Frank Beamer announced today that he is retiring as the head football coach at Virginia Tech at the end of the 2015 season. For the longest time, the logical choice to succeed Beamer has seemed to be his long-time defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. But that logic has come into question as the years have gone on, to a point now where Foster is on the second tier of the lists of candidates for more than a few in the sports punditry.
The advantage that the other names being thrown out there – Memphis coach Justin Fuentes, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Houston’s Tom Herman, and Temple’s Matt Rhule – is that each of them has experience leading an FCS program.
And don’t underestimate the value of that experience. The job of college football coach is as much CEO as it is X’s and O’s. As the head of a Power 5 program, you’re the point man for a business with more than 100 employees, including your players, coordinators, assistant coaches and support staff.
You don’t necessarily want to hand over the reins to something as big as, say, the Virginia Tech football program to a guy who doesn’t have experience being the guy. And Foster, famously, has consciously decided to remain a seat over from the big chair, focused on his role as defensive coordinator, recruiting players to fit his scheme, tweaking his scheme, and leaving the CEO stuff to his mentor, Beamer.
Which isn’t to say that Foster can’t be successful as the head coach at Virginia Tech. He has been a seat over from Beamer since 1987, and you’d think that in the last 29 years he would have picked something up about what it takes to be the head man.
But then you might also ask: why didn’t Foster ever take one of the opportunities that you have to assume came his way to move out from under Beamer’s wing to fly on his own as an FCS head coach? Is it because he simply liked his situation at Tech, being able to focus on X’s and O’s and leaving the political stuff to Beamer? Or is it maybe the case that he had some trepidation about stepping out on his own and falling flat on his face?
Either case, I don’t know, if I’m Whit Babcock, the athletics director at Virginia Tech, if I want to find out what Bud Foster may or may not be capable of, when I know what a guy like Rich Rodriguez can do as the head man at a Power 5 program. Rodriguez has experiences at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona to bring to Blacksburg, some good, some bad, but all pushing him to get a little better every day, every week, every season.
You take a little more of a flyer on Fuentes, Herman, Rule – guys who are younger, have that CEO-type experience, but not a lot of it, with huge upsides as their calling cards.
That’s another issue for Foster at Virginia Tech. At 56, upside isn’t his selling point. He’s toward the tail end of his career. Realistically, he has eight to ten good years left, which isn’t insignificant, and he of course offers continuity to the current program.
Not that continuity with the current program is that much of a plus in his favor. Virginia Tech is just 26-22 over the past four seasons, with a middling 14-15 mark in the ACC, and it’s arguable that what the school is framing today as a retirement is something else entirely.
It may be that Babcock wants to make a clean break from the Beamer era, though there are risks there, too.
And it may be that Foster doesn’t want the job, because who would know better than Foster how hard it will be to follow the legend?
You really don’t want to be that guy trying to replace the guy who built it with his bare hands. Think Dean Smith at North Carolina, who engineered his own sudden retirement on the eve of the 1997 season so that his long-time assistant, Bill Guthridge, would get his chance to be the head guy for three seasons with a pretty good team (UNC went to two Final Fours under Guthridge in his brief tenure), but guaranteeing that the man who replaced The Man wouldn’t be saddled with unreal expectations forever and ever amen.
A similar situation is brewing at Duke, where basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is going to eventually step down, setting in motion a succession struggle that could tear Blue Devil Nation apart at the seams.
A new guy coming in from the outside will still have to shoulder the burden of those outsized expectations, of course, but there will be some plausible deniability for the new guy trying to come in and get things on a different track.
All that having been said, I’d be shocked if Foster got the job replacing Beamer. My reading of the tea leaves is that Babcock wants to go in a new direction, and has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to begin the post-Beamer era, which can go one of two ways: the Florida State way, which has seen Jimbo Fisher restore FSU to the prominence that the legendary Bobby Bowden had built from nothing, and the Penn State way, which has the Nittany Lions program foundering post-Joe Paterno.
Either way, I don’t foresee the future for Virginia Tech including Bud Foster.
– Column by Chris Graham