was the real king.

As we know, 18 days after it started, Egypt’s revolution was over and leaders of that country’s uprising credited Facebook and other forms of on-line communication for their victory. You can see an interesting video on the topic here. Another story on the topic is here.

Now, if you’re under 25, or have kids of that age, this isn’t groundbreaking news to you. The days of high school girls and boys talking on the telephone are long over. In fact, the days of even responding to e-mails have vanished, having disappeared like a one-hit-wonder from way back in … oh say, 2006 (Daniel Powter, anyone?).

Of course, every major college football prospect who is still in high school is under the age of 25, which translates into 100 percent of the target population for college football recruiters.

(You knew that eventually this story would get around to football, especially Virginia Tech football and recruiting, right?)

At Tech, recruiting has been darn good during the Frank Beamer-era. It’s been exceptional, in fact.

That’s why Virginia Tech has appeared in 18 straight bowls and has built a stack of 10-win seasons that is now seven deep. The Hokies have dominated the ACC since joining in 2004 to the tune of a 49-11 conference record and four ACC championship rings. The 2011 Hokies became the first ACC team in 11 years to finish league play unbeaten.

But somewhere along the line, whether during the 2009 opener against Alabama or following the 2011 Orange Bowl loss to Stanford, or sitting at his lake house in Georgia, head coach Frank Beamer realized that while his program has sensational players, it needs more of them – bigger linemen, faster linebackers, better players.

And while Tech has a great message to pitch to recruits, it needed to adjust the methods of delivering that message.

Beamer did not have to make the most sweeping changes since 1992 when he totally over-hauled his staff and their responsibilities last month. His program was solid, his roster was loaded and he was comfortable with his assistants. Why make any changes? Things seemed great.

Mubarak probably felt the same way.

This January, Beamer’s gut told him the time was right for the biggest staff shake-up in 19 years and he made it happen.

Staff-wise, Beamer brought in son Shane from South Carolina, where he was the recruiting coordinator, and ex-player Cornell Brown, who had been an assistant with Calgary in the Canadian Football League. He retained longtime assistants Billy Hite, who will serve as special assistant to the head coach, and Jim Cavanaugh, who is now director of recruiting and high school relations.

Recruiting-wise, he put Bryan Stinespring back in Virginia Beach, where he previously had been an excellent recruiter, assigned Richmond and northern Georgia to Shane and put Brown in Lynchburg and central Virginia.

Responsibility-wise, on game days, quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain will now call the plays and Stinespring will assist Curt Newsome with offensive line.

And while that might make a difference, the focus of all these changes was recruiting and the image of Tech’s staff. It got a lot younger, and Beamer hopes better.

That brings me back to social media and its influence in recruiting.

“Huge,” Shane Beamer said. “Texting was big three years ago, but it was unlimited and you felt if you weren’t texting, someone else was. Thankfully, texting is now outlawed.”

Taking its place are Twitter and Facebook.

“Twitter and Facebook have taken over,” the younger Beamer said. “There are a lot of kids that are only into Facebook. You don’t get a response on e-mail back-and-forth, but Facebook, they will.”

And that’s part of the way Shane and the other South Carolina coaches, including former Tech assistant Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward, signed another highly rated recruiting class that included Jadaveon Clowney, a defensive end considered the nation’s top recruit.

“He was a high profile guy,” Shane said. “No. 1 guy in the country, and there’s a reason everyone wanted him.”

He signed with the Gamecocks. The same day, Shane announced he was leaving his position as recruiting coordinator to come back to Tech, where he played in the late 1990’s.

Being an effective recruiter in the ACC “is the same as in the SEC,” Beamer said. “You have to really work it. It’s not just November through signing day. It’s year round. It’s every day for 365 days. You have to be detailed and find the people who are close to the person making the decision. But you really have to work at it.”

And you have to be engaged in how the high school classes of 2011 and beyond are communicating.

“Three years ago, I had to teach my dad how to check the voicemail on his cell phone,” Shane said. “Now, he’ll have his own Facebook page.”

The recruiting pitches are the same: Frank Beamer is the nation’s third-winningest coach. The Hokies had the second-highest graduation rate of any school in the top 25 last year. The locker room and lounge are brand new. Every game has been sold out since 1998. Tech puts dozens in the NFL.

But the way that information is being delivered to this generation has totally evolved in just five years. Heck, even the U.S. State Department has started its own Farsi Twitter feed to reach young people in Iran.

“If you’re only using the phone on your desk to recruit, you might as well be using a carrier pigeon,” one assistant told me.

Of course, it takes more than Facebook and Twitter to recruit players and win games. The Hokies are lucky that Cavanaugh, one of the league’s most effective recruiters, will be on staff. And the younger Beamer is fortunate that Hite will be around as well. They’ve seen it all over the years, battling rivals on the field – and on the recruiting trail.

But the bigger message Frank Beamer sent to his staff – and anyone else who was paying attention – is that he’s not content, not satisfied and was willing to make some hard choices to improve his program.

In a way, Tech’s staff now looks more like an SEC staff, no? The staff has a highly skilled veteran as director of recruiting and a legendary aid now serving as assistant to the head coach. You don’t see much of that in the ACC. In fact, you don’t see it at all. But in the SEC, it’s somewhat common.

The makeup of his staff looks much different, and how it’s delivering its message has changed in a big way in just a few weeks.

Hokie fans are eager to see the results.

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