Rothe from the Top Rope: ODU - Justin Fuente's Ghost Strikes Back
Lets all hit the brakes
I want to start off by saying that, mercifully, I wasn't able to watch this game live as I was at my sister's wedding rehearsal dinner, which was a much better experience than those who had to witness this football atrocity in real time.
That being said, I've seen many reactions online since ODU put it's final stamp on yet another win over a struggling Virginia Tech football program. These reactions have ran the gambit, from those saying this game should never have taken place due to Whit Babcock's scheduling decisions, to those saying that this wasn't a surprising result due to just how terrible shape Justin Fuente left the program, to those calling for Brent Pry's head after one showing.
Everyone just take a breath for a second.
Multiple things can be true at the same time.
Should this game have happened at all? Well that's a tough question to answer simply because Babcock has a contractual obligation to the series with Old Dominion that extends for multiple years. Have we seen him break off a series before? Absolutely. We saw it with ECU a few years back. However, I understand the intent with the ODU series. You want to play and dominate as many in-state opponents as possible so you can say you're the best program in the state. That works in theory, but you have to win in order for it to work out. I think the most damning scheduling aspect is that by the time this season is over the Hokies will have played away at Old Dominion AND away at Liberty. That is reprehensible in my eyes. Having one away and one home is fine, but having BOTH away in the same year? Ridiculous.
Give Pry Time
Since being hired Brent Pry has done a marvelous job on the PR front. Essentially he is doing everything that Justin Fuente didn't do. He's outgoing with fans, his staff is active on social media, he's doing shows and podcasts every week it seems, and most importantly, he's allowing transparency into the program which media members and fans have been begging for since Fuente put the program under lock-and-key for the last six years.
This is all great, but what really matters is winning games, and unfortunately those who think this will happen immediately are going to be in for a rude surprise. With a brand new staff comprised of coaches who are largely unproven at this level it will be a process. Simply the organization during a game is something that they will have to tinker with until they find something that works. Pry is calling the plays on defense, so it will be a challenge to balance all the other aspects of being a head coach during a game like overall decision making, clock management, etc. So ideally the revamped staff with extra assistants and personnel who are largely doing nothing during the game will figure out a system that works.
I predicted a 6-6 season where making a bowl game should be an accomplishment and I still think that's possible. But I also said that the only game I can 100% guarantee a win is Wofford. There are just too many things to iron out in a first year of a major rebuild that games like ODU will happen.
Pry should at least be able to correct the absurd amount of penalties and mental mistakes rather quickly as it will be nearly impossible to win any game committing as many penalties and mistakes as the Hokies did on Friday.
The elephant (not) in the room... Justin Fuente
While it's justified to place blame on Pry and his staff for this disaster first showing I don't think it's completely warranted.
Anyone who is a rational fan knows that Fuente essentially burned the program down to the ground and left town to go on his merry way with ~$40M in earnings. He destroyed recruiting ties in the region, tried to alter the culture in strange ways, failed overwhelmingly in player development (perhaps the biggest sin he committed), and more.
Virginia Tech is not Alabama or Ohio State, where even if a coach is fired they will still be expected to compete at a high level the following year.
Like I said before, this is an entire rebuild. Pry and his staff are rebuilding the culture, the recruiting, the player development, and much more.
While this loss will be put statistically on Brent Pry in the history books, all of us who know better know it is on Fuente. Should Tech always beat ODU? Yes. Would this team have won if they didn't shoot themselves in the foot with penalties that have nothing to do with Fuente? Probably.
But we can and will focus only on this past game because it's the only sample size we have so far with Pry at the helm, but this is Fuente's team. Aside from a handful of transfers, the roster is comprised of under developed Fuente players. Is there talent? Absolutely. I'm not saying the current roster isn't capable of winning some games and this is not a knock on any player. But the biggest failure of the Fuente regime was player development. And now Pry is left with a roster of said players while he's trying to implement a new system and compete at a high level, all while doing a complete program rebuild.
This is not like 2016 where Fuente inherited a loaded roster with NFL talent from Frank Beamer. Pry doesn't have much to work with right now.
I mean the coaches got stuck in an elevator and the Tech locker room got robbed during the game. If that isn't Justin Fuente's ghost haunting the team than I'm not sure what it is.