When SportsCenter reporter Marty Smith was nine years old and growing up in Southwest Virginia, Frank Beamer was named head football coach at Virginia Tech.
Occasional trips 30 minutes away to Blacksburg, Va., to watch Tech football games with his father, Leo, were a treat for Smith.
Now, after 29 seasons, the retiring Beamer will coach his final game in Lane Stadium on Saturday when the Hokies host North Carolina (ESPN, noon ET). And Smith will be there in his role as an ESPN bureau reporter.
– Marty Smith
On Tuesday, Smith spent part of the day on the Tech campus filming features on Beamer that will air Saturday morning on SportsCenter and College GameDay. The one-on-one with the legendary coach took Smith on a reflective journey, not only due to his admiration for Beamer but also because of the memories of days with his father, who passed away in 2008.
“There were some Saturday mornings when he would rustle me and say ‘Boy, wake up, we’re going over the mountain,’ and that was code for we’re going to watch Virginia Tech play football today,” Smith said. “Those rides with my dad – funny, they were 20-30 minutes long, but they felt like hours. We’d scalp $5 tickets outside the stadium.
“When Coach Beamer got there, it kind of started the evolution of my appreciation for the game,” he said, “and way above that, the magic that is time spent with your father.”
Beamer, Smith and the ESPN crew started their shoot inside the stadium, where Beamer addressed his thoughts about coaching his final home game. They then moved to the university’s memorial for the 32 students and faculty killed in 2007 by a gunman on campus.
“We had a very emotional, deep conversation about his role as the face of the university after that tragedy and why it was so important to him to rise up and be that face,” Smith said.
Beamer and Smith closed their day with some fishing at a campus pond.
– Marty Smith on interviewing
“Getting to spend that time with someone that helped shape my passion for sports was one of the most fulfilling days I’ve ever had professionally and probably personally too,” said Smith. “The aura of Frank Beamer to me is so much larger than football.
“He always had the down-home sensibilities that he learned in Fancy Gap, Virginia, and he never lost those,” Smith said. “His entire philosophy as a coach was born from working hard and treating people well. And that is so congruent with the mantra of the area.
“It’s just beyond my ability to articulate how special that was for me. It was fantastic.”