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.
— Devante Smith (@devantesmith2) January 23, 2019
— Mook Reynolds (@MookReynolds) January 23, 2019
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.
Thank You Hokie Nation
Respect My Decision
— EK3 (@Eric_Kumah11) January 23, 2019
Only if y’all knew how much this guy cares about his players & makes sure they always good! Much love and well deserved coach https://t.co/qoFaoqzH31
— EK3 (@Eric_Kumah11) January 23, 2019
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.
— Quincy Patterson II (@quincy_qb1) January 24, 2019
— Dax Hollifield (@ChiefDax_25) January 24, 2019
— Emmanuel Belmar Jr (@EBJr_9) January 24, 2019
Man from the heart – I believe in all my brothers in that locker room too much to think we’re gonna be anything less than special this year! Let’s Go
— Oscar Bradburn (@oscbradburn) January 24, 2019
— Jarrod Hewitt (@HewittJarrod) January 23, 2019
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.
Statement from Head Coach Justin Fuente pic.twitter.com/8tQmZTsaPI
— Virginia Tech Football (@VT_Football) January 23, 2019
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.