Winning Culture Taking Shape at Virginia Tech Under Justin Fuente

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Justin Fuente Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente is well on his way to establishing the winning culture that Virginia Tech has needed.

Rebuilding a program involves many steps, but none may be more important than establishing the culture necessary to sustain success.

When Justin Fuente arrived at Virginia Tech last fall, he took over a talent-rich team that wasn’t winning. The program was treading water in the worst division of the ACC and hadn’t appeared in a major bowl game since 2011. The foundation for success was there, but something was missing.

Fast forward to October, and it seems that culture has been established. Virginia Tech is inside the top-25, off to a 4-1 start and in the driver’s seat in the Coastal Division. But more importantly, the team’s mindset is different

“There’s a lot of things they wanted to implement,” said Jerod Evans. “Believe, prepare, play. Preparation, 1-0, I mean there’s a lot of things Coach Fuente harps on.”

When Fuente arrived, he enacted several changes. He put more of an emphasis on recruiting, brought in Ben Hilgart to revamp the program’s strength and conditioning and worked to change the atmosphere around the program.

“Tough, that’s the first thing,” said Bucky Hodges. “I’m not saying Coach (Frank) Beamer didn’t preach being tough, but they’re on us about every little thing, from being at study hall to being two minutes late to class. It was never like this. On the field, always got to move, never time to sit down and take a break. You’re always on the move working. It’s a change for the positive for Virginia Tech.”

“We had to buy into it and I think we’ve done a great job of doing that,” said Brandon Facyson. “These coaches are great, they put us in the right position. They tell us what we need to know and we trust them, we follow them, we know they’re going to do what’s best for the team.”

The older players on the team appreciated Fuente’s reverence and appreciation for Beamer’s work. Fuente has been careful not to step on toes or come off as condescending towards the old staff, and instead of ignoring the past, he’s embraced it.

“I think the main thing they wanted to do was build on the coaches previously here,” said Jonathan McLaughlin. “Last three seasons weren’t as good as we wanted it but they came in here and did a great job. The first thing I liked was how they treated us all and we knew it was going to be hard work.”

The changes seemed to have worked, but it didn’t always look pretty. After an admittedly bad week of preparation, Virginia Tech squandered a 14-0 first quarter lead vs. Tennessee in the Battle at Bristol and ended up losing 45-24 in a game that wasn’t that competitive in the second half.

“I think the Tennessee game was a fairly good wakeup call for us.” Fuente said. “I don’t say that taking anything away from Tennessee. I wasn’t real pleased with them going into the game and some things that happened in the game. You don’t give yourself a chance to win when you do those types of things. I think that helped us, in terms of maybe getting our kids attention a little bit. Now, we just got to keep it.”

Fuente’s bunch responded. Virginia Tech has outscored their opponents 137-20 since the Tennessee loss, dominating non-conference rival East Carolina, as well as ACC opponents Boston College and North Carolina.

“I think once the team started to see his formula work, it was easy to buy in,” Evans said. “They saw at Tennessee, we were up 14-0 and how we ended up playing flat in the third and fourth quarter and they saw that, and I think that woke them up like, ‘We had a crappy Tuesday and Wednesday.’ So for now, our Tuesday and Wednesday, we’re looking forward to them. With our senior leadership, we’re not going to have a bad Tuesday or Wednesday, because they know how it felt against Tennessee.”

For Fuente, rebuilding programs hasn’t been easy. Even at Memphis, Fuente has always reevaluated his coaching style in order to better relate with his players.

“After four years, I was worried about, ‘Should I still be talking about the same thing? How should I articulate it to them? Are they blocking me out? Are they tired of hearing it?’,” Fuente said. “That’s one of the things I admire about Coach Beamer. He had 29 years here, continuing to preach his culture and they were still listening to it.”

“Sometimes I think they’re listening, sometimes I’m not sure,” Fuente said. “By and large, I think they’ve done a good job of accepting who we want to be and what we’re trying to be and living that out on a daily basis.”

Nigel Williams Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente wants his team to enjoy success, but more importantly to remember what it took to succeed.

With Virginia Tech off to such a hot start, Fuente is teaching his team how to handle success, which can be harder than handling failure.

“We try to keep it in perspective and address those things,” Fuente said. “Let’s talk about the reasons we have had success the last couple weeks. It’s because of the way we’ve practiced, the way we’ve prepared, ultimately leading to us playing well enough to win a few games in a row. Also, talk about how fleeting that is. There’s a long season ahead of us. We can take pride in winning a couple games, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to move past those things and get ready for the next one.”

“It’s a constant — I shouldn’t say a battle — you can’t get tired of trying to preach your message,” Fuente said. “At least this is according to business people I’ve read. Whether it’s big corporations, you always continue to find ways to articulate your message and the culture. You can’t stop that. If you stop or relax or quit, then in my opinion, it begins to deteriorate.”

Fuente seems to have stuck to his guns, and it’s working so far.

“One of the things I like about Coach Fuente is that he never wavered in what he believed in,” said Andrew Motuapuaka. “When he first got here, he just laid it down, plain and simple, how he was, how he wanted things and how he wanted to change things. We kind of just went with it. We’re all in and I think that’s how we’re having success now, because we all bought into his plan and what he had for us.”

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15 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. This article is a must-read for any recruit. Not only will they learn about success at football, they’ll learn what it takes to be a successful man.

  2. A little hard to follow the logic that wins over the mediocre teams to date somehow will lead to a “winning culture” ??? Let’s see the results from the Miami, Pitt, ND
    and bowl games before the VT football program is ‘anointed’ as our ‘saviors’ !

    1. I think VT was better, or as good as UT, but they panicked after the TOs and we saw the result. I think that they win that game now, and I suspect that they will play a similar caliber team soon.

      They may not win by 25, but they will improve and beat them. I think we are seeing the foundations of that winning culture.

  3. IMHO sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Football is a team sport. It is always a blessing when the team is greater than the individual parts that is always the plan. A large part is putting your players therefore team in a position to succeed. Faith trusting believing seems to state the attitude of this team and coaches.

  4. What a great hire! Stars lined up. Frank’s consistent ‘class’ as a person and coach plus a veracious fan base helped attract a guy like Fuente. He knew With Bud he could get plenty of opportunities to showcase his offensive coaching acumen. As I said, perfect storm. Love his motivational talks!!! Makes me want to play for a guy like that. GO,HOKIES. LETS ROLL!

  5. Do any of you remember 1999? Coach Beamer referred to each game as game 1, game 2, game 3, etc.
    This was not to let his team drop off on a patsy week. Coach Fuente is doing the same thing. I admire him for figuring a way to keep enthusiasm up each and every week. It is hard to do. We should all be extremely proud of the new staff and how they have brought this team to heights that most of us were not expecting so soon.
    ps: Coach Fuente only needed to bring in one player this year, quarterback, and I think he did a great job.
    Go Hokies!!!!!!!!!

    1. Beamer had the same Game 1, Game 2, Game 3 approach in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. So does EVERY coach. Plenty to like but the one game at a time approach is not new to anybody.

  6. “When Justin Fuente arrived at Virginia Tech last fall, he took over a talent-rich team” – well, actually we weren’t very “talent rich” at QB and we are talent thin at WR and LB. I would say at O-Line we have some good players, but still are talent thin at a couple of O-line positions[can you say center?]. In fact, that is what has made this turn around really amazing. VT is not “talent rich” like what Mark R. took over at Miami. Living next to Clemson, now that is a talent rich program. Give Fuente that bunch and I would vote for him to win it all.

    I know it depends on your definition of “talent rich”, but my point is that the job Coach Fuente has done is even more amazing than what you give him credit for – he got talent at a critical spot, and has been to elevate the existing talent, much higher than what was expected. Go Hokies!

    Thanks,

  7. Thank you for a well written article. VT has a Coach that wants VT to be the best because I see him wanting to stay here for the Long Haul. “This is Home” goes along way ..

    1. What tells you he wants to be here for the long haul? I hope he does — but I’m not sure what evidence there is of that.

      1. When he was first introduced as VT’s coach he said that aside from football he personally thought the job came with the perk of raising his children in a great community. Raising children takes more than a couple of years, so I’m assuming he meant at least for a while.

        1. With success, I think he’ll be the next Coach Beamer. If his kids don’t go to VT, they’ll at least come back to VT.

  8. After reading this, I will be very surprised if we come out flat (like some are saying) on Saturday. I think this team has really bought into the “one game at a time” philosophy. I am amazed at how little time it took to get everyone on the same page. Don’t know what will happen in the weeks ahead, but I like what I see.

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