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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beamer, Friedgen and Groh: More Than Just Coaches





November 16, 2009

By Michele Gordon

With both Virginia head coach Al Groh and Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen having come under fire recently for their team’s performances, I thought I would share my personal experiences with our three local ACC coaches and show that coaches aren’t always what they seem.

Back in 2004, Chick Hernandez, Marc Dress and I made a trip to Lake Oconee in Georgia to visit Friedgen and Frank Beamer. We were doing a feature on Friedgen and Beamer’s friendship as Virginia Tech was about to enter their first season in the ACC. Ralph and his wife Gloria were extremely generous and invited us to stay at their house. The day after the interview, Ralph took us out on his boat to go waterskiing. Chick did a great job, Dress was a pro, but I was a different story. I’d never waterskied before and Coach tried to teach me. After several attempts, he said “I’ve got patience, but I ain’t got that much patience.” I was a lost cause. I may not have learned how to waterski, but I’ll never forget how much fun we had that weekend with Ralph and Gloria and to see a different side of “The Fridge.”

Al Groh is an interesting man. To be honest, when I first met him, I was intimidated. He’s extremely intelligent and can sometimes come across as stand-offish. From what I saw, he rarely smiled, didn’t crack jokes and didn’t hesitate to correct someone. But my impressions of Al changed in January of 2007. I was covering a Virginia men’s basketball game in Charlottesville. My mom had just passed away from ovarian cancer the week before. I missed the 2006 football season because I was home taking care of her. So while I was in Charlottesville, I decided to stop by the McCue Center and say hello to Al. I only meant to pop my head in and say a quick hi, but I ended up spending almost 30 minutes in his office talking about the last few months and losing my mom (yes, I got emotional). He was unbelievably supportive and offered me many encouraging words. I will never forget that conversation with Al. Since then, I have seen a different side of Al Groh and so have you if you watch our weekly Al Groh reports on the website or SportsNite. A few weeks back, we asked him about his players nicknaming him “Jeezy”, as in the rapper “Young Jeezy.” Say what you want about Al Groh, but there’s a reason why those close to him, including current and former players, are fiercely loyal to him. There is another side and I consider myself lucky to have seen it.

Frank Beamer is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. There is no “other side” to the Virginia Tech head coach. There are not many coaches in the country like that so it’s no wonder his assistant coaches have been with him for decades. I returned to Lake Oconee in 2006 for another work assignment. My coaches features for that year were “Coaches and Their Kids.” I went down there along with videographer Dave Letourneau to interview both the Beamers and the Friedgens. After ribbing me for wearing a red CSN shirt (they didn’t make Chicago Maroon at the time), the Beamers welcomed us into their home with open arms. Frank’s son, Shane, had just returned from his honeymoon with his lovely bride Emily. At the time he was an assistant coach at Mississippi State. He’s now the special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator at South Carolina. Frank’s daughter, Casey, works for the Carolina Panthers. We had a wonderful visit that included a boat ride with the family. I continue to stay in touch with the Beamers quite a bit. Every time I see Frank’s wife, Cheryl, I always get to see new pictures of their granddaughter, Sutton. Not that it’s ever hard to see Frank Beamer smile, but just mention his grandbaby and the head coach’s face lights up like a Christmas tree.

So think what you want about these head coaches, but just remember, there’s always another side.

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