Justin Fuente On Expectations, Potential Opt-Outs, And More

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Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente met with the media on Monday. (Jamie Rhodes-ACC Pool)

Justin Fuente will never be pegged as an extrovert with an outgoing personality. Some coaches have that personality and some don’t, but it’s not a prerequisite for winning football games.

Over his time at Virginia Tech, Fuente has been fair with the media for the most part. Yes, he keeps a lot of information close to the vest and uses coach speak, but more than likely he’ll answer nearly every question with the same demeanor and tone. That changed on Saturday following the Hokies’ 47-14 beatdown at the hands of Pittsburgh.

When asked about potentially taking over as the play caller following the bye week, Fuente was terse, unleashing the lines “ludicrous crap” and “next question” that is typically reserved for someone who is feeling the pressure. 

Fuente returned to face the media on Monday and was more in line with his usual self, reverting back to his reflective and cool tone. How did he respond today when asked about the fanbase’s frustrations with the direction of the program?

“I can’t control the perception of other people,” Fuente said. “What I can do is do the best job I can do for our players. Our staff is working diligently. Our players are working incredibly hard. 

“It is nice to coach at a place that values football. There’s a lot that comes with that, right? I understand that and I get it. I’m not going to let that influence the direction or what we’re doing. I’m sure it’s out there. I haven’t listened to one thing. I don’t know anything. I’m sure it’s there. That’s part of coaching at a place that values football. I get that. Nobody is happy with the record. Nobody likes what we’re doing. And nobody is more invested in what we’re doing than I am, our staff and our players.”

It’s evident Fuente has a sense of the negativity surrounding the program right now. He might not read or listen to the articles and podcasts out there recapping all the issues going on with the Hokies, but he’s certainly aware. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.

So what has Fuente learned along the way through this challenging season?

“I think it proves practice is important,” Fuente said. “I think it does prove that. The offseason is important. It highlights that some of the things, many of the things, that football programs across the country do are for the actual safety and betterment of the players. As far as when we get to the end of it, we’ll take a great look at how we tried to practice, how we tried to adapt to it, what we did meeting wise and schematically. Some of it we’ll hopefully throw away and never use again. Hopefully some good will come out of how we do it.”

That practice was disrupted from the get-go with no spring ball and an abbreviated fall camp. Combined with nine straight weeks of games, a schedule that no other team in the country has had to endure, the wheels have simply fallen off for Virginia Tech. Whether it’s an excuse or a valid concern, Fuente has continually pointed out that there’s no deep-rooted issue, but instead it’s a byproduct of 2020.

“I just think when you’re kind of in the middle of it all and you see what people are having to do, young people,” Fuente said. “Again, the people who touch our program, the lengths they’re having to go through, the precautions they’re having to take. The way that we’re asking them to live their lives. The stress of not knowing whether you’re going to get to play or the guy next to you is going to be able to play. Combined with all the other things that have been going on over the last nine months in our country, you can’t help but be a little more understanding of what we’re in.

“The key for them to remember is if you can bear down through all of this, you have to know that you’ll come out on the other side stronger and better than before. That has to be one of your reasons for continuing to battle through this, is the long-term gain you’re going to get.”

Fuente was also introspective on Monday, seeing how his own experience with his daughters at home has given him a clearer picture of what his players are encountering on a daily basis. 

“I think seeing my own kids has given me even more insight into how [COVID and the circumstances surrounding it] affected the young people,” Fuente said. “I’m not talking about playing football, I’m talking about all the other stuff. I think it’s affected them in a negative way. It’s been very, very difficult. I think the younger kids, I think watching my own kids, have given me a greater appreciation for the difficulty that our players are going through.”

With a team that’s reeling and no longer has much at stake for the rest of the season besides pride and the rivalry against Virginia, it could be very easy to lose the locker room. How does a coach continue to motivate players in times like these? At least in the short term, there have been no more deflections or opt-outs.

“I haven’t had any conversations in the last week,” Fuente said. “We’ve had those conversations with a few guys. The first question is whether this is COVID-related or playing time related. We’re making sure that if it is COVID-related that we do a great job of addressing their concerns and talking with family members if it is that. We’ve all been in this thing for a while now, so we’re trying to diagnose it and have those conversations when they come up.”

Now, in a year filled with uncertainty, the greatest piece of uncertainty left on the minds of Virginia Tech fans everywhere is Fuente’s future in Blacksburg. 

“[Whit Babock and I] talk every Wednesday,” Fuente said. “I think everybody understands what we’re all dealing with. It’s pretty evident every single day. Being actually on the ground floor probably even highlights it even more. I think everybody understands what this is like. You can imagine what the administration is dealing with, right? We all have our own deals. Some of them are financially, some of them are players being available with COVID testing, how to meet, how to eat dinner, so on and so forth. I think we all have a pretty good understanding of what this is like.”

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51 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Once upon on a time we went through tough times with another Hokie coach. That was Frank Beamer. We lived through the issues he could not control. Our patience paid dividends. He had to restructure staff and move people out that caused him pain. He learned we advanced and benefited. Fuente deserves the same consideration. Will he be as true blue or loyal? Who knows? Will he be the next genius? Panic costs money time and political capital. Proceed at the risk obvious.

  2. Stevie Wonder can see it- Fuente is a Goner-it just did not work on all levels. Just a bad Hire. How in the World did his Contract get so Big. Could bring down Whit as well-don’t know how much Money that We got.

  3. Save the gushy comments. It’s plain and simple. Coaches are employees who get paid for performance in their job function. At this point, the head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator must be let go. The Hokie players deserve better leadership for the hard work they put into the program. The current coaches have not put the players in a position to win.

  4. Fuente’s recruiting has been poor since he arrived. Player retention has been awful. That has little to do with Covid. Fuente is a good manager. I question if he is an inspiring leader. Head coaches need to be inspiring leaders and good managers.

  5. The only silver lining is I’ve won a grand on betting against the Hokies. I will send the money to whit if he pulls the plug.

  6. I don’t think this staff and team can be judged based on 2020 performance, but admit the entire body of work hasn’t been great under Coach Fu to this point. I recommend we all breathe through our nose, don’t add more external pressure to them, and see what comes in 2021.

      1. Completely NOT the point. The point is how it’s mentally & emotionally impacting 85 scholarship student athletes, some away from home go the first time. Nobody is denying other schools deal with it too. But no other team I’m the country has played for 9 straight Saturdays either

  7. Losing is never fun, but I’m overall still ok with coach Fuente and his staff. I don’t want VT to get into the torch and burn staff changes like some other programs.

    2020 is an asterisk year. Let’s let coach finish out the contract (or at least 2021). We can then reevaluate the future.

  8. It’s clear to me that Clemson has not been adhering to CDC COVID guidelines. Maybe I’m wrong!! What do you think?

    1. Clemson is in South Carolina where very, very few adhere to the CDC Covid guidelines. They can’t even spell CDC down here.

        1. Over the top response. Get control of your emotions. This is hard on lots of people and there are regions in the US that have not responded well to consensus guidance across the globe.

          1. Who gets to decide who can make personal attacks? Yes, Palmetto Hokie’s response was uncalled for; however, NMB Hokie started it with his derogatory remarks about SC.

  9. Ok
    One more year then? Assuming they get spring in… Is one more year reasonable?

    I am reluctantly ok with it just to give JHamm and Tapp a fighting chance.

    I think if he does get one more year, real improvements must be shown.
    I also think if he loses….or if UVA stomps us like Pitt, he won’t get that next year.

    Of course, it is really Whits decision to make.

    My usual refrain….recruiting must improve!!!

    1. You know, the 9 weeks straight….I hadn’t realized. That is tough. It is also very unusual. Yet, except for Pitt, we haven’t been run off the field…..

      I stand by earlier statements about conditioning. Also recruiting. Also dumb play calls.

    2. There will be a spring practice for sure…with 50 million plus doses of many FDA approved vaccines starting next month, for sure there will be a much better environment next season. Book it!

    3. Are we magically going to get bigger DTs, LBs who aren’t skinny/fat and a QB who can actually throw the ball? Probably not.

  10. Wholesale changes are needed. Slippery slope to below mediocrity. No personality. Hammer Corny and JHam to the grinder. See what sticks. Or se la Vi

  11. The man is being very open and honest with us. Yes this virus has hit everybody but not the same in every case. With our major changes in defense – coaches, scheme and missing out on spring drills it has really handcuffed us. Add in we are missing the expected safety and both corners. First 2 games and we are without multiple defensive coaches. Clearly we have been effected more than most schools. Not an excuse but just facts.

    Many have criticized Fuente for keeping everything inside and to himself. Now he speaks out and people say he is making excuses. Tough job.

    For those who continue to work for a living. Have you been forced to make adjustments in your job due to Covid? VT football is a multimillion dollar operation with well over 100 people involved. I feel for those trying to run this sport and am willing to give them some grace. For now at least 🙂

    1. I have made those adjustments this year. Cutting my own salary, and that of our management team, while still having to lay-off people because local and state governments would not allow them to work. I totally understand that the man cannot be blamed for everything this year. Unfortunately, he has to be graded on his body of work, which admittedly hasn’t been fantastic. I am glad I am not Whit. If the fan base thinks there is nothing worse than where we are… be very careful.

    2. Miami was one lineman away from having to forfeit the game and Pittsburgh was missing a ton of players. Including three out of their starting five offense of lineman. Clemson has had to play games without their starting quarterback. It’s misleading to say that we as a football team have been unusually singled out or harmed.

  12. I get the 2020 stuff he’s talking about, and I understand…but it sounds whiney . I mean everybody is dealing with this and some, like Wake, are having a good year.

    1. Correct. This guy has purposely laid this out from start to help cover from what has transpired. He is a dud and needs to go. Just not a match for VT

      1. And you have watched some other programs take a nose dive. See Penn St, Michigan just to name a few. No other team in the country has suited up with less players available, no other team in the country has played 9 straight weeks without a break.

        1. And we have others like Indiana that has surprised many people under the same COVID situation. That team showed a lot of grit and character even against OSU a team they hadn’t beaten since 1988. That Indiana team was fighting until the end…a character trait sadly our team doesn’t have anymore. And that points to the failure of the coaches

  13. I know I’m in the minority, but I like the “ludicrous crap” comment. He showed a little fire in the belly for one of the first times ever.

    1. Thank you for stepping up with that comment. Doesn’t answer if Corny is best fit but not the time to reveal any such change in game philosophy. Good question/good response. Next question. Catch Fu in a better mood and yhe answer is “No. Next question.” 😲🎙🕊

  14. I’ll give Fu this … he’s not weenie’ing out of games like FSU & so many others based on covid…. we play with 25, 23 etc OUT for covid …and so many others cancel…suggest the Noles be tagged with new name… NannyAintPlayingNoles forward.

    1. FSU cancelled because Clemson had a symptomatic player practicing, attending meetings, and traveling with the team to FL.. then declared he would be the only one sitting out the FSU game. Clemson is not doing any kind contact-trace quarantine. At VT (or FSU it would seem) that kind of situation would have resulted in multiple players being put on quarantine status

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