A budding defensive mind followed Frank Beamer from Murray State to Virginia Tech in 1987. Now, Bud Foster will soon exit a legend after chiseling his name in Hokies’ lore over the past 33 seasons.
Foster’s accomplishments were celebrated on Saturday inside Lane Stadium, but the impact that he has had in Blacksburg over those 33 years is immeasurable. He’s an expert motivator who has always been true to his word, but there’s also a focused intensity with the perfect mix of tough love and sincere compassion.
Nearly four decades in coaching, it’s never been about Bud Foster. For the Nokomis, Illinois native, it’s always been about the players and the people who he’s come in contact with in the profession.
“Obviously I’m seen as a coach, but I like to think the players before and the players now see me as more than that,” Foster said. “Hopefully I’ve helped them grow and develop on the field, but most importantly I hope I’ve helped them develop off the field. The game has never been about me. The game has been about those players. I’ve just been fortunate to be a facilitator, to be a helper, to be a mentor, to do a lot of things to help these guys achieve success. That’s what I’m most proud of, and the relationships it’s created.
“At the end of the day I’ve not taken one snap. I’ve played a lot of snaps emotionally with these guys over the years, probably every one defensively, but I’ve not played one physically. This thing is a celebration of me, but to me it’s a celebration of all the guys I’ve coached.”
Over the past week, several former players were asked the simple question: “What’s your favorite Bud Foster story/moment?”
Here’s the story of Bud Foster through the eyes of those players. (Note: some comments have been shortened for length)
Antonio Banks (defensive back, 1992-1996): Coach Foster was such a great motivator for our defense. He just had a very blue collar work ethic that taught us how to embrace the process and what it means to build a tradition #LPD.
Anthony Midget (defensive back, 1996-1999): I don’t know if it’s necessarily a story or moment, but I just think about what coach Foster has meant to Virginia Tech and just me in general. He inspired me to want to be a coach. Just the way he treated his players, the way we wanted to fight for him, and the way we wanted to go to bat for him and not let him down. That’s how much he motivated us. That’s why we have so many people coming back this weekend, just to show the respect we have for him. That’s the way he coached us. He taught us coming out of high school and helping us to be young men and just doing things the right way. The biggest influence he’s had on my coaching career is just the attention to detail and just staying true to who you are and doing things that way. I think it’s reflected in him being one of the best college defensive coordinators of all time.
Brenden Hill (defensive back, 2002-2006): A lot of my best memories are my senior year. I would probably have to say ironically the Wake Forest game that year. It was kind of the second part of our season where we were trying to get back on track. They were very hot. The hot pick. They ended up winning the ACC that year. On the bus ride down, I just remember us watching Full Metal Jacket on the first bus with coach Foster and coach Wiles. It was symbolic of a general leading his troops to battle even in choosing that movie for us to watch going down there. Even us taking a bus down, we didn’t fly. We took a bus down to Winston-Salem, and then you saw how we played kind of with our hair on fire. The defense made a ton of plays. We were just very inspired. Him sitting in that first seat leading us was a memory I remember from the season, a game I remember where we just played lights out.
Also, our pregame speeches when we would get together before we loaded the bus. He would always talk to us very directly and sternly and pump us up. To me, it’s no coincidence as to why our defense has the reputation and the lore it has is because of him. His persona, his work ethic, his late-night hours, his experience. We’re all just the manifestation of that. His W.I.N mantra, the “What’s important now” is on our lunch pail. He would always remind us of that. If it was a bad play, a bad game, I think that’s something I carry over to life. You might not have a good day, but you can focus back on what’s important now. You don’t let yesterday beat you again. You don’t let that last play beat you again. “What’s important now” and our No. 1 defense and the Broyles Award, all that stuff.
Danny Coale (wide receiver, 2007-2011): Some of my favorite times were Friday afternoons, we’d have our walkthrough and the team meeting room would have a bifurcation thing that would split the room down the middle. The offense would go on one side and the defense on the other. We’d walk through our keys to success and the keys to the game. During my time I would be listening to Stinespring about what the game plan was, but you couldn’t help but hear coach Foster through that makeshift wall. By the end of it, he would make you want to play defense because he was so unbelievable and motivating. He’d get the guys so fired up. I would love going against his guys in practice. He’s the best, he’s literally the best at what he’s done. Being able to share a practice field with him was awesome.
People kind of talk about the Bud Foster standard, it’s a standard of excellence that people typically attach to the defense side of the ball. Within the program you’ll find that he had so much respect for the offensive guys. We would really carry over that expectation of excellence that stemmed from the defensive side of the ball and the wonderful things they did. It really lit a fire under us to perform to the best that we could. He was so great at motivating the defensive guys, the offensive guys. For a guy who spent his entire career on the defensive side of the ball, his impact on both sides of the line of scrimmage, it was pretty awesome. It was pretty special.
Ken Ekanem (defensive line, 2012-2016): He has such a fiery personality that you’d want to run through a wall for him. It’s kind of a tough act to follow. He’ll break down the defense after practice and he would want after that speech, after practice concludes, to still make you want to go out and practice to be your best self. It’s kind of tough to follow up a speech by Bud Foster. You kind of just break it down after he says his peace.
True to His Word
Ike Charlton (defensive back, 1996-1999): I will say probably the best moment for me was Bud flying to Orlando to come see me and mention over and over that in choosing Virginia Tech, “I will make sure you play on Sunday.”
Coale: I’d drop anything to talk about Bud Foster. Across the board you can’t quantify his impact. You look at my situation. I was a low-rated recruit playing private league ball in a relatively unknown prep league in Virginia. I would venture to say he is one of the, if not the, biggest reasons that I went to Virginia Tech. One, because he provided the opportunity there really when no one else would. He kept his word the entire time. The recruiting process can kind of be funny. You see people’s true colors. Honestly, he stood by his word the entire time he recruited me. He said, “Come to our one-day camp and if you perform like I think you will, we’ll have a spot for you.” I’ll never forget it, he said “I’ll stand on the table for you.” He did. When it came to decision time, they had a spot that day, and he just followed through. It’s pretty indicative just of who he is as a person and as a coach. He’s just someone who’s so solid all around. He is who he is, and I think a lot of players have a true appreciation just for that authenticity. I don’t think you find it much anymore.
Luther Maddy (defensive lineman, 2011-2015): It’s universally known that coach Foster is a guy who cares about his players, his coaching staff, and everybody like that. I have a few moments where I remember him showing a lot of grace and just being real thoughtful. For instance, when I first came in as a freshman, I was a two-star, not highly sought-after athlete. The fact that him and coach Wiles took a chance on me. I arrived on campus and he kind of just sat me down and broke it down to me that those stars can go out the window and he believes in my ability and he knows I can perform. Hearing that as a young guy in 2011, that really meant a lot to me. That helped me become a better player. I started seven or nine games as a true freshman when I was at Tech, so coming in and him being confident in my abilities, that meant a lot to me.
Ekanem: My fondest ones would probably be back when I was getting recruited by him. He was really consistent and persistent offering me. I was already of big fan of [Virginia Tech] coming in. When he first offered me I kind of had to bite my tongue. He offered me my junior year, and just having him in my coach’s office and being 16 years old at the time, it’s kind of overwhelming. I almost committed on the spot, but I always wanted to weigh my options. Him doing that, and I tore my ACL in the state championship game [as a senior]. The game was on a Saturday, and he showed up Monday morning to come check up on me. That’s when I was deciding between them and Notre Dame. He told me regardless of whatever the condition my knee was in, I’d still have a scholarship regardless of if I could play or not. That meant a lot to me at the time. A lot of schools backed off or went back on that situation. Notre Dame did, so when he said that to me it meant a lot. Just him following up on his word meant a lot to me. It made me want to play for him even more when I got to Virginia Tech.
Jeff Holland (defensive lineman, 1991-1995): One of the things that I remember the most about Coach Foster was his intensity – during practice, during a game, in team meetings. The guy was intense and focused. All. The. Time. No nonsense. Ever. Not that he couldn’t joke around with players. It’s just when it was time to get to work, it was time to get to work.
My favorite Bud Foster story is from 1995. The fourth game of the season we played at Pittsburgh. The previous week we had beaten Miami 13-7 for the first win versus Miami in program history. It was a HUGE game for us. The team was on such a high after that game. Not a surprise that we started out slow in the next game versus Pittsburgh. We were down 9-0 at halftime, and just didn’t play well in the first half – offensively and defensively. Sometime during the first half, Coach Foster was talking to the defense on the sideline. He wasn’t really yelling at us, but he did talk to the defense VERY intensely. He was just trying to fire up the defense to play better. As he continued to talk, you could tell he was getting amped up. He got so intense at the end of his speech, he punched and broke one of the dry erase boards that coaches use to draw up plays. He smashed that dry erase board pretty good.
But there’s more to this story. Later on in the game after coach Foster broke the dry erase board, my coach, Todd Grantham (D-Line coach), was talking to the D-line and did his own intense speech, and he punched and broke a dry erase board. Two dry erase boards smashed in the same game. When that happened, it seemed to me like coach Grantham planned to break the dry erase board during his speech to the D-line. Did he do it because he saw Coach Foster do it earlier in the game? When Coach Foster did it, you could tell it was a spur of the moment thing. Coach Foster was all fired up and just wanted to smash something and the dry erase board was the closest thing to him. But when coach Grantham did it, it didn’t seem like spur of the moment.
I should point out that coach Grantham had to punch the dry erase board twice to actually break it. Coach Foster just needed one punch. I think the entire D-Line chuckled to ourselves when we saw it took coach Grantham two punches to break the dry erase board.
Dwight Vick (offensive lineman, 1994-1999): I always go back to the story that I tell people. We were in middle drill. Middle drill during my time, and even after me in the Tyrod era, you knew it was usually around seventh period on Tuesdays. It was intense because it’s ones against ones, two against twos, and it’s just runs. There’s no play action.
My teammate from high school, and he played with me in college, a guy by the name of Myron Newsome. We ran the ball three straight times and Myron – this story is not going to do it justice because I’m trying to recapture how it went down – but we couldn’t get a play past the line. Myron was just killing everybody. Bud was just yelling and going crazy and jumping up and down. On the third tackle Myron had after our third play, he yells, ‘Myron, just go sit down. Get out of the play. You’re going to kill somebody.’ He was being facetious, but it felt that way. That was Bud, man.
I’m sure he’s ready to go onto the next chapter of his life, because for over 40 years he was intense and dialed in every day. Think about how hard that is to do if you’re a person or a player in whatever job that is. Think about whatever job you need to be intense and emotional to bring that kind of energy every day. And he did. That’s the memory I have. Just him being intense every day, but not over the top. It wasn’t Bobby Knight-ish, it wasn’t manufactured grandstanding with cliches and quotes. It was sincerely him.
I remember just recently, my son, we were watching the Tech-Miami game. My son looks to me. He’s met Bud before. He’s been around the program since he was a toddler, but he doesn’t remember it. We were watching the game with my family and he goes, “Who is that again?” I say, “That’s coach Foster.” He was like, “Woah, that dudes looks intense,” because they show Bud and he’s chewing gum all hard. I look to him and go, “You have no idea.”
Myron Newsome (linebacker, 1995-1996): Coach meant a whole lot to me. I learned how to watch film because coach is the defensive coordinator. He was very studious in the film room. He was very intense while watching film with his defense looking at how we’re going to stop somebody. One game, for example, we played the Naval Academy and they had the most rushing yards in the nation. We totally shut them down. Coach was very stoked about that. We just destroyed those guys out there.
Chad Beasley (defensive lineman, 1997-2001): One of the defining things, and it stands in my mind, is when we’re playing Syracuse up there in ‘98. That was McNabb’s senior year when they beat us on the throwback. We called a timeout right before that and went over to the sideline. Coach Foster dialed it up. He drew up the play and said, “This is exactly what they’re going to run. Here’s what to look for. Look for them to come out in this formation.”
Sure enough, they did, and we weren’t able to deliver on our side for whatever reason. That was one of the first moments with the detail and preparation that goes into a game and the film study and all the hours that those coaches put in, that was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me in particular with the level of detail that coach Foster went into with his film preparation.
The thing that is most impressive, and it’s not changed from when I was there, was the intensity. Where that intensity comes from, it’s not because he’s a mean guy, a jerk, or anything like that. It’s because he’s passionate. To me, that was the one thing that you hear people say, “Life is too short to not enjoy what you’re doing.” I think that’s one thing that was very evident with that whole staff, and certainly Bud Foster as the leader on the defensive staff, was the passion that he brought to the table day in and day out. The passion you see on the sideline, that passion was that times 10 Monday through Friday on the practice field. It was a passion about doing things right. It was a passion about executing. It was a passion about the guys on the team and the relationships that are forged through all the trials and tribulations that we faced. Those relationships are just as strong today as they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago. If I had to sum Bud Foster up in one word, it would be that: passionate.
Jim Davis (defensive lineman, 2000-2004): Let’s just say we give up a few yards or so, and he’ll send in the play. You can see it on his face that he’s pissed. He’s mad. When he sends in the play, it’s almost like he’s sending the energy in to all of us. I promise you, either the next play was a sack, an interception, or a big play. You knew when it was time to tighten up. It always transcended. It’s not necessarily one thing, I would say it’s energy that he put into us consistently.
Newsome: It wasn’t a good moment, but my first year at Tech we played Boston College and I had a terrible game. Coach sat me down. The following week we had played Cincinnati and we got shut out 16-0. I forgot what exactly happened. I think George [DelRicco] was hurt or something happened, and I ended up playing the Miami game. Coach was like, “You ready to roll?” I was like, “Yeah, coach. I’m ready.” We beat Miami for the first time in Tech history. That was ‘95. I had a great game that game. That was another moment from coach.
Charlton: During my freshman year we were playing Rutgers and it was my time to get in the game. Bud comes to me and says, “You’re up.” I’m excited, ready to go, and he’s just staring at me as if he has made a mistake by telling me that. He proceeds to walk away, then turns back around, but this time he has his patented intense mean mug on his face and says, “I hope you’re ready.” I go in and get beat for a touchdown. He meets me damn near at the 50 to tell me “Welcome to college football” and “I’m going to think about you going in the next series.” I go in and make a big play (interception) and he says, “That’s what I brought you here for and from now on you’re on your own.”
Also, it was hilarious when he gets upset, as sometimes he would just forget how he wanted yell at you, so he would stare sometimes, spit coming out his mouth. I would laugh to make him pissed even more, then go in and make a huge play. He would look at you, pat you on the head, and say “You’re killing me, three.”
Eddie Whitley (defensive back, 2008-2011): My story of Bud would be playing at UNC in 2010. I made a wrong check and the play resulted in an incomplete pass. He calls a timeout pissed at me, and he gets after me for the mental error. All I’m thinking is that it was incomplete, so what? After the game he comes to me hugs me and says, “Hey, I’m sorry for jumping on you like that in the game, I just want us to be a special defense.” He instilled in us to chase perfection, and while chasing perfection you will reach greatness. Me as a college coach now at Bridgewater College, I hold those same standards for my guys. Coach Foster is VERY influential in my transition into coaching at the collegiate level.
Ekanem: On the funnier side of things, I remember Duke back in 2014. It was a tight game and I got a personal foul. Their guard tackled me to the ground and I pushed him off. He kind of just flopped. It got them into field goal range where they could have taken the lead. Thank God they missed it. There was a timeout called right after the penalty I had, and I remember not going over toward the sideline because I didn’t want to get ripped by him just because I know he wasn’t pleased with it.
We talked after the game and he set things straight and made sure I never did anything like that again. It kind of reminded me when you’re younger as a kid and you know you’re in trouble, you’re not going to go to your parent. After you know you messed up and you know they’re going to be mad at you, you stay clear. He always looked out after you and he held me to a certain standard and made me reach for the best me out there. I’m really appreciative of that guy, and I kind of look to him as a dad during my time at Tech.
Willie Pile (defensive back, 1998-2002): Many called me an extension of him on the field, anticipating and knowing what he’d call before he called it.
My favorite Bud moment(s) are at the end of each season, during the last defensive meeting prior to our last game, he allows the seniors to say a few words and leave the returnees with a message. Bud speaks about each of them/us, but mainly lets the players have the floor.
At each of the five meetings I was a part of, I vividly remember Bud getting emotional (tears even) and hugging each senior defensive player because he truly cared about them. Not just for what they brought to the field, but for the person they are. From walk-on to 5-star. From backups to NFL draft pick, Bud cares about all of us and created that family atmosphere that made being a Hokie and specifically an LPD member, a source of pride. I get to the NFL, and all they want to talk about is how did Bud design his schemes to shut teams down and cause havoc.
Hill: I think it has a lot to do with the relationship we built past football and past playing. Once I graduated, he started his Lunch Pail Defense Foundation. He was raising money for underprivileged kids in Appalachia to go to college. That just kind of symbolized the type of person he was, but I was also a part of helping him bring former players back to help with charity events. That sort of thing. I got to see a different side of coach Foster post-playing that I really cherish our friendship and the type of person he is.
Maddy: My senior year, I ended up getting hurt and missed a majority of the season. He just brought me to his office and asked ‘How are you doing?’ He was checking up on me, and he always kept me in his thoughts, and he wanted to see me get healthier and make sure I was doing good mentally because I had a chance to get drafted when I come back and I get hurt. The fact that he would take time out of his day to check up and see how I was doing, that meant a whole lot to me. Him just being there to give me a positive motor and things like that meant a whole lot to me. Those are really my favorite moments I can think of.