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Virginia Tech Football: 13 Coaching Candidates to Replace Justin Fuente

Virginia Tech Football: It's Getting Warm in Blacksburg for Hokies Head Coach Justin Fuente

Justin Fuente is out at Virginia Tech with just two games left in the regular season

Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente mutually parted ways on Tuesday. J.C. Price will work as the program’s interim coach for the final two games. Fuente finished his tenure in Blacksburg with a 43-31 overall record. After a successful 26-23 stint at Memphis, Fuente replaced Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech in 2016. The Hokies went 19-8 over his first two years but dipped to 6-7 in 2018. The program rebounded to 8-5 last fall but slipped again to 5-6 in 2020. Fuente entered the season on the hot seat and needed a big year to save his job. Although Virginia Tech opened with a key win against North Carolina, the program was just 5-5 this fall and never made enough overall progress.

Who could replace Fuente at Virginia Tech? Here are 13 names to watch in the coaching search:

13 Coaching Candidates to Replace Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech

Jamey Chadwell, Head Coach, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell’s name popped up in connection with a few jobs last offseason, leading to an extension with Coastal Carolina last December. Considering Chadwell’s recent success, he’s likely to be mentioned for several jobs this offseason once again. The Chanticleers are 27-19 under his watch, including a 19-3 mark over the last two years. The Tennessee native landed his first head-coaching gig at North Greenville in 2009 and went 22-14 over three years. After a 3-7 mark in his only season at Delta State, Chadwell took over Charleston Southern in 2013. The Buccaneers finished 35-14 over four years and never won fewer than seven games. He left to be Coastal Carolina’s offensive coordinator in 2017 but worked as the program’s interim coach after Joe Moglia was sidelined due to a medical leave of absence. After returning to his previous role in 2018, he was named the full-time head coach at Coastal Carolina in January 2019. Chadwell is a rising star and will get plenty of looks for Power 5 openings in the near future.

Sonny Dykes, Head Coach, SMU
Dykes is expected to be involved in the search at TCU, and as a Texas native, a move to Virginia Tech seems unlikely. However, the Hokies would be wise to inquire about his interest level. He’s 30-16 in just over four years with the Mustangs, while also compiling a 19-30 record at California (2013-16) and a 22-15 mark at Louisiana Tech (2010-12). Dykes comes with an offensive background and experience in rebuilding or adding talent to a roster through the transfer portal.

Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
Elko is a rising star in the assistant ranks and should get an opportunity to run an FBS program in the near future. He’s developed Texas A&M’s defense into one of the best in the SEC since taking over the play-calling duties in 2018. Prior to coming to College Station, Elko worked as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame (2017), Wake Forest (2014-16), and Bowling Green (2009-13). He has no experience as an FBS head coach.

Tony Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Elliott is due for an opportunity to run his own program after thriving as Clemson’s play-caller since 2015. The California native played his college ball at Clemson and started his coaching career at South Carolina State in 2006. After two years there and three at Furman (2008-10), Elliott returned to Death Valley to coach running backs in 2011. After Chad Morris left the program in 2015, Elliott was promoted to play-caller and Clemson has consistently ranked among the nation’s top offenses under his watch. Elliott also is regarded as an excellent recruiter. While Clemson’s offense has struggled this year, Elliott should still get plenty of interest for openings.

Marcus Freeman, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Freeman is a rising star in the assistant ranks, coordinating a Notre Dame defense allowing just 20.5 points a game in his first year calling plays in South Bend. The Ohio native took over as the defensive signal-caller for the Fighting Irish after a successful run as Cincinnati's coordinator (2017-20), while also making stops at Purdue (2013-16) and Kent State (2011-12) in his career. Freeman - a former Ohio State linebacker - has never been a head coach at the FBS level.

Will Healy, Head Coach, Charlotte
Healy’s name popped up in the search at Vanderbilt last year, and it’s only a matter of time before he takes over a Power 5 program. The Tennessee native has been on a fast rise through the coaching ranks after starting his career at Chattanooga in 2009. After working there until 2015, Healy was hired as the head coach at Austin Peay. Healy inherited a program in need of major repair and after an 0-11 debut, the Governors went 13-10 over the next two seasons. Healy was hired at Charlotte prior to 2019 and led the program to its first winning record (7-6) and bowl (Bahamas) at the FBS level. With a 5-5 mark through 10 games in ’21, Healy is 14-15 overall with the 49ers. He’s one of the youngest coaches in the nation (36), knows how to recruit and build energy and excitement for a program.

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Dan Lanning, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Lanning is one of the nation’s top assistants and has worked under Kirby Smart for the last four years in building a dominant defense at Georgia. Prior to his stint in Athens, Lanning worked as an assistant at Memphis (2016-17) and had a one-year stop at Alabama as a graduate assistant in ’15. Lanning has never been an FBS head coach, but it seems only a matter of time before the Missouri native gets to run a program.

Sean Lewis, Head Coach, Kent State
Kent State is trending up under Lewis’ direction, and the former Wisconsin tight end is primed to take over at a Power 5 job in the near future. After a 2-10 debut in 2018, the Golden Flashes finished 7-6 in ’19 and are 8-6 over the last two seasons. Lewis also spent time as an assistant under Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green and Syracuse, which helped him develop the exciting up-tempo offense Kent State currently deploys.

Joe Moorhead, Offensive Coordinator, Oregon
Moorhead is in his second year as Oregon’s offensive coordinator after he was dismissed at Mississippi State following a 14-12 stint from 2018-19. Prior to that stint in Starkville, Moorhead had a successful stop as the offensive coordinator at Penn State and went 38-13 as Fordham’s head coach from 2012-15. Moorhead should get another chance to run a Power 5 program and this wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Pennsylvania native.

Billy Napier, Head Coach, Louisiana
Napier’s name has popped up in the rumor mill for SEC openings the last two offseasons. While Napier isn’t in a hurry to leave Lafayette and can wait for the right opening, Virginia Tech should inquire about his interest. The Tennessee native played his college ball at Furman and spent time as an assistant under Dabo Swinney at Clemson before landing at Colorado State (2012) and Alabama (2013-16). Napier was hired as Arizona State’s play-caller in 2017 and departed after one season to become the head coach at Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 37-12 with four Sun Belt West Division titles under his watch. The program’s 11-win season in 2019 marked the highest one-year victory total in school history.

Bill O’Brien, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
It’s unclear if O’Brien wants to be a head coach at the FBS level right now or if he’s content to work under Nick Saban at Alabama for the next couple of years. After tenures as an assistant at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, O’Brien landed on the Patriots staff in 2007 and eventually became play-caller in ’11. O’Brien went 15-9 in two years as Penn State’s head coach (2012-13) before returning to the NFL. He proceeded to go 52-48 and won four division titles as the Texans’ head coach from 2014-20. O’Brien currently directs one of the nation’s top offenses in Tuscaloosa.

Brent Pry, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Pry has some previous experience at Virginia Tech thanks to a three-year stint as a graduate assistant from 1995-97. The Pennsylvania native has never been a head coach at the FBS level but has assembled a solid resume thanks to stops at Western Carolina, Louisiana, Memphis, Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt. Pry followed James Franklin from Vanderbilt to Penn State and took over as the team’s defensive signal-caller in 2016. The Nittany Lions finished 2017 in second in the Big Ten in scoring defense and ranked third in ’19.

Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Could Clemson lure Venables to the other side of the ACC and the Coastal Division? The Kansas native has worked as an assistant at the FBS level since 1996, which includes stints at Kansas State (1996-98), Oklahoma (1999-11), and his current tenure at Clemson (since ’12). Venables is regarded as one of the top coordinators in college football but has no experience as a head coach.

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