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Back in my corporate days, there was an expression about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus that was used repeatedly when an organizational problem needed to be fixed.
It never really worked because the people who needed to be moved out of their seats on the bus were the very people making the decisions and leading the meetings. As a result we would end up spending a lot of time in meetings to essentially rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
If you look at Virginia Tech’s resurgent football season, however, I strongly suspect that plan was successfully executed a month or so ago.
Or, to be precise, about the time Jerry Kill joined the staff.
I don’t know for a fact if he is the impetus for the change. But something clearly has changed in Blacksburg, and the Hokies have managed to turn the ship around without burning down the house and starting all over again. This generally comes about when someone with an outside eye comes into a situation, points out the tools are there to accomplish the goals set, but that the talent may not be being used optimally.
In other words, getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.
Virginia Tech’s 45-0 thrashing of Georgia Tech Saturday seemed to be one more data point in Blacksburg that the bus is now correctly organized and heading down the right road. Yes, Georgia Tech is not a very good football team, so the win in and of itself is not a great surprise.
But the Hokies have played other teams not considered good football teams this season – Old Dominion and Rhode Island come to mind – and they struggled. Over the last two years, I can’t really recall a game where Virginia Tech came out, executed well, and dominated a team they were supposed to beat. There have been times the Hokies have looked like they would have struggled even if you put a high school team out on the grass of Lane Stadium.
They have in the past been a collection of football players. But not necessarily a team.
Some of the changes since the debacle known as the Friday night game against Duke are obvious, the biggest one being the change at quarterback. In games Hendon Hooker has not started, the most the offense has scored is 31 points. In games Hooker has started, the LEAST the offense has scored is 34 points.
There is a confidence, even a swagger Hooker has brought to the offense that is unmistakable. Why Justin Fuente waited so long to make him the starter didn’t make sense in September and doesn’t make sense now. But I’m just filing it away with questions like “why does my wife steal all my tools and never put them back?” and “do my wife and daughter think I’m made of money?”
They are question that will never be answered to my satisfaction.
It’s more than just Hooker. Saturday, the jet sweeps that were predictable and didn’t work in September are working in November. The offense is remembering it has tight ends and throwing to them. Basic plays like screen passes are back in the play book and run regularly. The running game no longer looks like they are calling plays that send a back into a brick wall for no gain.
The defense is back to its aggressive, free-wheeling days of old, and it’s working. The only time recently they decided to tone it down and play safe, they got beat on a final drive in South Bend, Indiana. I am pretty sure Bud Foster won’t let that happen again.
All of this has created an air of confidence that you see building each week. Confidence that the plays will work. Confidence that the coaches know what they’re doing. Confidence that the guy next to you on the field will execute his assignment so you can aggressively execute yours.
Confidence can be a powerful drug in sporting events. Step to the first tee on a golf course without confidence and you will soon be deep in the woods. Harbor any small doubt in your mind as you’re launching a wide-open jump shot in a basketball game and odds are it will clang off the back iron instead of swishing through the net. Confidence won’t replace talent. But if the talent is there, it will unleash its potential.
I think Jerry Kill has affected all of this. I think there were some assistant coaches that weren’t necessarily good teachers or strategists at their position. I think Fuente tried to respect those coaches, gave them too much autonomy in their decisions and didn’t get involved. I think all of this combined with a team that knew QB2 was better than QB1 created a feeling of frustration that led to lackluster performances and a team that looked like it was not having fun.
I used to tell people back in my business life that when you’re trying to turn around a bad situation, you’re not going to walk out in the middle of the plant floor, find some huge hole and say “here it is!” It’s generally a culmination of smaller things that build on each other, and it takes time and experience to identify those problems.
Sometimes, in fact, it’s almost impossible for the staff to find them because they are so close to the every day workings, they take the problems for granted. In some cases, the decision makers themselves are the problem, and why you see companies bring in outside consultants with no relationships or biases to more easily identify the issues.
That’s my suspicion as to why the Hokies are now back on the upswing. Fuente looked inwardly, didn’t think he could fix it, then picked up the phone.
He then must have called for a “Kill switch.”
Saturday’s 45-0 beatdown of Georgia Tech showed he made the right call.