Let’s start today’s column with a life lesson — two things can be, and often are, true at once.
This can be applied to all life situations — your family, your friends, politics and yes, sports. So let’s apply this principle to Virginia Tech’s hiring of Jon Tenuta as a defensive analyst.
Tenuta’s hire is a no-brainer. And it still doesn’t absolve Justin Fuente of his flaws that make Tenuta’s hire necessary in the first place.
Allow me to explain.
Virginia Tech clearly benefited from the hiring of Jerry Kill midway through the 2019 season. Kill technically served as a special assistant to Fuente, but he did so much more.
Kill became the de-facto running backs coach, all but sealing Zohn Burden‘s fate with Virginia Tech. Kill helped orchestrate a more productive running game and in turn, received credit from Deshawn McClease for the most productive season of his career.
Not only did Kill have a real impact in the running game, he was widely praised for helping the Hokies address internal issues within the program that diminished the on-field product. Kill’s “outsider” perspective helped Fuente see things from a different point of view.
That insight directly correlated with an on-field resurgence. After Tech’s humiliating loss to Duke on Sep. 27, Virginia Tech won six of their next seven games. The lone defeat came at the hands of Notre Dame, as backup Quincy Patterson kept Tech within striking distance.
When Kill left after the season, everyone who knows how the program operates knew it would be a negative. We didn’t think it would be as bad as it ended up being, though.
Not all of 2020’s struggles can be attributed to Kill’s departure, but he would have positively affected some of those issues. Kill’s experience and wisdom as an ombudsman forced everyone inside the program — players and coaches — to look inwards at how they were falling short of the standard.
Not only is Tenuta a 40-year coaching veteran, but he’s gained invaluable experience under all sorts of coaches in all sorts of places. Tenuta’s travels have made him a defensive coordinator at eight different schools. He’s coached defensive backs, safeties and linemen. Tenuta served as a defensive analyst in 2020 with Cincinnati, who sported the eighth-best scoring defense.
I’m not sure you could have molded a better fit for this position than Tenuta. And Fuente deserves some credit for realizing he needs this sort of presence in the meeting room.
Now, let’s address the other side of the coin.
Fuente is now in his sixth year of coaching in Blacksburg. He’s supposed to have things figured out by now. These are entirely his players and entirely his coaches.
And yet, as Fuente has stayed, his teams have gotten worse. Since the start of 2018, Tech is 19-18. The Hokies have finished with a losing record in two of their last three seasons. The program’s storied bowl streak is over.
Fuente shouldn’t need an outside enforcer to help him fix things he hasn’t been able to fix. He shouldn’t need an outside voice to call out those who aren’t meeting the standard. Fuente should be able to do those things himself.
But he hasn’t, so Virginia Tech is stuck trying to solve a problem it shouldn’t have. Tenuta is a fine solution to that problem. And if it doesn’t result in wins, it’s probably a safe bet that Tenuta wasn’t given the leeway necessary to light enough fires under enough rears.
Because once again, two things can be true at once. We already know Tenuta is a great defensive mind — he wouldn’t be in the game as long as he has if he weren’t. Now whether or not he succeeds at Virginia Tech is up to Fuente.