Monday Mail: Bud Foster’s Departure, Breakout Players and Justin Fuente’s Contract

Welcome back, folks! College football is right around the corner, as is Virginia Tech’s season-opener vs. Boston College on Aug. 31. The Hokies are well into preseason camp, so it’s time to revive Monday Mail.

Thanks for submitting your questions this week. Let’s get started with the biggest news of the preseason.

Bud Foster’s retirement will undoubtedly affect Virginia Tech’s recruiting ability moving forward. It’s already affected it negatively as it is, and things aren’t going to get better.

Dax Hollifield and Devon Hunter don’t sign with Virginia Tech if it weren’t for Foster. And Foster’s contract situation was surely used as a recruiting tool for opposing programs over the last year or two.

Now, with Foster completely out of the picture after the 2019 season, Tech targets at least have clarity on the situation. But no matter who replaces Foster, they won’t be able to recruit like Foster could. Even if the new defensive coordinator is adept at connecting with high school prospects, they won’t have the pedigree and experience that Foster has sold players for years.

Virginia Tech’s Class of 2020 is going to be abnormally small, and the program has already missed out on some of their top targets. However, the Class of 2021 has several defensive studs on the board with Tech offers. Guys like Tony Grimes, Katron Evans and Naquan Brown are top-150 prospects that will have some time to get to know Virginia Tech’s new defensive coordinator. The same goes for Jack Hollifield, Dax’s younger brother.

Foster leaving is not a positive for recruiting. But announcing things now gives Virginia Tech a giant head start on finding his replacement and possibly having that person in place early enough to spend a lot of time with 2021 prospects. The ideal scenario was still to have Foster sign an extension and stick around, but this is the next best thing.

Here’s the million-dollar question, which will be asked until Tech finally names Foster’s successor. The reality is that it’s far too early in the process to intelligently predict who Justin Fuente will tab as his next defensive coordinator, but here’s a couple educated guesses anyway.

He’ll likely keep his job after this season, but Missouri head coach Barry Odom would have to be atop Fuente’s list. Odom worked under Fuente at Memphis from 2012-2014 before returning to Missouri in 2015. Odom assumed the head coaching role in 2015 and was promoted after the season once Gary Pinkel retired. Odom has finished with a winning record in consecutive seasons with the Tigers, and it would likely take a catastrophic 2019 season for him to end up back on the market.

Just because of the TCU connection, perhaps Fuente takes a look at Horned Frogs defensive line coach Zarnell Fitch. He’s a former finalist for National Defensive Line Coach of the Year by FootballScoop.com and TCU’s defense leads the Big 12 in sacks over the last three seasons. He’s been the defensive line coach since 2016.

Albeit unlikely, I think it’s worth mentioning current defensive line coach Charley Wiles as an option. He’s been an exceptional recruiter since Fuente arrived in 2015, helping Tech build recruiting bases in North Carolina and Florida. And nobody knows Foster’s defense better than Wiles, who has coached under Foster since 1996. Wiles may decide to retire after the season too, but Fuente should consider giving Foster’s job to Foster’s right-hand man.

To be clear, I have no inside knowledge on Virginia Tech’s search for a new defensive coordinator. I don’t even think Fuente has put a ton of thought into it. He will as we get closer to that point, but the team is focused on 2019 right now.

TyJuan Garbutt is going to get every chance possible in 2019, starting at defensive end and serving as Virginia Tech’s most athletic pass rusher. Garbutt played in all 13 games in 2018, starting five times and finishing the season with 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He arrived in Blacksburg as an athletic and raw project who weighed just 210-215 pounds. But now, Garbutt has matured and added some bulk to his frame. He’ll likely torment opposing offensive tackles in 2019.

I’ll throw in another option — defensive back Chamarri Conner. Conner played 13 games in 2018 and is going to play a big role on Virginia Tech’s defense in 2019. Conner could find himself playing a majority of the time at whip linebacker, especially if Divine Deablo deals with the injury bug once again. Conner will be one of the first defensive backs off the bench and he’s going to get repeated chances to impact the game.

“With the downward trend of the team over past 2 years and a relatively easy schedule this season. How short of a leash does whit have with this coaching staff? What happens if the team doesn’t show improvement this year?” — Franklin Heinzmann

Virginia Tech football definitely nosedived in 2018, but it’s hard to say this coaching staff is on the hot seat just yet. Justin Fuente won 19 games in his first two seasons and with the cupboard just about bare, it’s no surprise his team struggled to make a bowl game.

Despite the 2018 disaster, Fuente still has quite a leash. For one, he’s only two years removed from winning the ACC Coastal and nearly knocking off Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. His contract provides all sorts of security, establishing a steep buyout on Virginia Tech’s end. Here are the numbers…

  • 2019: $15 million
  • 2020: 12.5 million
  • 2021: $10 million
  • 2022: $7.5 million
  • 2023: $5 million
  • 2024: $2 million

As you can see, those numbers would put quite a dent in the Virginia Tech Athletics budget, a budget that’s already stretched thin.

Yes, Fuente’s program hasn’t looked great over the last year. He’s had high-profile misses on the recruiting trail and has yet to earn a signature win. His team needed to reschedule a game to become bowl eligible. His standing with the fan base has declined over the last 12-15 months.

Fuente isn’t going anywhere after this season. Fans need to accept that. But if Virginia Tech falls short of the 8 or 9-win mark again this year, or if the team fails to extend the bowl streak, it will place Fuente firmly on the hot seat. But he’s got time before then, so let’s see how things pan out.

6 thoughts on “Monday Mail: Bud Foster’s Departure, Breakout Players and Justin Fuente’s Contract”

  1. You and others in the media seem to be overlooking a key component of Bud’s “retirement” after 2019.

    He starts a new job under the Athletic Director after the season & will certainly be visible in the Merryman Center, weight room, etc. I think he will still have positive impact on recruiting. No need for the constant hand wringing over his perceived departure.

    1. not the same thing. he will not be DC. Oklahoma University (I live in Oklahoma) dealt with something like this early this year when Mike Stoops (Stoops a legendary last name in these parts) was let go in midseason last year. OU managed to get a few highly regarded defensive recruits just based on their overall reputation and success. When they brought in the new DC (from Ohio State) early this year he built on that. VT does not have that kind of reputation to successfully recruit defensive players without a DC in place. The only way we may be able to do that is if we have a ‘lights out’ season – 9 or preferably 10 wins- to show VT is BACK. Short of that we will not likely have a DC in place until January of next year at the earliest as no defensive coach worth his salt will be available until then; which means we may be lucky to hold on to what we have until then, much less improve.

    2. Bud can recruit from Blacksburg all he wants, it won’t be the same as if he were recruiting on the trail. Prospects won’t be committing to the former defensive coordinator just because he’s still around in a somewhat official capacity.

  2. It always amazes me how Hokie fans don’t see Virginia Tech as a viable program. Beamer established a tradition of winning and Excellence that will continue regardless of who the coaches are. Virginia Tech’s record for putting players in the NFL especially on defense will continue and coaches around the country know what VT stands for. Bud was great but he was also unorthodox and we were out of position at times because he took chances and was aggressive. Personally, I love aggressive defense so I never had a problem with it. Maybe we can start getting defensive lineman that can make it to the NFL like Settle going forward

    1. Virginia Tech is a viable program, but there are institutional issues that must be addressed if VT is going to take the next step.

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