Coaches Butch Jones, right, of Tennessee talks with Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech before Monday’s news conference at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — For Butch Jones and Frank Beamer, a football game between their programs on Sept. 10, 2016, in front of a massive crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway is a tantalizing proposition.
Tennessee and Virginia Tech will face off in front of the largest crowd ever assembled to witness a college football game, giving Beamer and Jones something to sell on the recruiting trail for the next couple years. When they met the media on Monday, both coaches talked about what it meant for their programs to meet in a game of this magnitude.
“I think to be a part of football history, this is why you come to Tennessee, to be a part of something as big as this,” Jones said.
“To have the significance that this game is going to have, the largest crowd to ever watch a game, that’s special,” Beamer said.
While both coaches are bullish on the game for the same reasons, they took vastly different paths to the stage in the BMS infield on Monday.
For Beamer, BMS has been part of his life since he was a kid growing up in Virginia. The veteran coach calls the half-mile track his favorite sporting venue aside from Lane Stadium and remembers watching a NASCAR race from the grandstands with his brother when he was still in high school.
“I sat right over there in those bleachers when Junior Johnson and Fred Lorenzen — Fred was driving a Ford and Junior was driving a Chevrolet — and they kept battling back and forth,” Beamer said, motioning to a spot in the empty bleachers on the backstretch where he sat that day. “Finally they wrecked and all of a sudden we had a fight going.”
Beamer also reminded everyone of the time he raced in a charity race at BMS in 2009, recalling that he was supposed to be racing against Lane Kiffin, who was the head coach at UT at the time. But Kiffin pulled out just a week before the race, leaving Beamer to take the green flag without him.
“About a week before the race, (BMS general manager) Jerry (Caldwell) calls me and says, ‘Look, I’ve got some bad news. Lane has said he couldn’t do it, that his wife is concerned about his safety,’ ” Beamer recalled. “I said, ‘Well, my wife is encouraging me to drive.’ ”
After the laugher subsided, ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch, who was the emcee at Monday’s event, advised Beamer that Jones and his team are unlikely to bow out come 2016.
Unlike Beamer, Jones laid eyes on BMS for the first time when he served as the grand marshal for the Food City 500 in March. Jones may have been new to the venue, but his eyes lit up like a pinball machine when he first gazed up at the grandstands that seem to stretch miles into the sky.
“In March, coming here, you couldn’t help but notice the passion, the excitement that surrounds the race,” Jones said. “As a football coach, I walked in like, ‘Wow. What if we had a football game here?’
“And now to make this a reality, to be a part of football history is important to both our universities.”
The differences between the coaches don’t end with their respective journeys to BMS.
At 66 years old, Beamer is an elder statesman, the winningest active coach in the NCAA Division I Bowl Subdivision. The mild-mannered Beamer has built Virginia Tech’s program virtually from the ground up, turning the Hokies into a major player on the national stage.
While Beamer is a builder, Jones came to Knoxville prior to this season to embark upon a major rebuilding job. The bombastic Michigander talks in the booming voice of a salesman with a truck full of a product that he believes will change your life for the better.
It’s too soon to tell how much success Jones will ultimately have in Knoxville, but his sales pitch is certainly attracting a talented batch of recruits to Tennessee’s program.
Beamer has taken notice of the job Jones has done thus far and, despite their differences, the two coaches have a respect for each other that runs deep.
“I think a lot of Butch and the way he’s doing the program there at Tennessee,” Beamer said. “This is just big. Two great programs, two great fan bases. We’re really proud to be a part of something that’s just special.”