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True to its historical modus operandi, Virginia Tech once again valued continuity and stability in the athletic department when the university extended director of athletics Whit Babcock Monday.
The extension, which inks Babcock until June 2029, heightens the probability that Babcock will select Virginia Tech’s next head football coach.
Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined. Excluding football for a moment, Babcock has mostly made excellent coaching hires since arriving in Blacksburg in 2014. The list is actually quite extensive.
We can start with the men’s basketball program, where Babcock has made two hires already. Buzz Williams elevated the basketball program in true mercenary fashion, coaching the Hokies to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids (including a Sweet 16 appearance) before bolting for more money in a bigger conference. Babcock then hired NRV native Mike Young, who pushed the Hokies back into the NCAA Tournament in just his second season.
Then there’s Kenny Brooks, who’s headed the women’s basketball program since March 2016 and won 63 percent of games he’s coached. Brooks’ team made their first NCAA Tournament appearance this past season.
Babcock successfully handled Kevin Dresser’s departure for Iowa State, promoting Tony Robie to the head wrestling job in 2017. Robie coached Virginia Tech’s first individual NCAA Champion in Mekhi Lewis and has won four ACC Championships since taking over the head position. Robie’s Hokies finished last season undefeated in team meets.
In baseball, John Szefc’s crew has dragged their feet a little in the program’s rebuild. Tech did, however, finish the season above .500 and pick up several wins over ranked opponents in 2021.
The success extends to the non-revenue sports — Pete D’ Amour led Virginia Tech’s softball team to the program’s second-ever NCAA Super Regionals appearance this past season. Even coaches that Babcock didn’t hire — Mike Brizendine in men’s soccer and Carol Robertson in women’s golf — have found greater success under Babcock’s leadership.
Now that I’ve given Babcock credit in the many sports that he’s earned it, it’s time to address the one that matters more than all of them.
Babcock’s hire of Justin Fuente after the 2015 season seemed like a home run early on. Fuente won 19 games in two seasons and won the ACC Coastal Division in 2016. But as every Tech fan knows, the fun stopped there.
Twenty-eighteen was a disaster — Tech finished the season at 6-7, losing five of six and needing a make-up game scheduled against Marshall to become bowl eligible.
The following season went better but ended in defeat. Virginia Tech lost to Virginia for the first time since approximately the Civil War and then lost to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl. Twenty-twenty was much worse, as the Hokies limped to a 5-6 record, and saw its 29-year bowl streak come to an end.
For those still trying to erase all the bad memories of the last three seasons from their minds, Tech is 19-18 since 2017 with two losing seasons to the program’s credit.
Rather than try to implement changes that would directly affect the program’s coaching capabilities and on-field product, Babcock stood by Fuente after last season and decided to keep the status quo.
“Will this decision be right? I have no earthly idea,” Babcock said last winter. “I think it will. I believe it will.”
I believed that Babcock’s decision to retain Fuente’s staff in its entirety meant that Babcock’s future was entirely dependent on Fuente’s performance over the next year or two.
With today's announcement, it would seem that is no longer the case.
If Fuente can reverse the bad fortunes the Virginia Tech football program has experienced over the last three seasons, most will hail today's decision and believe it is a good thing that Babcock will be deciding who leads the program if Fuente eventually leaves.
If not, and the program continues to struggle on the field...