The drama is over, and now we know that Justin Fuente isn’t leaving Virginia Tech. Fortunately it wasn’t a long, drawn out process. It started at about 7:45 on Tuesday night, and it ended at 8am this Thursday morning when Fuente Tweeted a picture of himself and his staff at a meeting in Blacksburg.
2020 – Let’s go! pic.twitter.com/hSE2uNR2LB
— Justin Fuente (@CoachFuente) January 16, 2020
I got a chuckle when I got this text from a friend on Wednesday…
“I probably would go to Baylor. You can lose control of the program and let your players run around campus like a Dothraki hoard and the NCAA doesn’t bat an eye. Meanwhile we can’t get a transfer waiver because Blacksburg is a fun run outside the sliding scale of approved distances.”
It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also sad because it’s true.
With regards to Fuente’s flirtation with Baylor, we hear it was absolutely legit. And we heard that through Virginia Tech’s end of things, not Fuente’s or his agents. Whit Babcock was absolutely worried. One Tech staffer even went so far as to put the chances of Fuente leaving at “90%.”
This article will be about why Fuente would consider leaving Virginia Tech for Baylor. I know Baylor isn’t a historically strong program, but a lot has changed in the last decade. Let me run off some facts for you about Baylor…
1: They’ve gone to a bowl in nine of their last 10 seasons.
2: They’ve had five 10+ win seasons since 2011. VT has two in the same span.
3: They’ve finished in the top 15 five times since 2011. VT hasn’t done that once in that span.
4: They’ve had a Heisman Trophy winner (Robert Griffin III).
5: They were making more revenue in 2015 ($106 million) than VT is currently raking in (about $100 million).
6: They built a $266 million football stadium in 2014.
7: They announced plans for a $55 million football operations center back in the spring. That’s part of a $1.1 billion fundraising campaign for university development.
8: Extremely strong in-state recruiting base.
Baylor has the advantage over Virginia Tech in every one of those areas listed above. Sure, money isn’t everything, but it plays a huge role these days.
Besides all of those advantages, we heard that Baylor offered Fuente a big raise and more support for staff and recruiting. For a driven person like Justin Fuente, it’s intriguing. However, he also likes his current players very much, and likes the staff he has put together. He didn’t feel good about the timing of a possible move.
We hear that he met with Whit Babcock on Wednesday night and told Babcock everything Baylor offered, and said he was going to sleep on it. He either didn’t get much sleep, or he woke up really early, because he announced he was staying at Virginia Tech at 8am.
We hear that he isn’t convinced that long-term Virginia Tech (and the ACC in general) can compete with other programs from a resource standpoint, but he doesn’t want to leave his current players. I also hold a personal suspicion that he would have felt awful to leave the new coaches he just hired only a few weeks after he hired them, and that makes complete sense. Maybe if this offer had come a year from now, the move would have been easier for him to make.
There was a time I thought he would make the move, and I wasn’t mad at him, especially once I found out that he thinks Baylor has a better chance to be competitive long-term. A lot of people would have left in that same situation. It’s hard to turn down a huge raise at a job where you feel like you could have more success. But he did, thank goodness, because the timing of his departure would have been awful.
All that said, to me, Justin Fuente is only a character in a bigger storyline. The bigger story to me is why he would seriously consider a move to Baylor, and why he might consider that a better job than Virginia Tech. I went over that above, from the Baylor perspective. Now let’s look at from the Virginia Tech perspective.
Facilities, Staff Support and Bells and Whistles
I’ve talked before about a Justin Fuente quote about facilities and staff numbers, but I could never track it down. Yesterday morning, I finally found it. Here’s the quote…
“We’re not equipped staff wise or facilities wise to handle a humongous group of people. It’s just not there.” – Justin Fuente, February 6, 2019, in this interview on Signing Day.
He’s saying that the Hokies don’t have a big enough staff or big enough facilities to handle as many people on visit weekends as other programs. Even if Tech wanted to hire more staff, they don’t have the office space in Merryman/Jamerson to put that extra staff. That’s the first thing I’ll talk about…space.
Just look at that picture of the staff meeting room in the Merryman Center, which was built over 20 years ago.
2020 – Let’s go! pic.twitter.com/hSE2uNR2LB
— Justin Fuente (@CoachFuente) January 16, 2020
It’s small, barely fits everybody, and it’s very bland.
Meanwhile, click here for an example of what Penn State does on Signing Day. If Tech wanted to do something like that, I can’t think of a single room in the Merryman Center (I’ve been in there plenty of times over the last 15 years) that could accommodate that, except for the Players’ Lounge, which would require removing all the pool tables and other such amenities.
Unless you’re a recent subscriber, you know that Will and I have been talking about facilities for a couple of years now. It seems like every week a different school is announcing a new $50+ million football-only facility. Baylor and their $55 million facility is right in line with what everybody else is doing, with the exception of Virginia Tech. Even Northwestern is building/has built a $260 million facility/beach resort on the shores of Lake Michigan.
We have media guides back to the 1980s in our office, and here’s how the Tech coaching/support staff was set up in 1982…
1 head coach
1 offensive coordinator (who I assume was also the QB coach)
1 defensive coordinator and DE coach
1 special teams coordinator and LB coach
1 offensive ends coach and recruiting coordinator
2 offensive backfield coaches (Dooley ran it so much that he needed two RB coaches)
1 defensive line coach
1 defensive backfield coach
1 noseguard coach
2 graduate assistants
12 total coaches and support staff, plus supporting secretaries and interns
That’s what the corridor of the football offices in the Jamerson Center was designed to hold. Meanwhile, here’s what Tech’s staff looked like this past season
1 head coach
1 offensive coordinator and QB coach
1 running back coach
1 special teams coordinator and TE coach
1 wide receivers coach
1 offensive line coach
1 defensive line coach
1 defensive coordinator and LB coach
1 cornerbacks coach
1 safeties coach
1 Adam Lechtenberg
1 Jerry Kill
2 quality control coaches
4 graduate assistants
1 Director of Player Development
1 Director of Player Personnel
1 Assistant Director of Player Personnel
1 Director of Recruiting
1 Director of Creative Media
1 Recruiting Assistant
24 total coaches and support staff, plus supporting secretaries and interns
Virginia Tech football requires twice as many staff members these days as it did when the Jamerson Center was built. Tech’s graduate assistants work out of an office the size of a large broom closet. They have no choice…there’s no place to put them. Some schools have staffs even bigger than Tech’s, and even if Justin Fuente wanted to hire more staff members, he’d have no place to put them. For what it’s worth, I’m not counting the strength and conditioning coaches, who are down in the Merryman Center.
Nearly every football program in the country has more modern football facilities than Virginia Tech. They are equipped to handle the present-day requirements of a modern football staff. This is an issue whether or not Justin Fuente is Virginia Tech’s football coach. Let’s pretend that he did take the Baylor job. He’d immediately get calls from VT’s prospective candidates, and they’d ask him “so why did you leave Virginia Tech? Tell me about the job.” Proven coaches want the best facilities. They aren’t going to mortgage their future simply because Blacksburg is a nice town with nice people. Without the proper support, they’d end up getting fired and they wouldn’t be in that nice town with those nice people for very long.
In our opinion, Tech has to do something about their football facilities. The Hahn-Hurst basketball facility is a better one than Merryman/Jamerson, relative to Tech’s basketball competition. Same for baseball. The Student-Athlete Performance center will be great, but in our opinion that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Justin Fuente made $4 million in 2019, and he’s scheduled to make $4.25 million in 2020. I don’t think he’s particularly concerned about his own salary. If he just cared about that, he’d be at Baylor right now, or even Arkansas, who dangled a ton of money in front of him when they eventually hired Chad Morris. Coaches want a good chance to have success. Buzz Williams actually took a pay cut to come to Tech because in the modern landscape he thought it was a better situation than Marquette.
One thing that might have caught Justin Fuente’s attention were the terms of the hiring of Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. Before he’d accept the Rutgers job, Schiano demanded the following things…
1: Unlimited use of private air transportation for recruiting.
2: $4 million salary (cheap for a coach with his pedigree).
3: $7.7 million for his coaching/support staff.
4: Promise of a football operations center and indoor practice facility for a total of $150 million.
Tech doesn’t need an indoor practice facility. But Rutgers is about to splash the cash in a major way in terms of a football operations center. Tech’s assistant coaches made about $3.7 million last year. That doesn’t include support staff, but clearly Tech’s support staff salaries don’t make up the $4 million difference between the two schools.
Historically Rutgers is a train wreck of a football program, and they are about to blow Virginia Tech away when it comes to infrastructure and support. Don’t think for a second that Justin Fuente didn’t raise an eyebrow when he saw Schiano’s contract. Not to mention that he was directly affected by item No. 1 almost as soon as Schiano was hired.
On Signing Day, long-time Virginia Tech commit Tyreem Powell flipped to Rutgers…the very day after Greg Schiano landed in front of his high school in a private helicopter. I can picture Fuente rolling his eyes at that one. He’s a blue collar Midwestern guy, so he probably thinks stuff like that is stupid (as do I). But he also knows that even if he wanted to fly choppers into a recruit’s yard, he doesn’t have the option to do so.
Justin Fuente’s flirtation with Baylor isn’t the issue here. Whatever decision Fuente was going to make, the situation would be the same. Click this link and scroll down through the options to listen to the Bill Roth interview on the Tim Donnelly Show yesterday. He lays it out pretty clearly.
Bill has worked at Virginia Tech and UCLA. He currently works for ESPN as well, so he gets to go around the country when he calls games and see other schools’ facilities first-hand. He’s in a great position to have an informed opinion on the situation. When he says the Hokies are behind, they’re behind.
I’m actually glad Fuente flirted with Baylor. Doing so was a win-win for him. Either he’d take the job and get a huge raise and move closer to home in a fertile recruiting territory, or he would decline it while also firing a shot across the bow of the Virginia Tech administration about what it takes to play big boy football these days. By talking to Baylor, maybe he will force Virginia Tech into making good long-term decisions for the program. I don’t know how his tenure will work out, but what he did this week could have long-term ramifications. 10-15 years from now, we might be very grateful.
I also hope Fuente’s flirtations also fired a shot across the bow of the fanbase. A Virginia Tech coach just expressed serious interest in the Baylor job. That happened for a reason, and it’s not because Fuente is stupid. It’s because Baylor can be viewed as a better job these days. The fanbase sitting around and expecting the program to do more with less isn’t going to help things. Back in 2000, Virginia Tech had the third-highest paid coaching staff in the country, and the newest football facility (Merryman) in the country. When the Hokies won the ACC in 2004, they weren’t doing more with less. They were doing more with more!
The fanbase has to ante up if they seriously want to be competitive long-term. I’m not talking about being competitive with Clemson…I’m talking about being competitive with Baylor! To make that happen, Virginia Tech needs the proper leadership from the Hokie Club and athletic department to paint a very clear picture of the landscape of college athletics and what it takes to be successful in the modern era. It’s not 2003 anymore, and I think some fans still believe it is. It has to be a group effort, starting with the administration, and then the fans have to buy in. If either of those two things fail, then we’ll be doomed to eternal mediocrity…or worse.
I didn’t write this article to scare anybody. In fact, writing it makes me feel a lot better. You can’t improve as a person or as an organization until you first identify your own weaknesses. Once you do that, you can move forward. Fuente’s flirtation with Baylor lets us know exactly where Tech’s weaknesses reside. It’s time for the administration and fanbase to move forward together and fix them.