Justin Fuente (Somehow) Not Fired
Justin Fuente will be back as the Virginia Tech Head Football Coach for the 2021 season
Yes, you are reading that correctly.
In case you were blissfully unplugged yesterday afternoon and evening, let me give you a quick breakdown of what transpired. To set the scene, today (Tuesday Dec 15) was the day most Hokie fans had been looking forward to because today is the day that Fuente’s buyout drops to around $10M. While the price reduction from $12.5M to $10M isn’t a ton, it is still $2.5M saved in a year where Virginia Tech athletics has had staggering losses.
So, that is why when a press conference was announced yesterday for 1pm today it sent Hokie Nation into a frenzy. The timing just seemed so odd given the buyout, for Whit to not announce any staff changes...
#Hokies AD Whit Babcock will address the media tomorrow at 1 p.m.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) December 14, 2020
And as if this isn't weird enough timing, the early signing period begins Wednesday.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 14, 2020
If the aim is truly to reassure recruits about a coach staying, again, you'd want to do that as soon as possible, not less than 24 hours before they're able to sign letters of intent. #Hokies
And then, just 90 minutes later, in comes Brett McMurphy with this bombshell tweet:
Justin Fuente is likely returning next season at Virginia Tech, industry sources told @Stadium. The school announced a Tuesday news conference regarding football topics— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 14, 2020
With this single action Whit Babcock’s credibility took a massive hit.
Babcock just gave his stamp of approval to a coach who has lost to Liberty, Old Dominion, Duke, Georgia Tech (multiple times), Wake Forest, and UVA, among others.
Babcock just gave his stamp of approval to a coach who lost four games in a row in both 2018 and 2020.
Babcock just gave his stamp of approval to a coach who has overseen some of the worst Hokie recruiting classes in recent memory, including the 2021 recruiting class which ranks near the bottom in the ACC. Think about that for a second… a class similar to the likes of Wake Forest and Syracuse.
Babcock just gave his stamp of approval to a coach who just completed Virginia Tech’s first regular-season losing record since 1992.
The Press Conference
Whit Babcock's presser today, which wasn't live, failed to quell any apprehensions that fans may have had and only contributed to the fever to which fans are attacking the leadership.
In short, not much will be changing.
To highlight a few items from Whit:
- Said that in some ways this was like "year one for Justin Fuente"
- Feels that this coaching staff has not been given a fair shake
- Doesn't believe there is a lack of transparency
- Said no donors offered to pay the $10M buyout
With one of the weirder comments of the day, Whit mentioned he got feedback from other coaches, who complimented him and his staff...
I'm still processing there was ample feedback from opposing coaches that complimented the way Virginia Tech is operating as a reason to retain the current staff.— Matej Sis (@MatejS247) December 15, 2020
And the kicker... OC Brad Cornelsen will be keeping his job
#Hokies AD Whit Babcock said he wants offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen will be made more available to the media/fans. Said Tech fans are conditioned to love defense but wants people to get to know Cornelsen.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) December 15, 2020
So, no, no change coming there.
So what took place leading up to the decision to keep Fuente?
First, lets look at the rumors that had been circulating. Again, these are just rumors, but at least the first one seemed very credible based on the amount of people within the program or connected to the program mentioning it. Whit may have put some of these to bed in his presser, but at this point it's hard to believe anything he says:
- Babcock had the buyout money and was going to announce Fuente’s termination
- Several big money donors told Babcock they would not be donating anymore if Fuente was retained as the coach
- The Blacksburg Board of Visitors was surprised to hear the news, as they believed Fuente would be getting let go
- Tony Elliott (Clemson OC) and Luke Fickell (Cincinnati Head Coach) were believed to be top interests of Babcock for the job, with some rumors saying they had already interviewed
So why did nothing happen?
Here are what I believe are the most likely scenarios for why Babcock decided to retain Fuente.
Most Likely – Babcock had the buyout money (even though he says differently), but the person who he wanted fell through - If Babcock had his guy, I’m sure it would be a no question decision to let Fuente go, especially if he had the money ready. However, if the person who he wanted didn’t feel a desire to come to Tech or if the negotiations fell through, it makes sense that Babcock would stick with the status quo for one more year until the pool of candidates is larger.
Somewhat Likely – The buyout was too much during a pandemic - While getting the money appears to have not been a problem, maybe deciding to use that money to let one man go was too much for Babcock. In a year where Tech has seen tens of millions of dollars lost due to COVID, it would make sense that he didn’t want to use $10M more dollars just to fire Fuente. We are seeing massive buyouts happen all over the country, such as Auburn letting Gus Malzahn go to the tune of $21.7M, but Tech is not in the SEC and doesn’t have that kind of money to burn.
Least Likely – Babcock still feels that Fuente is leading the program in the right direction and that he is the man for the job long term - If anything, this decision to keep Fuente delays the inevitable. Unless Fuente wins 9+ games next year I wouldn’t expect him to make it to 2022. If Fuente starts the season losing multiple games, it wouldn’t shock me if he is terminated during the season.
These three reasons are all valid, however, at this point not doing anything is causing more damage to Tech’s reputation and following than doing something. You can make the money back, but it’s much harder to get a fanbase back.
All of this has led to a significant increase in the fanbase apathy. People are fed up. Season ticket holders are pulling their tickets they’ve had for decades. Boosters have stopped giving money. Casual fans will not be tuning in.
And honestly, can you blame them? All fans have wanted all season long was a change and it is clear that Babcock doesn’t concern himself or care about what the vast majority of fans have to say.
For those fans remaining, they need to see some change or they’re out. Fuente is still here? Okay fine, but what is changing? Unless 5-6 is a record we should expect going forward what staff changes will be made? Will there be any changes to coordinator or assistant coach roles? Will Fuente get a PR person who knows what they're doing? Will Whit provide any transparency about anything? If nothing is changed going into 2021 good luck filling Lane Stadium to capacity.
Hokie Twitter Reacts
Finally, Hokie Twitter was ablaze last night as expected and rightfully so. It will continue to burn until something changes, but for now, I leave you with some nuggets I found last night to represent how the fanbase is feeling at this moment:
Monday December 14, 2020— 7️⃣5️⃣7️⃣ (@DonV757_) December 14, 2020
The day football stopped mattering at VT
Nebraska football 🤝 VT football— All I Juant for Christmas is you🎄⛄️❄️ (@Pacheco_JA_) December 14, 2020
coaches too long and
The 2020 Hokies had:— Pete B. (@petebvt) December 15, 2020
-The most all purpose yards in the country at RB
-The best left tackle in the conference
-Three four-star QBs
-44 Juniors and Seniors
And they went 5-6.
Like what are we even debating here? I can’t believe people are still making excuses for this staff.