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It’s highly unusual I write on any subject for three days in a row. But I keep seeing this sentiment of “Fire Fuente” on social media, and I just have to address it in more than a couple hundred characters.
First, I understand the emotion to get on the phones and ask fans for millions of dollars to make a change.
Second, it’s a really bad idea.
I will acknowledge that Saturday’s game moved me from the “Fuente can be a good long-term coach for Virginia Tech” to “He’s never going to be more than a C-minus kind of guy in Blacksburg." But we’re like a patient who has finally realized their knee has been torn up so bad over the years, something needs to be done to possibly return it to the form of younger years.
The first step is not to amputate it.
You’re also calling for people to give money in the middle of a pandemic where discretionary funds are historically at their lowest in most households. It’s also 6 weeks before Christmas. You're going to ask people to skip out on buying a few extra presents for family so they can throw a few C-notes into a fund to hire someone you don’t even know who it is?
That’s the problem with these kinds of things. When the phone rang back in the early 2000s asking for some money to make sure we had a pot of gold to keep Frank Beamer from going to Alabama, my answer was an immediate yes. I knew what I was getting for my money: An established coach who loved Virginia Tech, had recruiting connections in every high school in the state and had just played for a national championship in the last few years.
I mean, who wouldn’t say yes to that?
Giving money to a fund that MIGHT fire Fuente and then be used to hire a person who would be chosen by the exact same person who hired Fuente? That seems to have a bit more risk to it.
That’s not necessarily a shot at Whit Babcock, by the way. It’s an honest admission by all of us who have ever been in the hiring business that no one is perfect. Some are home run, hit the ground hires, some are mistakes where you realize you were led astray by the interview process, and some are in the middle. I had an old salt of an executive once time tell me – after I confessed I couldn’t believe how bad a hire I had made turned out six months later – that if you hit on 50 percent of your hires that turn out the way you thought they would, you’d be in the hiring hall of fame.
Several decades later and now retired, I'm convinced even that number was high. 35 percent would get you there.
It’s not that people lie, either (although having been a career sales executive, I know of many who could spin the most negative of achievements as if they had won the Nobel Prize). It’s just in a senior management position like a head football coach, the things that matter most – the ability to motivate, be creative, notice the small detail when no one else does and be a tireless worker trying to find an edge – you have to take someone’s word for it.
It’s why in coaching you see the same guys hired over and over again. You can see their body of work in wins and losses, so it’s the safest pick, even if they’ve never won anything big.
Plus – and I know this will be particularly hard to swallow for some of my younger friends – he hasn’t done anything yet that rises to the level of an immediate firing. In 1977, Jimmy Sharpe went 3-7-1 and on the last week of the season a player named Bob Vorhies died in the athletic dorm after being forced to run punishment drills for breaking a door in the dorm when a post-game celebration got out of hand. The program was under constant investigation and no one in his right mind was ever going to allow their child to come to Blacksburg and play football under the current regime.
That rose to the level of an immediate firing.
Fuente is 18-16 right now. Fire him right now and you will hear any prospective coach being told “they fired a guy with a winning record who won 10 games in his first season and made it to a bowl every season, never got the team on probation, and is a solid family guy everyone seems to like.” They won’t include all the other information that has diehard fans hungry for a change.
Just that the school fired a good man with a winning record. And then ask “why would you go there?”
The better option, as I suggested yesterday, is hire strong new assistants that can address what is wrong. Like with Jerry Kill last year, you see immediate benefits. You gain time to develop assistants already there to become coordinators and head coaches. And you can hire and fire an assistant without gaining a whole lot of media attention if you pick the wrong one.
Fire the head whistle and the whole world will have an opinion on you. Most won’t be nice opinions either.
So I hate to say it, but rushing out to raise funds to fire the devil you know and hire the devil you don’t is highly risky at a time when some of us have our discretionary funds tied up in 8 months worth of toilet paper, paper towels and Clorox wipes. It also makes us look as if we are impatient fanatics filled with rage, instead of thoughtful stewards of the money our fanbase contributes.
I get it. I have several old friends who watched with me as we went from college football bottom feeder to standing on Bourbon Street watching 40,000 people dressed in orange and maroon the night before we played for the national title in New Orleans. They all want Fuente to go, preferably five minutes ago. They think spending any more time is a waste and just prolongs the wait to get back to another national championship game.
My response is always “if it were that easy, everyone would be doing this and be playing in a national title game in 3 years.”
It’s not. It takes a well thought-out strategy in terms of not only raising money, but identifying what you want in a coach, structuring your program to accommodate such a person (more money for really good recruiters and teachers of fundamentals, for example), and waiting for the right guy to become available.
Even then, there are no guarantees. But the odds do seem higher than sacking a coach with a winning record in the middle of a season during a pandemic and THEN looking around to see what's out there.