Home Wonder when we’ll find out who the next Virginia Tech football coach will be?

Wonder when we’ll find out who the next Virginia Tech football coach will be?


justin fuenteThe news broke that Virginia Tech was about to hire Memphis coach Justin Fuente the morning of the Virginia-Virginia Tech game in 2015.

We already knew Frank Beamer was stepping down – he’d announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season, earlier in November.

Virginia, as it turned out, was about to have an opening as well. Mike London probably knew it, but either way, he was coaching his last game as the Cavaliers head coach that day.

This was why the news broke the way it did. The assembled media covering the game had the big story. Yeah, sure, the two teams playing out the string that day had an actual football game to play to wrap up an underwhelming regular season, but Tech AD Whit Babcock was making the splash hire of the coming silly season.

Fuente had the bona fides – quarterback whisperer, turnaround specialist with his work at Memphis, taking a program that had won three games combined in the two seasons preceding his arrival to 10- and nine-win seasons by Years 3 and 4.

And Virginia was a dumpster fire.

I was in the media room for the postgame. Tech, as usual, won, this time coming back from a pair of fourth-quarter deficits to win, 23-20.

Protocol has it that the big media room in Bryant Hall is reserved for the UVA head coach, but because this was Beamer’s last game against the in-state rival, the folks at Virginia gave him the big room, a nice gesture.

Beamer and his wife, Cheryl, were seated at the table, looking out at a sea of media.

Cheryl was misty-eyed as Beamer was ready to speak.

Babcock, standing to their right, interrupted the proceedings, telling the media members that he wouldn’t address the rumors about the new hire out of respect for Beamer, but of course by going there, he was addressing the rumors, and upstaging Beamer, just to be able to gloat in the rival’s football facility.

Nothing personal against Justin Fuente, but I’ve been rooting for this to blow up on Tech and Babcock since that day.

It finally came to a head this morning, with Babcock announcing, via press release, that the program and Fuente had agreed mutually to part ways, effective immediately.

Maybe Babcock is hoping to be able to break the news of his next splash hire in Bryant Hall in a couple of weeks, maybe that’s worth the extra $1.25 million that Tech Athletics would seem to be on the hook for with Fuente’s buyout, which was set to drop from $10 million to $7.5 million next month.

The school and Fuente negotiated a split the difference buyout of $8.75 million, Babcock indicated in a press conference Tuesday morning.

Things had started out so well with the Babcock-Fuente marriage. Tech went 10-4 and won the ACC Coastal in his first season, in 2016, then 9-4 in Year 2, as Fuente coaxed wins out of guys that he’d inherited from Beamer, whose last four seasons had produced a cumulative 29-23 record, including a pair of 7-6 records in 2014 and 2015.

The early success would prove to be fool’s gold as Fuente cycled in his own recruits, even with early success on the recruiting trail – Rivals ranked his 2017 class 28th, his 2018 class 22nd, his 2019 class 25th.

Tech finished 6-7 in 2018, the program’s first losing season since 1992, then dropped its final two games, notably, suffering its first loss in the series with Virginia since 2004, to close at 8-5 in 2019.

A 5-6 finish in 2020 put Fuente squarely on the hot seat heading into this season, but the Hokies got out to a hot start, upsetting Coastal Division favorite North Carolina in the opener, briefly entering the national rankings, before a three-game home losing streak in October got the rumor mill about his future working overdrive.

The advantage to cutting ties now to Tech is that the program can begin its search for the next guy to replace Frank Beamer in earnest, in a competitive environment.

LSU and Southern Cal get the first choices from the pool of coaches in the carousel. Virginia Tech is next tier down, probably there with TCU, another program that had a nice run in the 2000s decade that has fallen into hard times of late.

Maybe this gives Tech a shot at SMU coach Sonny Dykes, though SMU is offering him the moon, and TCU would seem to be a logical choice if he decides a move into Power 5 is the logical next step for him.

Outside of that, Babcock is probably looking at another Fuentes-type hire, a Group of 5 head coach with a track record and room to grow, maybe a Power 5 assistant with ties to a Clemson or Alabama.

Odd thing here is, Tech, a 5-5, and 3-3 in the ACC, has a slim, OK, very slim, chance of winning its last two and finishing in a three-way tie atop the Coastal. The games at Miami and Virginia are very winnable; the slim part would come with the part of that deal having Pitt lose its last two.

The ACC and ESPN seem to think there’s enough there there to have the Miami-Tech game in the prime-time slot on Saturday, after UVA-Pitt, just in case the ‘Hoos upset the Panthers, giving us an elimination game between the Hokies and ‘Canes, who are also 5-5 and 3-3.

Babcock, after allowing Fuente to address the media for his weekly Monday presser on Monday, apparently isn’t willing to run the risk of Fuente winning his final two and having a 7-5 finish pressure him into keeping him for another year.

I can’t say that I blame him there. A 7-5 finish isn’t what Virginia Tech has come to expect from its football program after the run from Beamer back in the 2000s that had the program in the conversation for national titles.

It’s been a minute since Tech football has been there, but the expectations are still there.

Don’t be surprised if the news breaks the morning of Nov. 27, is all I’m saying. History suggests we’ll know by then.

Story by Chris Graham



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