After watching Duke dismantle Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium, it has become very clear that there is a problem in Blacksburg. After winning the ACC Coastal in his first season, Justin Fuentes’ Hokies have regressed in each season thereafter. The Hokies won nine games in 2017, just six in 2018 (the seven losses the most since 1992), and through four games this season, just two. To put a fine point on it the Hokies needed to hold on late to win both of those.
The talk of Justin Fuente’s hot seat has gotten more and more vocal, to the point where it may become reality. This is especially true should they fail to make their first bowl in 27 years, and lose to Virginia. But, getting rid of him may not be as easy as you think. And, even if he does get another year, there are other burning questions regarding the football program.
Justin Fuente’s buyout is $15 million. Can Virginia Tech afford to buy him out? I don’t see it happening. That’s a lot of money. However, his buyout only drops by about $2.5 million dollars every year through the 2023 season, and down to $2 million in 2024. In other words, his buyout goes down to $12.5 million after the 2020 season, and $10 million after the 2021 season. Does this administration have no other choice than to ride it out for a couple of years, or can they convince the boosters to help buy out his contract?
Blacksburg, There’s A Problem
With Bud Foster retiring, what kind of defensive coordinator can Fuente attract to Blacksburg? There’s a saying that you don’t want to be the guy replacing the legend. Regardless of how the season ends, who can Fuente attract? Would they be comfortable knowing that they may only get the gig for one season? If Virginia Tech struggles to make a bowl again next season this becomes a hard pill to swallow.
What is Jerry Kill’s role with this team going forward? He’s currently in more of an advisory role, but what if Fuente decides to change his staff? If Fuente makes Kill the offensive coordinator, is this something Kill can handle? His history of seizures while coaching at Northern Illinois and Minnesota says no, but that was as a head coach. Can he handle the stress of being an offensive coordinator, without the recurrence of his seizures?
Aside from the class of 2020, Virginia Tech has brought in recruiting classes consistently ranked in the top 30. While they aren’t bringing additional members of the Fuller family into the fold, the talent should be contending for the Coastal division championship on a yearly basis. This speaks to a lack of development by Fuente and staff.
As for the 2020 recruiting class? Per 24/7 Sports, Virginia Tech’s recruiting class is ranked 72nd, behind schools like Toledo, Louisiana, Western Michigan, and over 20 spots behind Fuente’s previous team in Memphis. While this is a young team, and the recruiting class isn’t going to be as big this year, the fact that they are this far down in the rankings with a little over two months until the early signing day is a major red flag.
I’m a fan of Whit Babcock, and I think he’s done tremendous things for Virginia Tech’s athletics program, but whatever decision he makes here, he’s going to have to accept that no matter what, there will be a lot of negative feedback.
If he keeps Fuente, the fan apathy in Blacksburg and beyond will be even worse. If Fuente goes, then it will come at a hefty cost, and may make hiring a name coach that much more difficult.
Will Ojanen is a Columnist and the Co-Host of ACC Nation Podcast. He is a member of FWAA (Football Writers Association of America). He and his wife, Sami explore the world of craft beer together and share their adventures at WillandSamisBeerBlog. Follow Will on Twitter @WillsWorldMN.