I wrote earlier in the week about the death of Coach Bob Thalman. Bill Nay mentioned that VMI defeated Virginia Tech twice during our Cadetship.
I remember well the game in 1973 when VMI defeated Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
Before getting to my remembrances of the game some background.
Virginia Tech football was at a crossroads. At the end of the 1970 season long time Tech football Coach Jerry Claiborne jumped ship for the University of Maryland. Tech President T. Marshall Hahn overruled Virginia Tech Athletic Director Frank Mosley, who had played football at Alabama with Bear Bryant, in the hiring of a football coach. Mosley had wanted to hire a protégé of Bryant, whereas Hahn wanted to get someone who would win Tech a national championship. Hahn was persuaded by some Tech Alumni to hire a Frank Broyles of Arkansas protégé, Charlie Coffey. Coffey was to coach Tech for three tumultuous years.
Coffey was divisive figure. He managed to piss off not only a majority of the Tech Alumni, but also the Sports Editor of the Roanoke Times, Bill Brill. Brill was not one to let a slight pass, and so Charlie Coffey was clearly in his crosshairs.
Bob Thalman had also been hired at the end of the 1971 season when Coach Vito Ragazzo was fired. Thalman had been an assistant coach for Ragazzo during the 1971 season. He brought a can do attitude to his position at Head Football Coach.
The 1973 season had seen VMI improve under Thalman; and Tech hit a plateau under Coffey. The game between VMI and Tech was the last game of the season for both teams. It was also Ring Figure weekend for the Class of 1975. For Charlie Coffey and his assistant coaches it was a make or break game. For Thalman it was the difference between a winning and losing season.
It was the battle royal. The game went back and forth and at the end of the fourth quarter VMI was ahead of Tech by a score of 22 to 21. With under two minutes to go Tech was deep in VMI territory and was driving toward a score. Tech freshman Quarterback Eddie Joyce, rolled out to his left on the Quarterback Option and decided to keep it. He was met at or near the goal line by I believe Jay Newcomer who was a VMI defensive end. Newcomer grabbed him around his legs; while Joyce was stopped he was not tackled and still had possession of the ball. VMI All-American Safety Gene Williams came up from the secondary and hit Joyce squarely in the chest, with ball popping out of Joyce hands and being recovered by a Danny Newcomer. The game was over; VMI ran out the clock and won in Lane Stadium. Here is the link to the VMI Cadet about that game.
I had a bird’s eye seat for this game; as I was assisting the VMI Football Network that day in Press Box at Lane Stadium. Joe Knakle and Weenie Miller were the voice of the VMI Keydets. Joe was the professional and all seriousness; Weenie Miller was a long time friend of Bob Thalman and a former VMI Basketball Coach who was exciteable. As the game ended Knakle attempted to tell the listening audience what was happening, while Weenie was yelling we beat them, we beat them. I was yelling and sent out of the Press Box and as exited I ran into Coach Joe Bush one of the VMI Assistant Football Coaches and we exchanged high fives and shouts, while nearby the wives of Tech Coach loudly cussed us and slammed the door to their area in the Press Box.
The upshot of the game, Coach Thalman was the conquering hero; and Charlie Coffey was soon gone and replaced by Coach Jimmy Sharpe, a Bear Bryant protégé. The following year Coach Thalman won the Southern Conference Championship—not bad for program many thought could not win—someone fortunately forgot to tell Thalman.
As I wrote earlier about Thalman, he believed he could win at VMI; and he did. He was fired because he had three losing seasons, 82, 83, and 84. But VMI hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. Bob Thalman was fired because unfortunately too many VMI Alumni involved with the Keydet Club honestly believe that VMI can win a BCS National Championship; that the Flying Squadron will be revived, that with the right coach VMI will win and that the sun rises in the West. That is why Bob Thalman was fired, and guess what VMI has yet to find a coach since Thalman’s day who can produce a winning season.
I received an email yesterday in which the Keydet Club announced it was establishing a Scholarship in honor of Bob Thalman. How fucking hypocritical. It was the Keydet Club types who had the man fired. If VMI graduates want to honor Thalman, don’t do it by giving to Keydet Club rather give to the Scholarship at Hampden Sydney or to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of Atlanta as the family requested.