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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.

But think back to just a few years ago when Buzz Williams predictably ran off to Texas. Every few hours, there was a new name thrown out, and each would create a feeding frenzy. The bigger the name, the more people were convinced this HAD to be the new guy, only as time went on, the bigger names faded, and the guy who got the job elicited a huge “huh?” from the peanut gallery.

Of course, that smaller name from tiny Wofford may end up being the best hire the Athletic Department has ever made, and there’s a lesson there to be learned.

Hiring a new head guy – in business or in sports – always involves a certain amount of ego. We want the biggest name out there because not only will he hopefully take the program to new heights, it also validates how good WE are. Big name coaches don’t go to schools who aren’t national big-time players. By hiring a big name, we’re proving that we ARE a national big-time player, one of the elite.

But as we saw with Mike Young, that doesn’t always work out. There are two things you need in a company president, head coach, or leader of your organization: One is technical proficiency of what the organization does. The other is you have to want to be there.

In Young’s case, people at first (yes, including me) howled about how old he was, how small the school he was coaching at, etc. But Young knew his sport as well or better than any other coach in the nation.

And he wanted to be at Virginia Tech.

Fuente, conversely, was the hot young coach everyone was going to want, and because Frank Beamer had announced his retirement mid-season, the Hokies got a chance to get in early and grab him before other bigger names could. In retrospect, he was still learning how to be a head coach versus just an offensive coordinator, and as a good friend who is a Memphis fan recently told me, he got lucky.

A good QB fell in his lap, as Paxton Lynch wasn’t being recruited by anyone. Several players on his teams started as walk-ons and ended up playing in the NFL. He hadn’t really established himself as a great recruiter, but the success was there and the big money came calling, so he did what we all would have done. He said yes.

This was a stop on his career road, however. While Young’s heart was always with Virginia Tech, Fuente’s long-term wishes were probably at locales farther West. The combination of the two could be why things didn’t work out in Blacksburg.

So now we will see. Virginia Tech has to somehow find a coach who knows football, knows how to connect with fans and recruits, and love Virginia. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a former Hokie, but the Commonwealth needs to be more than a stop on the road to bigger and better. Frank Beamer’s biggest strength in building Virginia Tech to its greatest heights was the continuity he built among his assistants with Virginia’s high school coaches. He was able to keep some of the good ones at home.

It's a huge decision, and one that will affect more than the football program. The same guy who hired Fuente, is also the same guy who fired him, and the same guy picking his replacement, so there’s a fair degree of pressure on the athletic director. He needs to get this one right.

Lest we end up with another early morning press conference one day in the future.    


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