They've won championships and playoff games and major bowls. They've started from scratch and elevated existing programs to new heights. They've done it with offense, with defense and with special teams.
Successful college football programs abound in the commonwealth, at every level. Virginia Tech and Virginia have won ACC titles. William and Mary has won conference titles and playoff games. Richmond and James Madison have national championship trophies.
Old Dominion's start-up program made immediate noise in the Football Championship Subdivision before jumping up a level. Hampton was the class of the MEAC in the late 1990s and mid-2000s. Christopher Newport won out of the chute in Division III and has become almost a postseason fixture.
Ask some of the men who run those programs the components of championship-caliber teams and you don't get different answers so much as variations on a theme.
People. The right people. Administrators that occupy big offices. Coaches in meeting rooms and on the field. Players at key positions willing to work. Certainly, facilities and structural upgrades matter, but people provide the foundation.
"I ranked them very distinctly when I got here, and I think that probably 90 percent still applies," said CNU's Matt Kelchner, who has taken the Captains to nine NCAA tournaments since he started the program in 2001. "The No. 1 key ingredient is administrative and leadership support. Still the most important thing. I don't care if it's D-I or D-III, high school or Pee Wee. The leadership has to embrace it. If they don't, you're going to be fighting a major uphill battle."
Administrative support convinced new Hampton U. coach Connell Maynor to jump from a very successful gig at Winston-Salem State, where he was embraced by his bosses and took the Rams to the brink of a Division II national championship.
"It starts up top," Maynor said. "Administration and athletic program and the coaches have to be on the same page with what you want to do. Here, we're on the same page and that's why I'm here. Dr. (William) Harvey wants to win. He wants to compete for and win a national championship. I want to win at the highest level, which is a national championship and MEAC championship.
"If your head football coach wants to win a championship, but your president doesn't really care and your athletic department isn't going to fully invest in you … you're not on the same page. You're not going to be able to build a championship program."
Jimmye Laycock enters his 35th season at William and Mary, where he has worked for three athletic directors and five presidents.
"It's extremely, extremely important," he said. "If you're not having the support from the people above you, I think you can only do so well. I see places where they change coaches because they're not being successful, instead of looking at areas where they could provide more support.
"You're going to go through some tough times and you have to know people are going to hang with you, no matter if you're having tough times or good times. You don't want people jumping on the bandwagon when things are going well and then when you hit tough times, they forget about you. You have to know people are going to stay with you and support you."
Frank Beamer knows a thing or two about administrative support. He returned to his alma mater, Virginia Tech, as head coach in 1987. Saddled with the effects of NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions due to transgressions under former coach Bill Dooley, Beamer and the program had a tough time gaining traction. The Hokies limped to a 2-8-1 record in 1992, bringing Beamer's six-year mark to 24-40-1.
Rather than make a coaching change, former athletic director Dave Braine and Tech officials famously directed Beamer to overhaul his staff, and they identified other measures to help the program. The new staff jump-started the Hokies to a 9-3 record in '93, beginning the program's present 21-year bowl run and a march to Big East and ACC titles and major bowl games.
Today, Beamer's office is within sight of or an easy walk to the fruits of the program's success and commitment: expanded Lane Stadium; manicured practice fields; spacious, well-appointed locker room and player lounge; new indoor practice facility under construction.
"I don't know if there's another (situation) as good as we (have), where I can sit in my office and see every facility that we've got," Beamer said. "It's all there. It's very easy. You're not having to go a long way to the practice field or a long way to the indoor practice facility. It's all right there. I think we're fortunate in that regard.
"So, from a facilities standpoint, we've always been good. It's not state money. It's money raised from our supporters. Our supporters want to be very successful and they've showed it. It's demonstrated by how much they've given to us to build facilities."
Beamer's new boss, athletic director Whit Babcock, is the son of a college coach and spent 20 years in athletic administration across a breadth of Division I schools before coming to Blacksburg. Though his specialties include fundraising and marketing, he is convinced that people play the greatest role in championship programs.
"I probably learned it from my dad being a coach," he said, "really the best way to win is to surround yourself with the best coaches possible, give them the resources to be successful and then hold them accountable. If you do that, if you hire the best coaches you can possibly hire, you give them resources to be successful and you let them run the program their own way and hold them accountable with high expectations, that's as good a recipe as I can come up with."
Babcock said that he routinely meets with recruits and asks them their draw toward Virginia Tech, or some of his previous schools.