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McFarling: New Hokies coach Pry combines pride in the place, humility in the execution

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Virginia Tech Football Pry (copy)

Virginia Tech football coaches past and present Bud Foster (from left), Brent Pry, Frank Beamer and JC Price pose for a photo during a press conference Thursday in Blacksburg. Pry was introduced as Tech’s head coach.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s new football coach stood on the stage at Lane Stadium, one arm draped around the shoulders of Frank Beamer, the other around Bud Foster. On the end of the row stood J.C. Price – the team’s interim coach and a man chosen to stay on staff going forward.

“Between the four of us,” Brent Pry said with a smile, “we’ll figure this out.”

He was joking. But he also wasn’t.

As he transitions from Penn State defensive coordinator to head coach at a Power Five program, Pry isn’t going to be afraid to ask for help. He won’t be shy about turning to his mentors for leadership guidance or about delegating responsibilities to men he trusts.

Humility. If there’s one word to describe the vibe Pry gave off Thursday morning while introducing himself to the community, that would be it.

There are others. Gratitude. Determination. Vision. Respect, both for those who came before him and for the responsibility he now holds.

But humility wins the day. In this crazy offseason of $100 million contracts and high-profile job-jumping, Pry didn’t strut in here promising national titles or even conference championships, although those are obvious unspoken goals. He didn’t pontificate like a know-it-all, as though he’d uncovered some great secret to winning football games at a previous stop that only he knows.

Schemes — and even dreams — were secondary. Something more fundamental was the focus.

“Treat people right,” Pry said, when asked what he’s learned from the best leaders he’s worked with in 30 years of coaching.

“That stands out to me. It doesn’t matter who it is in this facility or who it is out in town, we’re going to treat people right and we’re going to do things the right way. … That’s how you do things. That’s where it starts.”

Sitting in the front row of the news conference room, Beamer could only nod his head. That’s where it started with him, of course, and it got him all the way to the Hall of Fame.

It doesn’t end there, to be sure. Humble guys can get their butts kicked on Saturdays, too. Beamer surrounded himself with sharp football minds, and Pry will aim to do the same. Both men understand the power of the collective.

“We started that phrase, ‘we’re all in this together,’ and the fans bought into it and they showed that,” Beamer said after the news conference. “And it’s not just a group of people or one guy. It’s the fan base, the student base, the alumni, the Highty-Tighties, the Marching Virginians, the cheerleaders — you just go on and on. We really are all in this together.

“I think when you’re talking about your team and your players and your alumni support, being respectful of them, caring about them, I think it helps solve a problem when things don’t go so well or when things get a little rough. I think when you care about each other and respect each other, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting through it.”

Pry takes comfort in knowing he’ll have all the help he needs in meeting the challenges of his new job — and there are many. Instead of overseeing a small group of defensive position coaches, he’s now in charge of selecting and developing an entire staff. Instead of mentoring 50 players on one side of the ball, he’s the point man for 120 on all sides.

But Pry got to watch Frank Beamer do it during his formative years in Blacksburg, then had a prominent seat next to James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Penn State for a dozen years. Most of all, he got to see his father, Jim, handle the rigors of coaching at multiple stops.

“I do think it gives you an edge,” said Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, himself the son of a coach. “I don’t coach, obviously, but growing up in that household, you’re immersed in it every day. That’s what he knows. I think it gives him a tremendous head start. I like the fact that he had to grind it out at some not-blue-blood spaces and work his way up. I think it gives a great perspective.”

If Virginia Tech, the entity, had ears, this is what it would have heard Thursday: You’re different. You’re special. You’re loved.

Pretty corny concept, right? Sure it is. But sports, at their best, bring out the corny in all of us. How else do you explain why sharing a bag of peanuts while watching a guy hit a baseball with a stick can become an indelible father/son moment? Or how walking through the portal of a stadium or arena that you haven’t visiting in years can bring emotions flooding back?

The connection point that alumni and fans have with Tech, Pry has it, too. No, he didn’t attend the school, even though he wanted desperately to play there while attending high school in Lexington. But through his relationships and his brief time here as a graduate assistant, he discovered the DNA of the place — and fell in love.

“We’re going to hire the right people and we’re going to recruit the right people that want to be at Virginia Tech,” Pry said. “We’re not going to twist the truth. We’re not going to play games. We’re going to tell them what this place is all about and what’s so special about it, and if it’s not for them, it’s not for them. We want people that understand what Virginia Tech’s all about and can identify with the special qualities of this place.”

Pride in the place, humility in the execution. It’s worked here before, and it can again.

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