Brewing for weeks, the idea of returning to Virginia Tech’s football radio team didn’t really click for Bill Roth until an Eagles gig on Feb. 25.
Roth had just parked at the FLA Live Arena in Fort Lauderdale that evening when his phone rang. The call came from Rick Barakat of Learfield, the Hokies’ longtime media partner.
“We can do it,” Barakat told Roth.
With those words lingering in his mind, Roth spent the next two hours listening to his favorite band cover the iconic “Hotel California” album and other Eagles staples. Essentially, it was a reunion for a band that came of age in the 1970s.
Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit remained. Country star Vince Gill has partially filled the void created by the death of Glenn Frey in 2016.
“These guys still have it,” Roth said. “Don Henley still has it. Joe Walsh still has it. … They were great.”
The legions of Hokies faithful are equally excited about Roth’s impending reunion in the football stand with analyst Mike Burnop.
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“And just like that, things are good with the world,” Brandon McMillan replied when I tweeted the news last week.
GIFs were priceless: Frank Beamer, hat upside down, dancing in Tech’s locker room; Vince Vaughn on “Wedding Crashers” exclaiming, “He’s back!” to Owen Wilson; “I can not wait!” of Bart Scott leaving for ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio in 2011.
Such is the affection Roth amassed as the voice of Hokies football and men’s basketball from 1988 to 2015. That affection has never wavered, not during Roth’s year at UCLA, and certainly not since he joined. founded the Sports, Media, and Analytics program at Virginia Tech.
Yet when Jon Laaser, Roth’s successor, stepped down in January, a Roth follow-up was hardly assured.
His dedication to the SMA program, its students, parents, and teachers has prevented the volume of basketball games and travel. There was also the matter of Roth’s freelancing for ESPN and the time he and his one-year-old Goldendoodle, Baxter, spent at their second home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“I didn’t think that would happen,” said Burnop, the Hokies record tight end, set for his 40th season on the air.
Learfield executives, together with Tech Sporting Director Whit Babcock, made it possible.
They devised a non-traditional model, similar to those in Michigan and Alabama, which splits soccer and men’s basketball assignments. They assured Roth that the basketball announcer, who has yet to be hired, will handle duties such as coaching broadcasts and network affiliate relations.
Roth’s bosses at ESPN and Tech’s School of Communication also endorsed the idea, and why wouldn’t they? The more visible Roth is, the more valuable he becomes to these entities.
“It’s wonderful that Bill Roth is maintaining his professional work and relationships by returning as Virginia Tech’s detailed football voice,” Robert Denton Jr., director of the Tech’s School of Communication, said in a statement provided to The Times. – Dispatch. “As a hands-on teacher, Bill’s weekend work plays a vital role in the contributions he can make to our students in the classroom. Her professional work helps mentor students, provides opportunities for student projects, and provides industry contacts for internships.
As fate would have it, Tech played a basketball game in Miami the afternoon after the Roth’s Eagles epiphany. There he met Babcock and sensed his enthusiasm for the reunion. Further conversations with ESPN officials at the ACC tournament in New York added momentum.
“Everyone was so flexible,” Roth said. “For this to come together, it was really special.”
Roth’s final event as the voice of the Hokies was the 2015 Spring Football Game, a precursor to what would become Beamer’s final season as head coach. The timing of his return to this Saturday’s spring game, the first under rookie coach Brent Pry, would have been ideal, but Roth accepted the ACC Network assignment for the game before concluding negotiations with Learfield, and the former Blacksburg radio show host Danny Nokes will. Burnop’s partner for the day.
Roth, 56 and a Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, said he agreed to a five-year contract with Learfield, and the confluence of that in Burnop’s 40th season and Pry’s first is striking. Burnop and Roth remember Pry well as a Hokies graduate assistant in 1995 and 1996.
“We’re going to start over,” Roth said, “with a great new football coach, to kick off a whole new era of football. Brent Pry is our Vince Gill. It’s still the Eagles, but Vince Gill is here instead of Glenn Frey…
“It’s not 1988, where everyone crowds around their radio and listens to every minute of every game. There are other ways for a fan base to get their information and follow the team, and our job is to create content on different platforms that Hokie fans of all generations want to consume…. We need to be able to reach fans aged 19-99.
The Roth-Burnop chemistry is immeasurable, the product of decades of not only colleagues but also friends. They bonded through sport and life, the buffets they ravaged, the wrong turns they made, and the hundreds of thousands of miles they traveled together, at work and on vacation.
Citing that chemistry, Burnop said their reunion will be “smooth as silk,” and as proof he cites last July, while on vacation in Florida, they did an hour-long segment on Rick Watson’s radio show in Radford. Sitting on the front deck of the Destin de Burnop house, they regaled the Watson audience with stories from the road and memories of Hokies triumphs.
“It felt like you didn’t miss a beat,” Burnop said.
A Syracuse graduate who immediately embraced the bonds and loyalty inherent in Hokie Nation citizenship, Roth was inundated with messages last week. Dozens of fans and colleagues, as well as former Tech football players such as Jim Druckenmiller and Wayne Ward, have reached out.
“There’s something very unique about the authentic nature and spirit of this community,” Roth said, “whether it’s students, faculty, alumni or athletes. It’s a beautiful thing.
Roth also felt a communal, multi-generational vibe at the Eagles concert, and just like the band, he’ll be playing greatest hits such as “Touchdown Tech!”
“Looking at these guys and looking at the audience, hopefully Mike and I can have — hopefully our fans have the same reaction to our reunion tour,” Roth said. “…Hopefully we, our new group, can deliver like they do, and we will.
“We want to hit all the high marks.”