Fond Farewells to Gary Pinkel, Frank Beamer Send College Football Into A New Era

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Tributes are rolling in for Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, and they’re well deserved. Two of college football’s elder statesmen are coaching their final home games on Saturday and saying goodbye to the programs both ostensibly built.

The conclusion of the 2015 season signifies the end of an era — not only in Columbia and Blacksburg, but nationwide. College football stands on the precipice of a new era, one in which the next generation of program-builders and legends will emerge.

Gary Pinkel and Frank Beamer join Steve Spurrier, who eschewed the farewell tour when he stepped down midseason. In much the same vein as Pinkel and Beamer, who took their programs to unprecedented heights, Spurrier made Florida a national powerhouse.

And, while he never won a national championship there, the Head Ball Coach’s run at South Carolina might be more impressive. South Carolina lacked the history and infrastructure of Florida, yet became a figure on the national stage under Spurrier’s guidance.

All three are Hall of Famers. Their exits signify the end of one era, and transition directly into the next. College football is the midst of a mass

This year’s coinciding retirements are just the beginning. Nick Saban’s one of the oldest in the game. Bill Snyder is THE oldest, and already retired once before. Retirement always looms as a possibility for the face, body and spirit of Kansas State football.

The ongoing shakeup and shockwaves still to come mirror the early-to-mid-1990s. That was the last time the sport experienced such a drastic shift, and not coincidentally, it occurred a generation ago.

In a five-year span, the following legends stepped down and never returned to the college sidelines:

Don James, the “Dogfather” of Washington Huskies football, who appeared in six Rose Bowls and won a national championship in 1991. He retired in 1992.

Bill McCartney, just this month featured in an ESPN 30-For-30 documentary. McCartney rescued Colorado football from the absolute nadir of college football and made the Buffs a national powerhouse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Three of his teams finished ranked in the Top 4, and the 1990 squad split the national championship with Georgia Tech.

His last Colorado team, in 1994, finished 11-1, won the Fiesta Bowl, and featured Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam.

Gene Stallings became part of the unusual, cosmic connection between Texas A&M and Alabama when, in 1990, he became the head coach of the Crimson Tide. Stallings was out of college coaching for almost two decades when Alabama came calling, but in just his third year at the helm, he won a national championship.

Stallings’ run at Alabama ended in 1996.

Tom Osborne‘s face would likely go on a College Football Mount Rushmore. The Nebraska legend retired in 1997, after winning a share of a national championship — the third of his career.

When these legends bowed out in the 1990s, the next wave of superstars emerged. Spurrier won his national title amid this run, Virginia Tech was growing into a nationally recognized program under Beamer and K-State was doing likewise under Snyder.

The new generation already has its pace-setter in Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Despite the heart scare that forced his exit at Florida, Meyer’s just 51 years old and could have plenty of coaching still in the tank.

Others such as Dabo Swinney and David Shaw, in their early-to-mid 40s, are laying the foundations for impressive legacies.

But in the years to come, we’ll see up-and-comers emerge to take the game into its next era. Someone like Justin Fuente, Matt Rhule or Tom Herman could grow into the next Gary Pinkel or Frank Beamer for some program. Maybe the next program-builder is a coordinator waiting on his first head-coaching shot — which could very well come in this year’s chaotic hiring cycle.