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.
But that night Virginia gave up 66 points, Armstrong had a rib injury that affected him the rest of the season and the Wahoos lost. That was the first time the volume on “man, our defense sucks” got loud enough for everyone to clearly hear, and UVA would lose their last four, including a game to Virginia Tech that featured the “Statue Of Billy Bob” play where they threw a pass in the final minute to an offensive lineman.
Virginia Tech, as expected, waited two more weeks before firing Fuente and naming JC Price interim head coach, but having an interim HC is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. You’ve signaled you’re aware of the problem, but you still haven’t come up with a solution, as recruits still don’t know who they would be playing for.
Last Saturday, no one still knew who the new coach would be. Virginia fans grumbled on social media that it was time for Bronco Mendenhall to go, but that seemed like frustrated fans barking at the moon. They didn’t mean it, or if they did, they didn’t quite understand how making a change now would blow up any edge they had in the state by having a stable program.
So as I contemplated the real matter at hand in my house last Saturday – did we have enough Cool Whip to complete the consumption of the leftover Thanksgiving pumpkin pies – I wasn’t really sure if the Hokies would name a new coach or not. The reason you fire a coach before a season ends is to be in a position to name a new head coach the Monday after the season ends, but athletic director Whit Babcock had kept such a tight lid on the search, you couldn’t tell if the Hokies were close to making a decision or not.
But Tuesday morning, the Hokies went all Emeril Lagasse and “BAM,” Brent Pry was named the new Virginia Tech coach. Two days later, Pry appeared in what seemed like 27 places during the day, including a press conference he absolutely crushed, and it appeared the bleeding had stopped. He won over people enough that anyone thinking “I’m not going there” had to change their status to “I’m going to wait and see” because they liked what they heard.
Then that night, as everyone knows by now, Bronco resigned. His official reason was to devote more time and energy on spending time with his family and being a better man, but I’ve had far too many UVA people privately tell me he was asked to replace some of his defensive coaches and he refused for there not to be some smoke to go along with that fire.
Doesn’t matter either way, though. Virginia is now looking for a new head coach when they weren’t expecting to be doing so right as recruits are starting to make up their mind where they want to play in 2022. Not knowing who they will play for is a definite disadvantage.
With the advent of the transfer portal, tens of millions of dollars being thrown at coaches, and administrations firing people without any patience or long-term thought, I suppose such swings in college sports are more the norm now. But the actions of the week after Thanksgiving in 2021 sure seemed to send momentum in the Commonwealth on a bus ride from Charlottesville to Blacksburg.
It’s something I enjoyed seeing.
Even though I never saw it coming.