Tech’s Transfers Raise an Important Question: Can Justin Fuente Lead the Hokies?

For more than 30 years, Virginia Tech has been the model of consistency. Blacksburg has been the bastion of tranquility and order. The Hokies football program has been as stable as they come in an industry that becomes less stable by the year.

But the last several months have been anything but consistent or tranquil at Virginia Tech. In fact, it’s hard to find a time in recent memory that has induced more panic, suspicion or worry than the timeframe that we are in.

In case you’ve lost track of all the events that have led up to now, here’s a list.

  • June 1, 2018: Adonis Alexander dismissed from team
  • July 9, 2018: Mook Reynolds dismissed from team, later revealed he had been charged with a drug-related felony
  • July 31, 2018: Cam Goode released from scholarship prior to start of 2018 season
  • Sept. 23, 2018: Trevon Hill dismissed following Old Dominion’s upset of Virginia Tech
  • Oct. 22, 2018: D’Andre Plantin announces decision to transfer
  • Nov. 18, 2018: Rico Kearney announces decision to transfer
  • Nov. 19, 2018: Sean Savoy announces decision to transfer
  • Dec. 4, 2018: Devante Smith announces decision to transfer
  • Jan. 22, 2019: Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham announce decisions to transfer, Holmon Wiggins reportedly accepts coaching position at Alabama
  • Jan. 23, 2019: Josh Jackson and Deshawn McClease announce decisions to transfer

Within a 48-hour period, Virginia Tech has lost their best assistant coach and recruiter (Wiggins), a former starting quarterback (Jackson), a starting wide receiver (Kumah) and a viable option at tight end (Cunningham). These moves seem to be a conclusion to one of the least stable periods of Virginia Tech football history.

What are the odds that three of Virginia Tech’s best defenders — Alexander, Reynolds and Hill — are all dismissed from the team before the halfway point of the season? What are the odds that four players announce their decisions to transfer before the end of the season? What are the odds that the team’s second leading receiver, possible starting quarterback, likely starting running back and senior tight end decide that enough is enough?

When there is smoke, there is usually fire. In this case, it’s hard to imagine all this smoke is coming from nowhere.

Evidence of a deeper problem showed itself on Twitter on Tuesday night, foreshadowing the transfers of Jackson and McClease.

More evidence can be found in Kumah’s statements about his decision to transfer. Forgive me if I’m reading too much into it, but Kumah fails to mention Justin Fuente at all and then takes a thinly-veiled shot at his former head coach.

Kumah attributes Wiggins’ departure as one of the reasons for his decision to transfer, but there could be more there. Cunningham, Jackson and McClease all mentioned Fuente in their statements, for what it’s worth.

Late Wednesday night and Thursday, current Tech players took to Twitter to show solidarity with those players remaining in the program, rallying around the #ItStartsNow hashtag.

While these are simply posts on a social media platform, it should be encouraging to Virginia Tech fans that some players are still willing to support the team publicly in such a time of despair.

Fuente broke his silence on Wednesday, issuing a statement regarding the team’s transfers.

All of this — the transfers, the shade from former players, the support of current players and Fuente’s statement — it all boils down to one question. Has Fuente lost the locker room?

This is the only question that truly matters, in terms of the future of Virginia Tech football. This question can be answered in one of two ways, each answer coming with its own prognosis.

If Fuente has not lost the locker room, then this past week is nothing more than an unfortunate set of events that might set Fuente back in his reconstruction of Hokie football. If this is the case, then those former players’ tweets can be dismissed, and fans can return to thinking about next year’s roster.

However, if Fuente has indeed lost the command and respect of a significant portion of his team, then this regime is doomed to fail. Even if Fuente were to rid the entire team of bad personalities, those left will stay reluctantly. The team will never coalesce around a common goal, and Fuente’s teams will struggle to reach the next level.

There’s no way of knowing the answer to this question for people like us. The only ones who know are in Merryman Athletic Center, and they won’t be speaking on this confluence of events anymore than they already have. All we can do is wait and see the results.

I feel differently now than I did on Tuesday or Wednesday, as the transfers were going public. As they were announced, each decision originally made me doubt Fuente’s leadership and ability to relate with and motivate his players.

But after contemplating each of these moves more, it becomes more likely that each of these decisions to transfer are more because of the player’s personal interests, not a general dissatisfaction with the program as a whole.

Adonis Alexander had several missteps throughout his entire career. Mook Reynolds’ dismissal was easily explained once his arrest became public and Trevon Hill’s dismissal is really the only one that raises questions. D’Andre Plantin, Rico Kearney, Sean Savoy, Devante Smith and Chris Cunningham all transferred because they wanted more playing time. Eric Kumah’s decision is questionable, but Josh Jackson likely saw the writing on the wall in Tech’s upcoming quarterback race. Deshawn McClease hoped following Travon McMillian’s path would lead to more success.

When you look at the moves as a group, it raises red flags. But the more you dive into it, its players taking advantage of their right to transfer to situations they deem beneficial. The defections aren’t necessarily indicative of a deeper problem within Fuente’s fresh foundation.

Time will tell whether this offseason will serve as a rallying point for Virginia Tech, or if this offseason will be another step in the Hokies’ decline from relative success. But for now, Tech fans can only hope these latest transfers are the end of what’s been a disastrous eight months for Virginia Tech football.

16 thoughts on “Tech’s Transfers Raise an Important Question: Can Justin Fuente Lead the Hokies?”

  1. Ricky, you may raise questions, but I don’t buy into any of this trash. I am glad to see anyone that doesn’t want to be there GO and GO fast I don’t want to read about a group of malcontents such as Hill, Mook and Jackson. I wish them well wherever they chose to go, but don’t trash a program that gave them the opportunity to achieve what the have.
    Quit blaming Coach Fuente for their under achievement. Take responsibility.
    If I had a hashtag it would be #goodriddance

    1. It’s not fair to call Josh Jackson a malcontent. Publicly, Jackson hasn’t had any meaningful missteps and he lost his starting job mostly because he broke his leg. Jackson knows that Willis will be hard to beat this offseason, and Quincy is right there too. It makes sense for him to transfer.

  2. Adonis Alexander was ruled academically ineligible and declared for the supplemental draft. Perhaps he would have been dismissed, but he couldn’t have played regardless and that wasn’t a decision that Fuente made. I know that seems like a ticky-tack distinction, it seems fairly important when you try to look at the big picture. Additionally, Alexander took responsibility for his actions and did not blame the coaching staff or program for his issues.

  3. Good grief . . . I’m really tired of the sky is falling mantra. Take a look at what is happening at other schools — it’s the same thing. Miami, Clemson and Penn State to name two. I don’t like it a bit, but it is the nature of the times. The guys that remain are the ones that buy into Coach Fu’s system and are dedicated Hokies, and they will do just fine, thank you very much.

  4. Ricky, I found your headline to be needlessly provocative and negative. In the end, you’re essentially answering your own question with “no,” it appears to you that Fuente has not lost the locker room. You could just as easily have fashioned a headline to reflect the punch line. Also, I disagree that the last eight months have been “disastrous” for Hokie football. That is hyperbolic nonsense. Marshall had a disaster when the plane went down. SMU had a disaster when the NCAA levied the death penalty and ended the football program for a period of time. Petrino has left in his wake what might be termed disasters in one or two instances. What VT fans just endured was the toughest season we’ve experienced for more than two decades, and yet it included a win over the Hoos, preservation of that streak as well as the bowl streak, combined with the first losing season in well over 20 years, an unusual number of NFL early declarations, many untimely injuries, dismissals, and now a handful of departures. A very difficult season, to be sure, especially against the backdrop of the past 23 years. But hardly a disaster. I really think you should choose your words more carefully and thoughtfully.

    1. I’m sorry you disagreed with the headline. To me, that’s the central question regarding these transfers. While I have my own opinion about it, I can’t say for sure my view is right.

  5. Sensational headline for click bait.

    1st you combine Oriole and Hokie news, and now this cr#p. I’m done reading your articles. I’s prefer positive aspects of the program.

    1. I’m sorry you find this headline sensational. That certainly wasn’t my intention. And I haven’t written about the Orioles in months, so I don’t really know where that’s coming from.

      If you’d prefer only positive stuff about Virginia Tech, email me and I’ll point you in the right direction. Here, you’ll get my honest opinion, whether it’s positive or negative.

    1. Usually I like and agree with you Ricky but to me this was a hatchet job on Fuente by you, especially saying the T. Hill dismissal raises question! No it doesn’t! If you had done your homework you would have known Hill had been in trouble before he got to VT and was trouble when he got here. Fuente is ALWAYS going to put the team first at the expense of ANY player. Hill had way to many strikes against him and I am glad to see this cancer and trouble maker gone! I meet this kid at a fans day before he ever played a game and he treated kids and adult fans terribly and was a class A jerk. There are no questions about why he is gone other than by you. Lost a lot of respect for you in this article. Use to really look forward to your posts. Not anymore and especially if you keep posting garbage like this. I hope your better than that and you’ll come to your senses. Go Hokies

      1. I’m not sure how an article that defends Fuente’s leadership can be seen as a “hatchet job”, but I’m sorry you feel that way.

  6. Good article, Ricky. I must tell you however that a friend of mine who is an avid Texas supporter has told me that the Horns have also been hit significantly by transfers. They lost not one but both back-ups at QB to Sam Ellinger to the transfer portal. They have lost around 8 or 9 players total at this point. Lets face it, too many of today’s players thinks its all about them individually and not about team. Having said that we should remember that these players see their time running out playing in a sport they love and always dreamed of playing at the pro level. They are desperate to play as much as possible to increase their chances of getting to the next level. CJF, like a number of coaches these days, believes in specialization and using certain players only in certain game situations. These (transferring) players want to be on the field as much as possible for as long as they can. Ignore Trevon Hill, he’s a head case. Kumah probably made his case to CJF for more playing time and it fell on deaf ears (perhaps correctly)so he’s mad. The one thing that may convince players like this to stay is to be in the hunt for a conference or even national championship but who knows. The transfer bug is now a fact of life coaches will have to deal with.

  7. Totally agree with Ron Mersky. Your article smacks of knee jerk reactions and lacks thought and research. What does “enough is enough” mean. Enough of what? You’ve made an assumption based on twitter posts from a few malcontents. It should be understood that we are rebuilding our talent and, thus, younger, more talented players are going to supplant players that don’t produce as well which can lead to dissatisfaction. Let’s stop the doomsday approach.

  8. Ricky, you are speaking from both sides of your mouth in this article. A bit wishy-washy. What is true, is coach loosing locker room or players leaving fro their own personal gains? I think you should take a stand and write the article accordingly.

    1. My goal was to frame the central question on these transfers. Ultimately, what matters is whether or not Fuente is the right man for the job.

      My opinion is that he is, but the more important part is the question itself. Because ultimately, my opinion could be entirely wrong.

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