The 2017 season was my first as a professional beat writer covering Virginia Tech. I was a young reporter with minimal experience, but some of the Tech coaches and staff remembered me from my tenure with the Collegiate Times. Still, I was the new kid on the block.
That moniker comes with its own stigma, especially when it comes time to ask questions. During one of the weekly press conferences that season, Bud Foster was speaking and was being peppered with questions about his defense. I tried to get a question in, but the conference was cut short in order to get the players up to the podium before returning to their schedule.
Instead of leaving it alone, I tried to follow Foster out of the press conference. As soon as I exited, Foster was standing there. I asked Foster if I could ask him a question, and Foster happily obliged. I spent the next five minutes talking one-on-one with Foster, not just about the team but also about life in general.
That moment encapsulated my experience with Foster, which seems to be very similar to everyone else’s experience. It was common for Foster to do this with the veteran reporters, but it meant a lot that he was willing to talk with me. Not only is Foster a wizard on the sideline, he’s a world-class human being.
I don’t need to spend a lot of time going over Foster’s resume. He’ll go down as the greatest defensive coordinator in the history of college football and rightfully so. Foster created the backbone of Frank Beamer’s ascension into the college football elite, sporting a tough and gritty defense that earned their stripes against some of the nation’s best.
Foster arrived in 1987 and assumed the defensive coordinator role in 1995. His defenses finished first in yardage allowed in back-to-back seasons in 2005 and 2006 and first in points allowed in 1999 and 2006. His defense, paired with the unicorn that was Michael Vick, vaulted Virginia Tech into the National Championship Game in 1999. Only Alabama has had more shutout performances than Virginia Tech since 2000. Since Foster assumed the coordinator role in 1996, no program has accumulated more sacks and interceptions.
Again, we all know Foster’s on-field credentials. But his legacy is more than just stifling defenses. It’s a culture and a mindset that no matter the odds, his guys are going to beat your guys. Foster’s embrace of the Lunch Pail defense began with largely unheralded players with little pedigree. Foster molded these young men into defensive stars and together, they were nearly unstoppable. Foster’s defensive credentials weren’t built with five-star players, but with average recruits that bought in and cared about the program, its people and its culture.
Foster’s contributions are invaluable. It’s hard to imagine Beamer reaching the level of success that he did without Foster at his side. Foster has poured everything into this program. He’s had multiple knee surgeries and towards the end of last season, was taken to the emergency room because of a heart issue. He’s been Virginia Tech’s loyal soldier, even after being passed up for the coaching job he wanted most.
Friday’s showdown vs. Virginia is the culmination of all of these events. Foster’s defense faces one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in ‘Hoo history, Bryce Perkins, and all that’s on the line is a Coastal championship and a date with ACC behemoth Clemson. If Virginia Tech was ever going to send Foster out on a high note, this is the time to do it.
Virginia Tech will never be able to replace Bud Foster. They’ll never replace his on-field production and his leadership and they’ll never replace his ability to connect with people. He surely connected with me, and I’m thankful I got to experience that.