A Conversation With Bill Roth
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 8/4/97
His cries of "Touchdown Tech!" are music to Hokie fans' ears, and his thrilling call of the Druckenmiller-to-Holmes touchdown in the 1995 UVa game has become the stuff of Hokie football legend. For nine seasons now, Bill Roth has served as the "Voice of the Hokies," handling play-by-play on Virginia Tech football games, basketball games, and even an occasional baseball game.
Bill's professionalism and accessibility to Hokie fans have made him a fan favorite. When rumors recently surfaced on the HokieCentral message board that he would be leaving Virginia Tech, many Hokie fans went nuts, and the hysteria rivaled the noise that Tech fans made when Dave Braine left for Georgia Tech. Fortunately, the rumor about Bill was 180 degrees from the truth, as The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Sunday, July 27th that Bill has signed a three-year contract extension. Barring a newspaper reporting disaster the likes of the Isabelle fiasco, Hokie fans will enjoy Bill's presence for at least three more years.
A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Roth graduated from Syracuse University in 1987 with a degree in broadcast journalism. During his time at Syracuse, Bill worked for campus radio station WAER and called the play-by-play of the Orangemen's 1987 Final Four appearance.
Bill was honored by The Associated Press and the New York State Broadcasters Association for his work while at Syracuse, and he also won the distinguished Robert Costas Scholarship in 1986. For the past four years, Bill has worked with the Richmond Braves baseball team, helping call the play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A affiliate.
Recently, Bill agreed to be interviewed by HokieCentral, and in late June, I visited the Jamerson Center on the Tech campus to have a chat with him. After showing me around the Jamerson Center, Bill sat down with me in the Bowman Room, overlooking Tech's soccer field and the Merryman Center construction. Across the soccer field, a silent and empty Lane Stadium stood awaiting the 1997 version of the Hokie football team, while a few tables away in the mostly empty Bowman Room, architects and builders discussed the status of the Merryman Center construction.
Bill and I talked for about an hour and a half. Since I'm a lousy interviewer (having no experience at something will do that to you), I prefer to call this a "conversation" with Bill, and indeed, we meandered from topic to topic, with only my sheet of questions keeping us on track. The man likes to talk Hokie sports, and so do I. It was a pleasant way to spend an afteroon, and I hope you enjoy the "conversation" and learn a little bit about Tech athletics and Bill Roth along the way.HC: You always wanted to be a radio announcer, didnt you? In an article in the Hokie Huddler, you talked about practicing as a child.
BR: (laughs) Yes, I was a very disturbed child, obviously.
I always wanted to work for a team. I never thought it would be much fun to work for a news director of a television station, or for the editor of a newspaper. Growing up in Pittsburgh, the broadcasters like Jack Fleming who did the Steelers, Bob Prince who did the Pirates, and Mike Lange who did the Penguins, they were the guys who I listened to Jack Buck, who did and still does the Cardinals. People like that, those are the guys I enjoyed listening to. I thought, "Boy, if I could ever do that, it would be a heck of a way to make a living."
HC: So the concept of announcing for one team, as opposed to traveling for a network and doing different teams each week at different venues .
BR: Yeah, I like the relationships I get to build with the coaches and the players, and the fans, too. Much more so than trying to come in and prepare for a strange team. I go out to dinner with these guys (network announcers) when they come in for a game to help prepare them, and its like cramming for an exam every week for them.
HC: That helps explain why you sound like such a big Virginia Tech fan when you do your broadcasts. Thats probably the thing that Hokie fans like about you the best youre a professional, but you are a Hokie.
BR: Well, for example, someone was complaining about a Monday night game last year, where Green Bay played San Francisco, and Tyronne Drakeford and Antonio Freeman were going head-to-head all night, and not once was it mentioned by the announcers that they went to Tech together.
When Tech is playing UVa, and Jay Hagood is blocking Duane Ashman, I think its really important to be able to bring up that they were best friends at Fork Union, and now today, as the case was this year, theyre blocking each other, and sometimes, Duanes getting the better of it, and sometimes, Jays getting the better of it. I think youve got to be familiar enough with your team and your opponent to be able to come up with something like that.
If youre coming in out of Chicago to do a game like that, you dont know those relationships. So I think thats the key with being with one team and being in one place for a long time, you can develop a sense of perspective, and being able to relate that to the fans is important.
HC: What were your favorite sports to play when you were a kid?
BR: Baseball, hockey. I grew up in Pittsburgh, seven miles from Three Rivers Stadium.
HC: So your favorites sports teams were the Pirates, Steelers, etc. (Bill nods) What was your favorite college team?
BR: My uncle was a Golden Panther, so I saw a lot of Pitt games. I saw Danny Marino, Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green, and the Johnny Major / Jackie Sherril teams at Pitt.
HC: Lets explore the Syracuse connection, because I know Hokie fans are interested in that. Youve addressed it before in the Huddler, but Tech fans are intrigued by that, because we are such huge Hokie fans, that we cant imagine, say, going to work for Syracuse, going back to Lane Stadium, and broadcasting for Syracuse against Tech.
BR: Thats the great thing about Virginia Tech fans, is that there is such a tremendous bond between Tech fans and the school. Theres this love affair between Hokie fans and their team. That is unique to Virginia Tech. Its the only school in the state that is like that. You talk with and I have you talk with people at other schools, and they are envious of our fans. Not so much the numbers its not like were Alabama, and we can snap our fingers and 60,000 fans show up at the Spring Game but its the same type of relationship in terms of loyalty.
That does not exist at Syracuse. Its not like Im a chagrined alumnus. Im very proud of the fact that I went there, and if my son wanted to be a radio announcer, Id send him to Syracuse. But if he wanted to be a football or basketball player, Id send him to Virginia Tech.
Im not the only one who feels that way. Theres just not that bond at SU. I think it shows in the attendance at their bowl games.
Syracuse basketball in particular is very much a social event, much more so than it is here or at other places. Its the socially acceptable thing to do, its the "in" place to go to have a wine cooler, do that type of thing. And the basketball has obviously been great.
Im very close to their athletic director, Jake Crouthamel, and he gave me some tremendous opportunities while I was there. And Im also close with Coach Mac I think the first person who called me when I got the Virginia Tech job was Dick MacPherson. He called me at 6:00 a.m. and woke me up.
HC: You were working for Marshall at the time, right?
BR: Yes, I was, but I was still very close to Coach Mac. Hes a great man. Hes retired now, lives in Syracuse, and does color announcing for the Big East network.
My junior year at Syracuse, Syracuse played Virginia Tech, over here (points out the window towards Lane Stadium), and I did the game on the campus radio station. Tech won, 24-14. Both teams had a hundred yards in penalties. I did the game with Mike Tirico, and we did it from what is now Wes Worshams suite, but at the time, it was just an empty room up on the ninth level at Lane Stadium. That was my first exposure to Tech.
HC: Lets back up a little bit. How did you decide on Syracuse for your undergraduate work?
BR: Everyone I talked to said that if I really wanted to get into sports journalism, Syracuse was the place to go. The list of alumni is really impressive. Marv Albert, Dick Stockton, Len Berman, Ted Koppel, theyre all Syracuse graduates. So are a lot of guys that you might not even know of in Virginia, North Carolina, California, Major League Baseball, and the NBA. Hank Greenwald, who was a longtime broadcaster for the Giants, is a Syracuse grad. So are Sean McDonough, and Tirico.
HC: Was McDonough there when you were there?
BR: He was a senior when I was a freshman.
HC: He did the 1990 Tech/ UVa game for ESPN. Hes done other Tech games, for CBS.
BR: He did the Orange Bowl. He did this years UVa game. We stay in touch.
HC: So what other schools are even close to Syracuse?
BR: None. Not in sports journalism.
HC: What was most memorable about your college days?
BR: The Final Four, my senior year. 1987. Syracuse had to beat Carolina to get to the Final Four, and then the Final Four itself was terrific. Lets see, they had Pitino, Tarkanian, Bobby Knight, and Boehim. It was just a really neat foursome of coaches. And they (Syracuse) were one jump shot away from winning it.
HC: What was it like broadcasting that Final Four, and in particular, what was it like when you had to tell the fans back home that Keith Smarts shot was good?
BR: Oh, the tough thing was talking to Derrick Coleman after the game, because he had missed two free throws right before Smarts shot. I was the first one in the locker room after the game, and talking with Coleman Coleman at the time was a freshman and had yet to develop his disdain for the media.
HC: (laughs) So he was still talking at the time?
BR: Yes, he was still talking at the time. (shakes head) That was a very tough interview.
It was an exciting time. I was just glad to be there. I had never been to New Orleans before. You can imagine, being a college senior, getting ready to graduate, and Im hanging out with (Brent) Musberger, and (Billy) Packer, and the CBS people. And seeing Bobby Knight, and Jerry Tarkanian that Vegas team was just great. They had some tremendous players. Indiana beat Vegas in the semi-final, and at the time, it was the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game. 63,000 in the Superdome.
HC: Now lets get onto your post Syracuse days. What in the world did you say or do to get Dave Braine to hire you, a 22 year old without much experience and no ties to the Tech community? How did you pull that one off?
BR: (laughs) Call Dave. Hes the only one who can answer that question. Id like to know the answer to that question myself.
I was real excited when I talked to Dave. I mean, I had been here, and I had seen the potential. I knew what Tech had. So I knew. And I knew Dave Braine.
What people dont understand about Dave Braine people said you could never win at Marshall. Marshall was terrible in Div 1-AA football. They were awful. 2-9, 2-9 Sonny Randle coached there, and even he couldnt win there. Marshall football was terrible.
And now, you look at the last few years, and theyre the dominant team in 1-AA. They said you could never win there, and they did. They said you could never build a stadium there, and Dave got the money to build a new stadium. Theyve got a wonderful stadium.
Then he moved on to Virginia Tech. People were saying, "You cant get into a conference . Virginia Tech cant win the Sugar Bowl." Wherever he has gone, his legacy has been great facilities and championship teams, in all sports. Hes been terrific for womens basketball, tennis, track, soccer, all sports. At both places.
I think if you talk to George Chaump (Marshalls coach) and Frank Beamer, theyll say, "Ive never worked for a better AD." You ask the tennis coaches at both schools, and theyll tell you the same things. And thats what Georgia Tech has now. Theyve got a guy whos going to be terrific. And the nice thing for Georgia Tech is, thanks to the Olympics, theyve got terrific facilities, and theyre going to be in pretty good shape.
HC: Getting us into the Big East football conference, I consider that to be one of the best acts of black magic that Ive ever seen, because this is a conference that was built around money and television, and when you look at it, you ask yourself, why would they let Virginia Tech in?
BR: Well, they needed an eighth team (shrugs). I asked Mike Tranghese that, that day in Providence, the day the conference was announced. We were the only school that had a radio crew there. We carried that press conference live. It was, for sure, Daves proudest moment, but not just for Dave, but for the folks at West Virginia.
The perspective in Virginia is different. Getting an all-sports conference, or an eastern football conference, had been the goal of everyone in the east. But there had always been a stumbling block, out of State College. And it finally happened they were able to put it together without Penn State, and that brought great satisfaction to the ADs at Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Boston College. As soon as Penn State went to the Big 10, they (the Big East ADs) obviously had to do something.
We were very fortunate to get in. But we said at the time that Tech would be good for the Big East, just as much as the Big East would be good for Tech.
HC: I was going to ask what your impression of Tech was when you first came here, but you were already familiar with Virginia Tech.
BR: The potential was incredible. Its a big state school, and there were some great visionaries here in Blacksburg in the past, from Ed Lane to Stuart Cassell to Frank Mosely - people of that era. You couldnt build a new stadium and a new coliseum at the same time, at any university in the country. Well, they did that here. They built a basketball arena, Cassell Coliseum, the nicest in the Commonwealth, and a football stadium, Lane Stadium, which is still, 37 years later, the nicest in the Commonwealth. All at the same time. You couldnt do that today, for financial reasons. Those people had great vision.
But until Dave Braine came here, no one took advantage of the potential here. Not until Dave and Frank Beamer came here. The leadership here didnt have the thought processes to lead a big-time athletic program. They may have tried, by doing things like hiring Coach Dooley away from North Carolina. They may have tried, but until the last 10 years, there was never a full effort to really be big-time, to do what it takes. Of course, getting into the Big East helped.
I dont want to make it sound as if the people who were here before then didnt know what they were doing, because they built some great facilities, but only in the last ten years has the sports administration started to take advantage of Techs potential.
HC: Do you remember your first Tech broadcast?
BR: Sure I do. Vividly.
HC: Who was it?
BR: Clemson, at Death Valley. 1988. We lost big. Clemson had Terry Allen. We couldnt tackle him. It was Will Furrers first game.
HC: Do you remember the score?
BR: 40-7. It was not close. We couldnt stop their option, their sweep, their tailback, we couldnt do anything.
HC: Were you nervous at all, doing your first game for Tech?
BR: Well, I didnt know how Mike and I would get along.
HC: Burnop was there? Hes been there from the beginning for you?
BR: Yes. I havent done one without him. There was a feeling-out period. When should Mike interject, what do I need to say it came quickly for us, but I didnt know going into the game, and neither did Mike. He didnt know. He had worked with Jeff for five years.
HC: Jeff Charles, who does broadcasting for ECU now?
BR: Yes. So this will be Mikes fifteenth year working for Tech.
HC: So youve never really experienced nervousness on the air? Because sometimes, when youre finally faced with doing what youve wanted to do your whole life, you get nervous. What about you?
BR: I did some ESPN work. The first thing I did when I graduated from Syracuse was some NCAA lacrosse work for ESPN.
HC: So you were play-by-play?
BR: Yes. And that was kind of intimidating, because (exhales) Syracuse was playing, and I didnt want to appear as if I was rooting for Syracuse, even though I knew half the guys on that lacrosse team. There was a producer, who is now an ESPN senior producer, talking in my ear, there was a camera right there, and I was holding an ESPN mic flag. I was 21. Thats the only time I had to calm myself down.
Ive had times where Ive had adrenaline flowing, obviously. Theres nothing like being in that stadium (points towards Lane Stadium), especially for a night game. The band gets there early, the fans are tailgating, and theres an electricity, and a buzz in the air, and it gets really contagious. So adrenaline, yes, nervousness, no.
HC: What was your most embarrassing moment on the air? Do you remember a time, whether it was at Tech, or somewhere else, where you said something and immediately thought, "Boy, I wish I could have that one back"?
BR: I recall I was talking with Coach Beamer, we were answering a callers question on the air. It was one of the lean times, and the caller said, "Coach, I think its great that you come on and take calls every week, and that you hang in there like you do."
I said, "Coach, thats the wonderful thing about the Hokie Hotline. Every Monday night, you get to go on the air and expose yourself to thousands of Tech fans."
HC: (laughing) What did Coach Beamer do?
BR: He started laughing. He just started laughing. It sounded to me like something that should be on the Bob Saget show or something.
When we added the Point After, the broadcast really changed, because now the fans were a part of it. They are a part of it. Its not just Mike and I anymore, its anyone who wants to join in. And you notice since weve gone to the Point After, weve gone to four straight bowls (grins).
If you recall, in 92, it was very tough. The show after the Rutgers loss, the 50-49 loss, and the show after the Louisville loss.
HC: So we had the Point After back then?
BR: We did. Those two shows were tough. Those two shows were very tough. That was a very difficult season.
HC: I think the toughest position youre put in, in scenarios like that, after we lose, people call in and start to question some of the coaching, as if you, Bill Roth, are supposed to give them some sort of answer. I imagine thats very difficult to handle as a broadcaster.
BR: I can think back to a number of instances we shouldnt have lost the game to Rutgers, the 50-49 game. Mike was outstanding and this is where Mike is really good after that game, he said, when they were on their own 20-yard line, throwing a Hail Mary, he said, "Dont let them catch it. Interfere with them. Its only a 15-yard penalty. You just dont let him catch the ball." Mike was very critical of our last minute game plan that day.
(Note from Will: down by a touchdown, with time for only two plays left, Rutgers was on their own 20 yard line. They completed a pass of approximately 60 yards, ran downfield, and threw a pass into the corner of the end zone on the last play of the game for the winning touchdown.)
HC: People just lost their heads. That happens to people.
BR: We should not have lost that game at Louisville, too. If you read between the lines, though, we always came out with, "Hey, were moving in the right direction. We shouldnt have lost that game to Rutgers, we shouldnt have lost that game to Louisville, but were moving in the right direction. Were close."
After the 38-0 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville, that was a tough show to do, also. But fans just have to hang in there, and they did. And thats the great thing about Tech fans.
HC: Well, I think everybody understood the UVa game, after what had happened against ECU the week before, the team was just crushed. That team had the air let out of it. I look back on it, and I wonder why I even went to that UVa game, because you could see it coming. They owed us from the year before (a 38-13 Tech victory).
BR: Our fans for the most part are very intelligent, too. We dont get many crazy calls. Most of the callers bring up very good points. Were very fortunate. Were also very fortunate that weve won 37 games in four years, and I understand that. Were it the other way around, the show would be really different, because people would get frustrated. But our program isnt going in that direction.
HC: The true test of Techs fans, though, will come when they dont win 8 or 9 games a year. Theyve gotten over the hump, and theyve seen the success. Now lets see how they (Tech fans) handle not being so successful, the next time it happens.
BR: Well, hopefully, well never get into that situation. But I guarantee you that if we ever go to the Liberty Bowl, or the CarQuest Bowl, our fans will be there.
HC: Whats your favorite part about what you do?
BR: The relationships with the coaches and players. I always heard other announcers say that, and I thought, "Thats crazy." But its true. No doubt about it.
HC: What is your highest, best, most exciting moment as a Tech announcer?
BR: The Jermaine Holmes touchdown.
HC: Thats kind of a no-brainer, but I had to ask.
BR: You go back and look at that drive - you look at that whole quarter - and Druckenmiller was incredible. And that catch that Corney White made on 4th and 10 Bryan (Still) getting out of bounds in front of our bench ... the two plays before the touchdown
I joke with Bobby Hussey we were recruiting Percy Ellsworth for basketball, Bobby was, back when Percy was in high school. And I said, "Well, how good is he, because hes being recruited for football, too." And Bobby said, "Percy Ellsworth will make a difference in a game for us. You watch."
Five years later, I said, "Bobby you were right."
HC: Whos your favorite Tech athlete of all time? Do you have one?
BR: Whew! I have favorites in different ways, for different reasons. I always liked interviewing Will Furrer, because he was always so scholarly, and you might get a literary quote of some sort coming back, not "Weve got to take them one play at a time," or stuff like that. He might throw some Plato at you. And so I always enjoyed interviewing Will. Obviously, Ive got a soft spot for Shawn Smith, and Damon Watlington, and that crew.
HC: Tell us about Druckenmiller to Holmes you lost your composure, didnt you? What did you think the first time you heard tapes of your call, and did you have any idea that your call of that play would go down in Tech sports history?
BR: Youre being very kind.
HC: Well, thanks to the Internet (and HokieCentral), a lot of people now have a copy of that.
BR: I thought we were going to score. If you listen closely, youll notice that you dont hear Burnop yapping and screaming. Its because when Druck went back to pass, I reached over and turned Burnops microphone down.
HC: You thought we were going to score on that play, and you turned Burnops mic down?
BR: His mic was off. I turned it down when Tech got to the line of scrimmage.
I didnt lose my composure. I was concentrating hard. I knew it was going to be dramatic. You can kind of tell when theres going to be a finish like that. I thought we were going to score, or there was going to be an interception. Because they had some great DBs. They had a lot of interceptions that year.
HC: So when he caught the pass, you just kind of winged it? You said, "This is a great moment, Im going to go with it"?
BR: There was a guy sitting right in front of us at Virginia, the broadcast booth is basically in the last row of the stands. Youve got some tables, some concrete, but youre essentially right there behind the fans. You can reach out and touch them. They hear everything you say. UVa will score, and the guy will turn around, he and his buddies will, and theyll look at me and Burnop as they sing and sway. Its the ultimate in-your-face place to broadcast. They were singing the Good Ole Song, and they had us down pretty good.
Those are high priced seats. Theyre on about the 40 yard line there under the cover. It was neat to see their reaction to the touchdown, because as much as it made us feel good, you have no idea how much it hurt them. Or maybe you do.
HC: (laughing) I never really thought about it.
BR: It was a devastating loss.
HC: Tell us about addressing the students at the basketball game last year, and asking them to stop the "You suck!" yell. How did you wind up getting nominated for that task, and were you nervous about having to do that?
BR: Dave Braine asked me. He said, "If I do it, they might boo. The students dont look at you as an authority figure, because number one, youre not." (laughs) He said that. He also said, "We dont really want to get Ace to do it." And I dont know that Ace would have been comfortable doing it.
HC: No, not Ace. No player would have been comfortable with that.
BR: And Coach Foster didnt want to do it.
HC: Coach Foster had already tried once.
BR: I know it (the yell) bothers a lot of people. But I think that if you watch basic cable television, which includes MTV, the Simpsons, etc., youre going to hear that word 4-5 times a night. It means the same as "You stink!" did 30 years ago. And so to a kid, it isnt vulgar, and it isnt inappropriate in that instance. So they dont necessarily interpret it the same way as most of us do.
I can say this: its much worse on the road.
BR: In comparison, what our students say is G-rated. Its "Better Homes and Gardens," compared to what you get on the road. Im glad Dave asked, and it worked for one game.
Who knows what theyll come up with next year?
HC: Youre absolutely right. To me, the phrase is vulgar in its origins, but to a college kid, its not. When youve got Beavis and Butthead saying, "This sucks" and "That sucks" 50 times every half hour, youre right, it just doesnt mean what it used to.
Next question: how much did it mean to you to be named SportsCaster of the Year in the state of Virginia two years in a row.
BR: Must be a weak field (laughs). You cant win more than two years in a row. They changed the rules.
I dont know, its nice because its voted on by my peers, so its a nice honor. Its always gratifying to be respected by your peers.
Ive felt all along Ive had the best job in the state. I wouldnt want to go anywhere else. I think that its the best place to be for what I love to do. But I appreciated their votes.
HC: What are your personal long-term goals as a broadcaster? I think people can stand to lose Bill Foster, and they can stand to lose Dave Braine, but I dont think we can take losing "The Voice." Do you see yourself staying at Virginia Tech much longer?
BR: Thats up to Tech and ISP. Ill say this, I think that ISP has been one of the best things to happen to Tech. We had a series of rights holders, a series of changes in that, and the radio and the TV operation has gotten much better in the last ten years. The amount of revenue that its producing has gone up exponentially in the last decade, and ISP will continue in that regard.
Its up to them.
HC: You very artfully danced around the question. Again, what do you want to do?
BR: Id like to do Tech for a long time. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Virginia Tech. I have absolutely no interest in leaving Blacksburg and leaving Virginia Tech. This is my home, and Im a part of the Tech family. It would be like divorcing my family. Its a great place. The winning obviously makes it better.
I think we need to continue to get better. We need to make whats happened the last 3-4 years commonplace. We need to get our mens basketball program up in the same area. We need to continue to increase our season ticket base. We need to continue to strive to improve the radio and TV shows. Were not where we need to be yet in any of those areas. I look forward to the challenge of making those areas better.
HC: You wrote a piece in the Hokie Huddler about Dave Braine. You talked about how he gave you your first opportunity. You are obviously in debt to Dave, and you think a lot of him. What are you going to do when Dave Braine calls you up and offers you the job at Georgia Tech?
BR: First of all, hes not going to, because theyve got a really good announcer there at Georgia Tech in Wes Durham, whos a very good friend of mine. Wes has a bright future in Atlanta.
HC: Is he young? Is he going to be there a while?
BR: "Touchdown Tech!" is not transferable.
HC: So you dont think that scenario is going to occur? The one where Dave Braine calls you up and says, "Ive got a vacancy"?
BR: (pauses) You have two questions to ask Dave now. Call him up. Let me know what he says.
HC: (laughs) I dont think Ill ever have the opportunity to talk to Dave Braine.
BR: Dave Braine has hired me twice, so I dont know if hes ready to go for the hat trick.
If he was the new general manager of the Braves, it might be a different story.
HC: Speaking of the Braves, will you be doing play-by-play for the Richmond Braves this summer?
BR: I may do some. If they call. The schedule just got too overlapping. Our basketball team was making postseason play, so that overlapped. Then the Braves were making the playoffs, so that started overlapping with football season. The overlap was ridiculous. There was never any time off.
HC: so you were driving back and forth between here and there, during the overlap?
BR: I know every exit between Blacksburg and Richmond. (speaking to the tape recorder:) It is not a long drive, for those of you who are in Richmond.
HC: (speaking to the tape recorder) No, its not a long drive! (Looking at Bill) Ive made that drive. Its not a long drive.
So you might be talked into doing play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves some day?
BR: Oh, you wouldnt have to convince me. I know what those guys make (laughs). Id like to do both. Id like to do the Hokies and the A-Braves.
HC: A lot of the same people would be listening to you. What are your hobbies outside of work?
HC: Playing or listening?
HC: Do you have a big CD collection?
BR: Yeah. Theres a band out right now that Im listening to, that Ive really gotten into. They're out of Chapel Hill. Theyre called the "Ben Folds Five," which is interesting, because theres only three of them. I highly recommend them. And the interesting thing about them is that they dont have a guitar. Theres a piano, bass, and drums. Theyre best described as alternative. Its rock and roll.
HC: What about your personal life? Are you married, dating going out to dinner with anybody other than Burnop?
BR: (slight pause) Dinner with Burnop would be a much better topic.
HC: (laughs) All right, well leave that one alone. But you are not married, right?
HC: What, in your opinion, is Techs ultimate conference destiny? Dave Braine seems to think well be in the Big East by the year 2000.
BR: I think that we need to realize that the situation were in right now is pretty good. In ten years, it might not be as good, but its good now.
I dont know that anyone really knows whats going to happen. I trust the ADs - Jake Crouthamel at Syracuse, Chet Gladchuck at Boston College, Ed Pastilong at West Virginia (note from Will: Cladchuck has recently departed BC for Houston). They want Tech in the Big East for all sports. But its not up to the ADs. Its up to the school presidents.
Ive heard all the arguments. Theres 13 teams in the Big East right now, and if Temple is forced to drop out of the football conference, it would seem to be a slam-dunk that Virginia Tech moves in. You have two 7-team divisions, and you have one all-sports conference, instead of having this convenient arrangement. But I honestly think that Miami needs to be in it for baseball, and in a perfect world, Notre Dame and Penn State are in it for football. But I dont know that the agendas of all these schools will ever mesh to form an all-sports conference.
Do I think Tech will be in the Big East in two years, because everyone else thinks so? No. It was a slam-dunk five years ago, six years ago, and look what happened. They didnt take us then.
HC: I was surprised to hear Dave say that at the time, that he thought we would be in in couple of years..
BR: I think that if it was up to the athletic directors community, it would be a lot different story.
The Big East should take Virginia Tech for all sports, but they should also take Miami for all sports, and that means all sports. If you want to make the Big East a better baseball conference, then Miami should have to come and play in Morgantown and Pittsburgh. Thatll make everybody better, just like it did in football. Miami has made everybody better. But Miami doesnt want to do that.
Theres all these back-room deals that have been cut. Notre Dames got one, too. Everybody in the Big East has a sweetheart of a deal.
HC: Except Virginia Tech.
BR: Well, take Brigham Young. They had a team that went 7-4 and got shut out of the bowls, and they had another team that went 13-1 and got shut out of the Alliance.
Were in a pretty good situation. Were in a football league where the top 4 teams, which is half of the league, goes to a bowl, and were in a basketball conference where 6 of the teams, which is half the league, went to postseason play. Thats pretty strong.
HC: I think Tech fans think the current setup is okay, but what many of them fear is what I fear. Namely, that when the TV contracts start getting renegotiated, theyre afraid well get left on the outside. Because of that old argument about market share.
BR: I think were in great shape, football-wise. Thats a question to ask Mike Tranghese, of the Big East. Thats a question I might ask him myself.
I dont know that there is an ultimate destination. I think the SEC would be nice. I think it would be exciting, and new, and very, very, very challenging for our coaches. But it would be a very exciting time, too. But there would have to be a series of steps that would have to happen first for anything like that to happen. And also in the Big East. There would have to be a series of steps.
Temple is going to have a very difficult time staying in for football. And if Connecticut wants in, theyre in. Its written in the Big East charter. And theres your 8-team football league. So how is adding Virginia Tech in 1998 different from when they didnt add them in 1991, from the Big East perspective?
HC: What is your dream matchup in football? Who do you want to see Tech play? Who do you want to call Tech playing?
BR: Man, its already happened. Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
We had two great opportunities there this past year. Number one, we won a game in dramatic fashion in the Orange Bowl stadium. We beat Miami there, the first Big East team to do that. And that was really exciting.
But Nebraska is the great program, in my view. Miami, and the Orange Bowl, Tom Osbourne hes been there more than anyone else, probably. Clearly Nebraska is a great program.
I wish from the fans perspective that we could have a series with Tennessee, that we could have a home-and-home with them. And for our fans in Northern Virginia, I wished that we played Maryland every year, home and home. I understand why those two schools dont schedule Virginia Tech, and theyre for different reasons. But from a fans perspective, those are two games that Id like to see.
I dont want to go back to Hattiesburg, though.
HC: At least the football team won down there, the last time they went.
BR: So did the basketball team. But Coach Beamer and I decided we dont want to go back to Hattiesburg. Although there was a great place called Lethas that you could get ribs, in Foxcroft, Mississippi. She comes out and serves you ribs.
We havent talked about food at all.
HC: I figure you talk about food enough on the air with Burnop (laughs). Ill be sure to tell everybody that you were disappointed that I didnt ask you any food questions.
Who are the football player and the basketball player to watch next year?
BR: Obviously, Al Clark in football. We dont know what Al Clark can do. We know what his high school stats were. Very impressive. We know his high school program has turned out Marvin Graves. We certainly have had great success with quarterbacks from Fork Union, so his pedigree is outstanding. And we saw him in the Spring Game. And we know his work ethic is great. But in the first two games, on ESPN, when its lights, camera, action, we dont know whats going to happen.
Defensively, maybe Jamel Smith.
In basketball, Eddie Lucas, who has been terrific with his work ethic, in the weight room and with the Ironman competition.
I think our basketball staff is really going to step up the level of player that theyre recruiting. I think the fans are really going to be happy with what Bobby and his staff can do.
HC: Whos going to be the next athletic director at Virginia Tech?
BR: I thought I was going to get out of here without answering that question.
HC: No way.
BR: Ill say this about the Athletic Director search: the people on the committee have Virginia Techs best interests at heart. Thats a great committee.
We are naive to think that just anyone can come in and be the AD at Virginia Tech because its an "athletic juggernaut" thats on cruise control. Theres no such place. No place is like that.
The person that youre looking for now has to be very dynamic, because the landscape of college athletics changes daily. This person has to understand the entire scope of gender equity, the entire scope of conference affiliation, the entire scope of fundraising and marketing.
Its a very important decision. I think the people on the committee are great, and I think weve got a terrific candidate in Sharon McCloskey, a terrific candidate who clearly meets all of those qualifications, plus more. Shes a good leader, shes a person who has obviously grown through the Tech system and knows it very well. Shes an ideal candidate.
To hire somebody solely because "this person can get us into the Big East or the SEC" is the wrong reason to hire an athletic director. If that was your only intention, then you could go hire Peter Ueberroth or somebody, and pay him three million dollars to be here for eight months. But thats ridiculous, thats silly. The conference affiliation stuff is at the presidential level.
This is a very important decision, but weve got the right people making the decision.
HC: Last question has anybody ever asked you for your autograph?
BR: Oh, yeah. (shrugs) Hokies love stuff.
HC: Before we finish, is there anything you thought I was going to ask you and didnt besides the food thing? Is there anything you want to address?
BR: (pauses) I want to stay at Virginia Tech, because weve got tremendous fans. Weve got a tremendous bond between our fans and the school, and you cans see it in attendance and fundraising.
HC: I see it every day, doing what I do. The intensity is surprising.
BR: Its a love affair. With Tech fans, its more like theyre family members than they are just season ticket holders. Were all in it together, and thats one thing Coach Beamer said in 1988. "Were all in this together." And thats whats really critical, that Virginia Tech has that. Its what gives us the advantage.
End of Interview