As sportswriters, we get the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with all sorts of people. Some of the people in the business are a pain to deal with, while others are as nice and as welcoming as they come.
Often, it’s hard to find a figure that is not only at the top of his profession but who is also a genuinely nice human being. But I found that guy in Bud Foster. And while we should all congratulate Foster on retiring from football, it’s going to be tough when he’s no longer around.
Foster is arguably the most important figure in the history of Virginia Tech athletics. While Frank Beamer brought the program to national prominence in the 1990s and 2000s, Foster was the catalyst for it all. He joined the staff in 1987 and since assuming the defensive coordinator position in 1995, Foster has engineered the most consistent and dominant defense of the last 20 or so seasons. Beamer deserves credit for what he did, but Foster enabled him to do so.
Foster’s credentials are unmatched. The longest-tenured assistant in college football has orchestrated and built a defense that leads the entire FBS in sacks (856), interceptions (380) and opposing third-down conversion percentage (31.5 percent) since 1996. Forty-five defenders have been drafted in the first or second rounds. Foster’s defenses have finished in the top 20 in the FBS in total yardage an astounding 18 times. Somehow, Foster has only won the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant, once (2006).
The “Lunch Pail Defense” is the biggest reason for Tech’s place in the college football landscape. Once Michael Vick had departed for the NFL and before Tyrod Taylor arrived, Foster’s defenses carried Tech’s anemic offense season after season. Even as Vick and Taylor were stunning fans and opposing defenses, the Tech defense made those teams elite. Even after Taylor’s departure, Foster’s defense endured.
His value extends off the field. Foster has spent countless hours promoting the school and its athletic department, serving as a vital asset to the school’s marketing and fundraising arms. His charity work is just as impressive as his coaching. And Foster has earned the respect and trust of just about everyone around Virginia Tech and the New River Valley.
The media always loved Foster because he never worried about toeing the company line. He never said anything that flat-out hurt the program, but Foster was open and honest about himself, his players and his team. And he was always capable of producing a good quote.
Foster has zero reason to show humility, yet he’s done so again and again. He’s been loyal to Virginia Tech, turning down multiple offers to be the head whistle elsewhere. And when he was passed up for his dream job after Beamer’s retirement, Foster stayed and helped Justin Fuente usher in a new era of Virginia Tech athletics.
We all knew this day was going to come. At 60 years old, Foster has given Virginia Tech and Blacksburg more than they could ever ask for. He’s at a pivotal point in his life, remarrying after a divorce and recovering from multiple knee surgeries. Foster has earned this right to ride off on his own accord.
As sportswriters, we’re supposed to be objective observers who tell compelling stories. We’re supposed to retain some independence and avoid rooting for one side or the other. But personally, it’s hard for me to be independent when it comes to Bud Foster. The man deserves the fairy tale-ending that all legends deserve. I hope he gets it.