he grew a beard
Virginia Tech was a basically a football non-entity until the arrival of Bill Dooley in 1978. After two losing seasons in '78 and '79, he reeled off seven straight winning seasons, including two with 9 wins. Up to that point, he was by far Va Tech's most successful coach, and under him the Hokies gained a measure of respectability, compared to what it had had before. Va Tech was an independent, so it didn't have the competitive schedule that's required to really get respect nationally, but it was no longer a laughingstock.
Allegations of recruiting violations forced Dooley to step down as HC and AD after the 1986 season, and the new AD hired little-known Frank Beamer to succeed Dooley. Beamer's only college head coaching experience was six years at Murray State, where he had compiled a 42-23-2 record. As you can imagine the selection was criticized by many of Va Tech's fans, since Beamer was basically a nobody with no D1A experience under his belt.
Beamer struggled right out of the gate. His first two seasons were 2-9 and 3-8, and coming after the successful tenure of Dooley this was hard to swallow. Beamer then followed with two modestly successful years of 6-4-1 and 6-5, but the '91 and '92 seasons were disastrous again, with 5-6 and 2-8-1 results. So Beamer's record after six seasons was 24-40-2, which basically was an inversion of Dooley's final six seasons of 46-21-1. I'm very curious what the attitude of fans and the upper administration of Va Tech was at that point, but I'd be willing to bet Beamer had very little support from anybody.
For whatever reason, Beamer wasn't let go, and that was fortunate for Va Tech. The '93 season was 9-3, and that kicked off Beamer's string of successful seasons extending to the present day. Since then his worst season was 7-5 in 1997, but just two years later he was in the NC game against FSU. There have been 10 seasons with ten wins or better in that span, including five in a row in 2004 through 2008.
I'm pretty amazed Beamer wasn't fired after the 1992 season, and I'm wondering if the nature of Va Tech's football history up to that point was critical. The Hokies had no real national football relevance, even after Dooley's tenure. They had none of the history behind them that powers like Alabama or Texas or Michigan had, and the fan base didn't demand 10-win seasons and prestigious bowl appearances. In other words, the standards probably weren't that high, compared to what they are at Michigan.
RR has to measure up to a historical record of success, especially since 1969, that dwarfs anything Beamer had to compare to, and I think that's the crucial difference. I'm skeptical that the administration would keep him after six years if the record was similar to Beamer's first six, but that doesn't mean it would necessarily be a wise long-term decision to fire him, as Beamer's record attests. Hopefully we're never in that position in the first place with RR. After two losing seasons, I can't imagine the condition of the Michigan football psyche if the agony were to continue for another four seasons.