Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente completed his coaching staff on January 14 when he hired Ryan Smith as the cornerbacks coach to replace Brian Mitchell. It was an adventurous time for Fuente, filling the holes of multiple coaching positions in what’s normally a pretty quiet time for a college football program immediately after the season.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Fuente spoke about the new coaching hires that were announced towards the end of the hiring cycle.
Those on social media have already seen the Twitter storm that defensive line coaches Bill Teerlinck and Darryl Tapp have created on the recruiting trail with the ‘TnT – Tapp and Teerlinck’ connection.
“The TnT, I think that’s been fun for us watching Bill and Darryl get along,” Fuente said. “That’s the cool part. Darryl is really thirsty to be a great defensive line coach. Really thorough in his notes and what he’s trying to accomplish. Bill has been there and done that and wants to come back into the college game. It’s been fun to watch them interact and when kids are on campus watch them sell themselves and the program and what we’re doing moving forward.”
Tapp comes from Vanderbilt University where he was a special teams quality control coach. Teerlinck makes the journey to Blacksburg after spending the last two seasons as the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line coach.
In the midst of a new era on the defensive side of the ball for Virginia Tech post-Bud Foster, Fuente is encouraged to see how the new coaches on the block establish themselves.
“I want our guys to be able to be themselves,” Fuente said. “Darryl obviously has a tremendous amount of respect for Bud. But also, it’s Darryl’s job to be Darryl. Bill Teerlinck’s résumé speaks for itself. His job is to be himself. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel by any means. I do want to encourage those guys to be themselves. They have to sell themselves as defensive line coaches, and I think their résumé speaks for that.”
So what exactly is the résumé that both Tapp and Teerlinck bring to the table?
Tapp, a Chesapeake native, had a standout collegiate career, finishing his time in the maroon and orange with 187 tackles, 21.5 sacks and 40.0 TFL, along with 12 seasons in the NFL. Meanwhile, Teerlinck’s father is the long-time NFL defensive line coach, John Teerlinck, who coached the likes of Chris Doleman and Dwight Freeney, among others. Over the past two seasons, the Bills have been second (2018) and third (2019) in the NFL in total defense with Teerlinck at the helm as defensive line coach. Fuente’s connection with Teerlinck dates back to their time at Illinois State when they coached alongside each other.
“I’ve known Bill for a long time, but I never thought Bill would ever want to leave the NFL quite honestly,” Fuente said. “I don’t want to put words in Bill’s mouth… but sometimes you get at a point in your life where what you’ve always wanted is not what you want in the moment.
“I think the opportunity to coach with this staff in this program, to add to the tradition, to play attacking style defense, appeals to coach Teerlinck. I think it had something to do with maybe a little more to do with the people he was going to work with every day, the opportunity we had here, the lifestyle he wanted to live.”
The biggest boost with Tapp and Teerlinck likely comes with the NFL experience that they bring to the college level. In years past, the Hokies haven’t really made a splash with players on their defensive line going to the next level. Other than Tim Settle in 2018, the last Virginia Tech defensive linemen drafted were Dadi Nicolas in 2016 and Jason Worilds in 2010.
Opponents could negatively recruit against that, but that should no longer be the case with two guys on the staff who know exactly what it takes to become an NFL defensive lineman.
“If you’re a defensive line recruit, what more could you want?” Fuente said. “You’ve got one guy that played 12 years in the NFL, was an All-American and played here. Quite honestly, probably got to extend his career in the NFL because he was such a good mentor to young players in the league. You have another guy that’s coached however many years in the NFL. A lot of people think he’s maybe the foremost expert in the country on rushing the passer. I mean, that’s two pretty good combinations for a young person who’s interested in learning how to play the position.”
Along the way, Fuente has likened the process of putting his staff together to a puzzle. With Justin Hamilton as a first-time defensive coordinator, the correct piece next to him was Tracy Claeys, who has “been there, done that” as the former Minnesota defensive coordinator and current Hokies’ linebacker coach. Tapp and Teerlinck fit together with the complementary pieces that they bring, and cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith was that final piece to the puzzle.
Smith arrives from James Madison University where he coached safeties. A graduate of William & Mary, Smith is certainly familiar with the state of Virginia and will be a key cog in the recruitment of players to stay in-state.
“That was one of the things I wanted in that spot,” Fuente said of Smith’s recruiting ties. “It wasn’t the only thing I wanted, and Ryan is here because he’s qualified and a great coach and I believe has a chance to be a fantastic coach moving forward. But one of the things I wanted out of that spot was somebody with some regional ties. We talked to a bunch of people, not just about Ryan, but we went through a rather lengthy interview process and came away convinced clear and away that he was the perfect person for this job.”
News and Notes
- Fuente noted that cornerbacks Caleb Farley, Jermaine Waller, and Armani Chatman will sit out the spring, though there’s a chance that Chatman could return for part of spring ball. “They’re not doing anything right now, which leaves it a little bit interesting with drill work, like how we’re going to handle it.”
- Fuente nearly made it the entire 24-minute press conference without fielding a question about the quarterbacks…until the very end. There’s no blueprint yet on how he’ll handle Hendon Hooker, Quincy Patterson, and Braxton Burmeister, but he did leave this comment. “I would tell you this: I could not be more excited about those guys. If I’m not mistaken, we have three guys that have won Power 5 football games. If you count Quincy’s North Carolina as a win. We have three guys in that room that have won Power 5 football games. All working hard and doing a great job. And really excited about their development.”
- Dalton Keene’s decision to forgo his senior season and enter the draft was certainly a blow to the Hokies. Fuente noted it was a decision that wasn’t ill-advised, but came with a lot of counsel. “In terms of what kind of feedback he got, he got a lot of feedback. Not just putting in for a review with the NFL, but individual people that we know across the league giving us feedback to continue to make these guys make the best decision.”