Frank Beamer may not have been the father of Hokie football, but he is the person that brought Virginia Tech into national prominence. Now Justin Fuente steps into the role as the head coach in Blacksburg and he knows that following a legend is never easy.
But the time was right for a change at Virginia Tech and the hiring of Fuente was on point as well. While it’s impossible to predict what will eventually happen, there are plenty of reasons for the Hokies to be bullish on the future.
Fuente is not just a winner; he’s also a program builder. When he was hired at Memphis following the 2011 season, Fuente was inheriting a team that had won just five games in three years. Moreover, other than a modicum of success in the mid-2000s under Tommy West, Memphis had accomplished very little in its football history.
Fuente brought an energy and excitement to the program that was felt immediately. Of course, it’s not unusual for optimism to arise when a new coach comes to town. But it was how the good feelings about Fuente lingered even after beginning his tenure with 4-8 and 3-9 seasons. His message was clearly understood by everyone involved and there was no doubt that the close losses that occurred in 2013 would eventually become wins.
In 2014, it all came together. Quarterback Paxton Lynch popped as a redshirt sophomore and the Tigers won 10 games for the first time in school history. Despite losing eight defensive starters from that Miami Beach Bowl championship team, Fuente guided Memphis to nine wins and the Birmingham Bowl last fall. Yes, Lynch remained but so did the attitude that Memphis was a winning football program.
While Fuente had a couple of fabulous seasons at Memphis, he also is aware that he does not know everything. He wants a new, electric energy around the program while still remaining in touch with the history and tradition of Virginia Tech. A sign that he truly understands how embracing the past can in certain ways aid the future is his decision to retain a member of the previous administration.
Many coaches would have come into Virginia Tech and cleaned house, getting rid of all the assistant coaches and bringing in those familiar with the new system. With many around the Virginia Tech community clamoring for defensive coordinator Bud Foster to replace Beamer, some coaches might have been threatened and felt the need to eliminate that lingering shadow. But not Fuente. He is secure enough to realize that his best chance for success is to have an experienced coach running the defense and Foster is one of the best in the country.
With Foster remaining in place, Fuente will spend much of his time doing what he does best: designing a potent offense. A noted quarterback guru that coached Andy Dalton at TCU along with developing Lynch into a high NFL Draft pick, Fuente also believes in a balanced attack. Virginia Tech has struggled on offense in recent years with inconsistent quarterback play and a sluggish running game being two of the main causes. Those two areas, with the help of a hopefully improved offensive line, are where strides should be made in short order.
Virginia Tech loses a considerable amount of talent, especially off the defense, and the Hokies play a tough schedule that features non-conference games against Tennessee, East Carolina, and Notre Dame. Winning right away will not be easy.
But Fuente is building a new culture the same way he did at Memphis. And when it is complete, victories will come in bunches.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Justin Fuente photos by Dave Knachel - Virginia Tech Athletics)