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This Has Certainly Been A Week I Didn't See Coming...

As it relates to college football in the Commonwealth, I find myself sitting here on a peaceful Saturday morning thinking “I sure didn’t see this week coming.”

It was 5 weeks ago today on a similarly peaceful morning that I was sitting outside on the patio, watching my dog run around like a fool in the backyard and sipping on a hot cup of coffee (me, not the dog) wondering about how the balance of power in the state was shifting toward the University of Virginia. That morning, UVA was preparing to play BYU that night, they were 6-2, they had a fun offense to watch, a very good quarterback in Brennan Armstrong, and momentum was on the Wahoos’ side.

Virginia Tech, conversely, was preparing to play Georgia Tech and had lost 4 of its last 5 games. It was apparent to me at that point the Hokies were going to finally make a change at head coach, as a lifeless loss to Pitt, followed by a last-minute loss to a Syracuse team that was winless in the ACC at the time (they only won 2 all season) seemed to seal Justin Fuente’s fate.

Great, I thought. Virginia Tech is now the unstable team recruits are going to think twice about because not only are the Hokies losing, but no one knows who will be coaching the team in 2022. Virginia was the brighter option in comparison, with a stable coach, a high-powered offense and a nationally ranked quarterback, so if you were a top-flight offensive player in the state, where would YOU go? That kind of momentum swing in a state can take years to recover from.

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As Initial Press Conferences Go, Pry Crushed It Today...

Crushing an opening press conference to announce your hire doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win a lot of football games in the near future. But Brent Pry put on a performance this morning that certainly won a lot of people over.

He was smooth, even – dare I say – debonair. I’ve never read so many comments on social media about a coach’s “great hair.” He came across as sincere, likeable, approachable…and very much wanting to be in Blacksburg.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

He invoked the great names of Hokie football past, from Frank Beamer to Bud Foster, and hit all the right notes, at times even being emotional and showing a vulnerable side. I’ve often said when you look at the great coaches, the one common trait they have is they care. It’s not something you can fake either, as either you do or you don’t.

Brent Pry convinced a lot of people he cares.

I’m a former sales guy who has been involved in a turnaround situation before, so I was looking for two traits: One was that recruiting, which is very much like sales, isn’t as much a matter of personality, but moreso a case of working your backside off. It’s not just the person you’re selling, it’s knowing about their friends, their family, the important dates in their lives, their favorite sports teams, etc, because that knowledge builds familiarity and leads to a strong relationship.

So when Pry said of recruiting that it’s details, details, details…even to the point of not only knowing a prospects coach and friends, but even knowing the guy in the barbershop who cuts his hair, I found myself thinking “he gets it.”

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Pry Becomes Virginia Tech's Newest Head Football Coach

Yesterday morning, an old friend texted me and asks “what do you know about Brent Pry?”

Nothing, I said. Should I?

Well, you may want to check him out, was his response. So I did, and the more I learned about the man who is now Virginia Tech’s new head football coach, the more I liked him.

As I’m sure Whit Babcock had his check list of things he wanted in a head coach, I had my own. And it amazed me the deeper I dug, the more things Pry checked off the list. Sure, he wasn’t this shiny bauble who was the media darling of College Football. But everything else about him was outstanding.

Whit, old boy, I thought. You’ve done your homework. This could be good.

At the top of anyone’s list would be technical proficiency on at least one side of the ball, and Pry definitely has it on the defensive side. He’s spent the last 26 years as a college coach on the defensive side, with the last 10 as an Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator at Penn State.

I’ve found the best defensive coaches are also the ones who really understand offense first, and Pry checks that box too. His Dad was an offensive coordinator at East Stroudsburg, part of a 40-year coaching career where he coached with his son and future Penn State coach James Franklin, who was a QB. Having your Dad being your coach has its pluses and minuses, but one plus is the daily interaction over meals.

In my house growing up, my Dad and I over the dinner table may have talked about who won the game. When your Dad is a coach, you talk about not only who won, but why. What worked and what didn’t. Things to look out for next time. Many of the better coaches in high school, college and the NFL came about their analytical skills because they grew up with a coach in the house.

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This Was A Moment Hokie Fans Needed....

Believe it or not, there was a time long ago when fans did not judge Virginia Tech football by the length of its bowl streak, the odds of it winning a championship, or where it was ranked in the top 25.

These were the days before cell phones, the internet…heck, even before disco and Star Wars movies. They were the golden days of the 70s, where you judged a season not on the entire year, but on certain special moments. Ones where you walked back to the dorm or your car and thought “that was nice.” Ones that were feel-good moments, even proud-to-be-a-Hokie moments. They made you feel positive about the program, and were the reasons you came back the next week to watch the team play again.

Saturday’s win over Virginia was such a badly needed moment. The team technically qualifies for a bowl, but it’s not anything that leads to anything else. It’s just one more opportunity to see a group of young men who have been through fire and rain this season, starting with a win over a supposedly top 10 team in North Carolina, then nose diving into the cruel reality of a season that was so bad, they couldn’t even wait until the end of the 12-game schedule to fire the head coach.

The experience has not only been tough for the players, but there are a lot of people I know who have gone from being fanatical about the program for decades to morphing into a certain “I’m not sure I really care” attitude. They’ve been spoiled by not only the winning, the bowls and the top 25 rankings of the past, they’ve particularly become accustomed to seeing Virginia Tech teams that no matter who the opponent was, were competitive enough to always have a chance.

That hasn’t been the case the last couple of years in certain games, and for the first time in a while, I think many of us were somewhat realistic to the distinct possibility the Hokies were going to get hammered in Charlottesville Saturday. The Cavaliers had a high-powered offense, the Hokie defense struggled against Miami, and at times the play calling has looked more like the Virginia Tech of 1921 instead of 2021, exhibiting tendencies more in tune with the single wing.

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We Now Move On To The Weird Part Of Our Programming....

Well, we’re now officially in the “weird” part of the ongoing saga of the Virginia Tech football program.

I wrote this story a week ago, saying it was over between Virginia Tech and head coach Justin Fuente, and how we were just waiting and watching the final episodes of the soap opera. It turned out to be true, but I never thought the series’ finale would be at 7:45 AM on a Tuesday morning.

I mean, who does that? Monday 10 AM pressers are just too traditional? Did someone have to wait until their sports coat came back from the dry cleaners?

Social media is, of course, on fire this morning as some tastelessly dance on Fuente’s grave, and some are already making their predictions on who the new coach will be. This is where the weird part comes in, because I can pretty much guarantee you that every single one of those predictions are purely grounded in something they pulled out of their backside.

No one knows, although you would have to hope pulling the trigger on such a significant change 10 minutes before the second cup of coffee on a Tuesday would suggest there have been some backchannel conversations between athletic director Whit Babcock and a potential new coach.

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As Far As I'm Concerned, Enough Has Been Said...

After Friday night’s Virginia Tech loss to Boston College, fellow writer Ricky LaBlue sent me a story early Saturday morning, detailing another defeat of the Hokie football team. After posting it, I texted him that maybe we should stop writing about the downward direction of the program for the rest of the season.

Why, he asked.

Because, I replied, it’s all been said. To continue to point out how Justin Fuente has lost control of the program would be like beating a dead horse. There’s an old saying in sales that says you should stop selling once you’ve made the sale. To continue talking can only end up hurting you.

I think that’s the case now with Fuente and Virginia Tech. It’s over. There’s a divorce coming and I don’t believe anyone thinks otherwise. I have in my circle of friends the most positive “the glass is half full” Hokie fans that walk this planet, and during Friday’s game I was getting texts saying “you were right, we need to make a change.”

To continue talking can only end up hurting people, including assistant coaches, players and families.

Everyone knows.

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Yeah, I Hated It. But I'll Be Back This Week For More...

Maybe it’s because it’s Columbus Day. Or maybe it’s because last week, just to refresh my memory, I went back and watched the entire first season of The Sopranos.

But in seeing a lot of different reactions to Virginia Tech’s 32-29 loss to Notre Dame Saturday night, I find myself coming back to the same expression in regards to the football program.

It’s the life we’ve chosen.

I’m not going to stand here and try to make you believe all is well in Blacksburg. There were plenty of things I questioned in watching the game, not the least of which is why this coaching staff can’t figure out how to put a decent goal-line offense together. After getting embarrassed against West Virginia with more trips inside the 10 than the entire sports media made trips through the buffet line in the press box, you’d think they’d make that a priority, given how few points they scored after those trips.

Good teams score when they get inside the 5-yard line. They have packages ranging from every tight end on the roster on the field, to maybe a running specialist in a wildcat format, or special plays they only run when get close to the endzone. The team takes pride in being able to impose their will on an opponent in such scenarios, and they practice these situations over and over again because they believe their effectiveness when called upon can make the difference between winning and losing.

I mean, the Hokies had a first and goal at the 1-yard line early in the second quarter, and three plays later, they were still there, having to settle for a 19-yard-line field goal by John Parker Romo with 10:35 left in the first half. If my math is correct, a touchdown and extra point gets you 4 more points, which is not an insignificant amount when you end up losing by 3 points.

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It's Hard To Believe It Was Only Two Years Ago...

As major league baseball begins its playoffs tonight, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness.

It was only two years ago we were all on top of the world. We all knew the Washington Nationals weren’t that great a team, as they got off to a 19-31 the old-fashioned way – they earned it – but they somehow found lightning in a bottle. A cast of characters melded into a band of miracle workers who found a way to hit timely run-scoring hits at the most opportune times, and when you finally thought “this is the end”, you opened your eyes and it wasn’t.

They never really fixed their problems, but they somehow always found a workaround. Their bullpen was like a bad placekicker in football, where you held your breath every time they were employed, only when the playoffs came, they just went for two every time, using starters out of the bullpen.

It worked. They won. And none of us knew it at the time, but we were given the chance to enjoy paradise before the storm hit.

The celebration of winning Oct. 31 spilled over into Thanksgiving, and led to a lot of Nationals merchandise under the Christmas tree. Nationals hats, golf shirts, polar fleece jackets, coffee mugs…if you could put a World Series logo on it, somebody sold it. And I – like many of you – bought just about all of it.

But when you make it to the top, tucked inside all this euphoria is the implied knowledge that you’re going to at least have some time to enjoy this beyond a 90-day window. As we’ve seen with the professional football team in DC back in the glory days, it usually goes like this: Unless you’ve created a dynasty (which the Nationals clearly had not done), there’s a gradual slide back to the norm.

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Maybe There's A Reason 2 Experienced QBs Left Last Year

While many are beating a dead horse about offensive play calls after Virginia Tech’s semi-disappointing 21-10 win over Richmond Saturday, I find myself focusing on two plays that occurred in the second quarter.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

They involved Knox Kadum, a backup quarterback who had enjoyed a good week of practice, was firmly holding on to No. 2 on the depth chart at QB, and was told he’d see some action against the FCS Spiders. Midway through the second quarter with the Hokies up 7-0, he got the call to go in.

But that call was like your boss telling you go make a presentation to the board on 5 minutes notice.

You were doomed to fail.

Having not played any significant minutes when the game was on the line, Kadum was asked to go in when the ball was on the Hokies’ 6-yard line. While he probably ran sections of the playbook in practice all week, he now was thrown into a situation where half the playbook went out the window. Pinned that deep, everyone knew the first play would be a run, and sure enough Raheem Blackshear was stuffed at the line.

Now it’s 2nd and 10. Everyone also knows that the most effective defense against an inexperienced QB is pressure, and Richmond's defense came running - as Lawrence Taylor once said - like a bunch of crazed dogs. Kadum scrambled around his end zone looking for somebody open, then hoped for the best as he launched a pass downfield.

The pass was intercepted and returned to the 16. One play later Richmond scored to tie the score at 7-7. Kadum was taken from the game, never to play another down.

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There Was More Than One Miracle Going On That Day...

With Virginia Tech preparing to play at West Virginia Saturday, many a memory from the 1999 “Miracle in Morgantown” game has been revived, which has really been cool.

But there was actually a second miracle that occurred that day. And those two miracles probably led to a third a few years later.

That the Hokies gave up a touchdown in the final 1:15, then Michael Vick got them down the field just in time for Shayne Graham to nail a 44-yard field goal at the final gun is well known. The videos of that drive with 1:06 left have been shown a gazillion times. That it put Virginia Tech in the national championship game against Florida State is also universally recognized.

But allow me to take you back to the beginning of that season. Driving up for the James Madison game, I’d say there were two other universally held beliefs I and many other Hokies had come to accept. The first was that Virginia Tech would never play for a national championship in football. That was no judgment on where the program was going, but getting into the game involved too much politics and luck.

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Saturday's Game With West Virginia Should Be Revealing

There are games in the course of any football season that you look back on and realize it ended up defining who you really are.

I can't help but think that for Virginia Tech, one of those games is coming up Saturday.

It’s not that West Virginia is some awesome super power in the mold of an Alabama or Ohio State. The Mountaineers just happen to be the next game on the schedule where the Hokies are going to have to battle a confluence of factors that usually try one’s soul.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

Today’s news that James Mitchell is out for the season is just one more factor. He statistically hasn’t been that important to the Hokie offense in the first two games, but that’s badly misleading. He is a strong presence on the field that draws a defense’s attention so when not individually making plays, the double coverage he draws opens up an opportunity somewhere else on the field.

He’s also the guy you don’t notice when a running back makes a great run, blocking the downfield safety who might have come across the field and made a touchdown-saving tackle.

Then there is presence as a leader in the locker room. If you’ve ever played with someone like that, he’s the guy that shows you how to be a complete player by example, makes you smile when you get down on yourself, and is always talking in terms of “when” the team succeeds, not “if.”

He’s also the guy who stares at you in the huddle when you’re thinking about coasting on a play, and his eyes simply communicate to you the message “don’t.” His absence in some ways changes the entire chemistry of Virginia Tech's offense.

This comes at a time when I really couldn’t tell you how good the Hokies are. Their offense showed in the second half they can make big plays, but they have yet to show me they can do it consistently. The defense is much better than I hoped, from their coverage to their tackling, but they have not faced a high-powered offense like West Virginia showed in its loss to Maryland. For that matter, both West Virginia and Maryland played non-major teams Saturday, and West Virginia scored 66 while Maryland scored 62.

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