Thank you all for being here. Thank you to the media for covering us this season, to the players that played so hard, to our coaches. Thanks to our alumni and fans. It’s not always easy being a fan. We empathize with you. We will be okay and we will be great again. Additionally before I get going, I would like to recognize our medical staff and all who work so hard during this football season and fall season. Lots of people around our young people and safety. Really, really proud of them. Also want to pause for a second and recognize Bill Dyer, a guy that many of you in media know. COSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) legend and he deserves to be celebrated. Thank you for a job well done Bill. You were a pro. Unfortunately we had to eliminate some positions. There may be some other folks who when they announce it, we will celebrate as well. I’ve known Bill for a long time and wanted to at least say that.
Also, want to offer a word of encouragement to our fans and everyone out there, our local community who has been impact by the virus, personally and financially. We realize there’s a lot of challenges when we can’t bring games and fans into Blacksburg. We appreciate those who support us and we wish you well for brighter days ahead. What a celebration it will be when we’re back together in Lane and Cassell and more.
You will hear more from Justin tomorrow and a lot about our new signing class. It will be a good opportunity for Justin to speak about that, and then Justin directly to Hokie Nation. I believe you will hear from our coordinators as well. Just me today. A rule that I learned, I don’t know that it’s hard and fast, but it’s served me pretty well when things are difficult is with the media and public, you either tell them everything or nothing. It seems like sometimes when you get in between is when it gets a bit messy. I’ve been pretty quiet, and this is as much for the media as it is our fans. I hope to tell you everything and explain the ‘why’ behind it.
I think the days of, ‘Hey, I’m the athletic director, this is what we decided’ and put out a press release, that may be great, we’ll find out after this, but I feel like they deserve more than that and the “why” behind it. I will have a bit more of an opening statement than most. I will try not to go too long. I know some of you don’t love transcribing all my remarks, but we’ll get through it, and certainly have all the time in the world for your questions.
What I plan to cover in the opening remarks, just a little bit about the last few weeks. That’s one. Why we feel Justin would and should continue as our head football coach and what will be focuses of improvement. That’s two. Then, what we will ask Hokie Nation to do moving forward for the next nine or 10 months before we play football again.
First things first, to give people a little look behind the scenes during the football season, you’re evaluating, watching, meeting with the coach regularly. Justin and I did that through the season. Toward the latter third of the season, I would talk with Dr. Sands and our Board of Visitors chair. Keep them in the loop, update them. I really like working with those guys and ladies and I love that we have alignment at Virginia Tech. It doesn’t mean that we always agree, although we do in this case, but you see a lot of schools splinter, and I can’t thank Dr. Sands and the board enough for, ‘Hey, let’s stick together and let’s do what’s right and let’s go.’ That’s been going on.
During the evaluation process of a football coach or a season, I turn it like a rubik’s cube over and over and over. I work hard to strip away my ego and emotion and be comfortable with the fact that I’m paid to do this. No one is closer to it globally than me and the overall pulse. I own and accept that 100 percent. Also, the last few weeks we’ve been able to evaluate the spirit and morale of the team. I’m really proud of them. It tells you a lot how they finished on Saturday night.
I spoke with some fans and donors. It doesn’t take too long to get opinions. I love the passion of our fans, but there’s some that I wanted to give the time too. You can’t listen to too much, but you can’t block out too much. Even in your harshest critics, sometimes there’s an ounce of truth. You try to listen and then do the best you can. I also talked to our former players. I missed a few and I feel bad about that. Certainly talked to Bruce Smith, Michael Vick and some others.
Yesterday spent four hours yesterday morning with Justin. Saw and heard what I wanted to see and it energized me. Again, Justin and I had been meeting weekly throughout the season and had planned to meet first thing on Monday morning, yesterday, win or lose versus UVA. With Justin we covered recruiting extensively, the depth chart, strength and conditioning, coaches, coaching, community outreach, fan/donor engagement, his media appearances, former player involvement, that this is a results-driven business, what the identity to our [program] is and needs to be, where we need help and support, is he committed and does he want to be here and do it right here.
His answers were honest and sincere and genuine and again certainly energized me. Any past misunderstandings that Justin and I may have had are greatly, greatly exaggerated. Please keep in mind any leak that is put out there is always with a motive. We get along just fine and yesterday was a great example of that. No issue on that front. We also covered COVID and the stress impact. There’s no manual to that. Yes, everybody had to go through that, but how does each coach handle it, player, on and on and one. There is no manual and guidebook. We talked a lot through that.
We finished the session yesterday talking about the new landscape coming our way. Preparing for immediate transfers, name, image, and likeness and more. It will not look the same and we must adapt. Things are only speeding up. College sports as we all know it is gone and there is a new era, so spent some time on that, so that was the last few weeks and months. How we evaluated and some of the things we did.
I’ll take another few minutes on why we thought Justin should and would remain as our head coach. Certainly one thing I want to start with because some of it is just about removing incorrect information. The decision on Justin’s future here was never made about money. Yes, we are in a bind financially. Yes, there are buyouts, but we were determined to make the right decision either way because I cannot imagine a working relationship where you have somebody around who you don’t believe in that you just keep for money. That was absolutely not the case. If it was the right thing to keep Justin, we could do that. If it wasn’t, we could have done that. You can lose or risk money no matter which way you go, so make the right decision and the rest will take care of itself.
This is something I also wanted to share transparently. I will enjoy some of this. Here is the scouting report on our team that matters the most to me. Where I got it was not from my eyes, it wasn’t from any coaches here. It wasn’t from any message boards, that’s for sure. I talked to a very small number of people, coaches, perhaps scouts, others who have played against us, watched our films, studied it and really drilled down. I wanted an outside perspective on what we bring, how people prepare against us, what our scouting report is. In general, I’ll give to you what we found which also leads to the reason Justin we feel like can certainly do it. I will enjoy this one the most.
Our offense, from people you would know and credibly talented people, the offensive scheme is really well thought of. It is adaptable, it is hard to prepare for. We didn’t always execute how we needed on third down. We have a quarterback you can win with. We now gained some of the identity on offense that we want. What we have not done a good job of is humanizing (editor’s note: Babcock said “dehumanizing”, but we assume he meant “humanizing” Brad Cornelsen. You will see him tomorrow. Maybe we’ll start our own talk show. Hokies are kind of trained to love defense, question offense, and even to the average fan like me and most of you watching, if a play doesn’t work it’s pretty easy to blame that. Our offensive coaching and philosophy is really well-respected and not very easy to prepare for.
Our defense, we seem to have some very talented people over there, maybe rising stars. Hopefully so. Coaches and those who know the business know that we tried to put a new system in with no spring ball. It did not go quite as easily, understandably. Maybe we reverted back to some old stuff and got a little predictable. I’ll tell you what, the end of the year, that first half against Clemson, some of the fight against Miami and how we played against UVA was pretty darn impressive. It was agreed that it was too difficult to fully evaluate a defensive staff.
Our special teams is really well-regarded. Amazing attention to detail, literally may just have the best one in the country or very good. That’s the scouting report that matters to me. On offense, I believe we are 38-7 when scoring 30 points or more. Yes, some days our defense played good enough to win and our offense didn’t and vice versa, but we don’t win or lose as individual units. We do it together. That is the scouting report.
We also talked about recruiting strategy and focus. This is with the people who are my advisors and people I trust. Our team identity, what must improve, evaluate and develop. That’s that.
Furthermore – this is now away from those opinions and these are mine – for Justin in some ways this was year one in some respects. Please let me explain that. We are not going to look at it like year one. We know it was year five. What I mean is this, that this is year one of being totally Justin’s program, all of his players. I believe the transition from Coach Beamer and Bud Foster was harder than anticipated, not because of Bud or Coach Beamer. Awesome, Justin and I couldn’t be more complimentary. Those are two legends to follow. There is always the saying for the reason that it is hard to be the guy who follows the guy.
I now feel like Justin is getting his feet under him and getting his own group. In some ways, it’s year one. I want to reiterate, Coach Beamer and Coach Foster could not have been better. Nothing against them. I think those of you understand what I mean by that, but please don’t get me in a bind with that. Justin Hamilton, that transition was great, as well as anybody could. We did not gut the house down to the foundation at that time. We kept a few wings and renovated it while we’re living in it. Now, that renovation on that house analogy is complete. We’re very pleased with it. 4-1 versus UVA and 4-1 versus UNC during Justin’s time.
The infrastructure and university support is there. That’s something that many of you often don’t see. The seeds that have been planted in the past years will pay off soon. We have a vision and a plan that will pay off that is very bold. Recent examples of some of the seeds planted, we just finished our student athlete performance center and our nutrition center. That is a game changer for us. All of Merryman and Jamerson have been renovated. The weight room, the team meeting position rooms, the players’ lounge will be next, and a $110 million dollar residence hall will finish this fall with individual rooms for all of our student athlete freshmen, with the rooms slightly bigger and modeled after Auburn and Alabama football.
We’ve recently added nine recruiting-based positions. I believe we had one or two seven years ago. We have donors who want to help in that regard and have stepped up. We will continue to add some more strategically, the right ones to get us in the right places. We’re close to having a final plan with the university and donors to take our budget from the middle or bottom third of the ACC to the top third in the ACC. The future is really bright. We finished 5-5 in the ACC as you know. That may finish seventh, I don’t know about the last few games. Certainly not good enough, however our budget is ninth in the ACC and our football coaching staff pay is eighth. Our football budget is sixth. The seeds have been planted to improve these resources. We don’t mind overachieving, but the harvest is coming soon. There is something special forthcoming and before long Virginia Tech will move successfully from a challenger brand to a champion brand.
Justin has values. He’s a good man. He’s very private. Very family0oriented, often misunderstood. What we’ve talked about is he is additionally the face of Virginia Tech, of the enterprise. The energy and the passion, I know a lot of that has been tough on him this year. And it was fun to see his spirit with the team post-UVA again. That excited me. COVID has denied coach and I both contact with outreach. That will be changed when we can get back out there. He’s competitive, he’s focused, NCAA compliant, the grades are good, student-development, he’s still young, and I like what I see on the learning front.
Tomorrow I hope you can hear directly from him on how he feels about Virginia Tech in his words. I may have made a mistake about that on the last time (the Baylor situation) speaking for him, and I think it’s more important than ever that the VT family hear directly from him. I also take ownership in the fact that we have missed on a few things. I can be a better coach/mentor, coaching the coaches. Lifelong learning, right? Every coach is different. Some need more than others. I can do better for Justin. I can’t help him call plays, but I can help him in a lot of other ways and I have not done as good a job in that as I aspire to do.
I want to thank our players for competing to the end for all of these reasons that we decided and believed Justin is the best for us. Our players responded. You learn a lot about coaching staffs when they lose. Every issue comes to light. Winning covers up everything. We improved, we played, and we competed for each other and Virginia Tech, and that shows a lot. I also want to express empathy for what all of our coaches and players went through in the league and across the country.
I will give you data you might not have. I will speak in rough numbers. Well over half of our team, maybe three-fourths contracted COVID since March. Eight of our 10 full-time coaches contracted it, including our defensive coordinator missing the first two games. Our league played the most games in college football this year by far. Virginia Tech completed 11, which not many in the country will do that. There is no roadmap or manual on how to do that. When I interviewed Justin and every coach we have, I never once asked them how they are going to manage through a worldwide pandemic.
Most people also do not understand what happens when you reboot a program and tear it all the way to the ground. Some fans simply just want someone to pay for their pain. I know it hurts when we lose, but there may be a better way to go about expressing it. That’s the easy way out. ‘Hey, the mob is mad. Let’s change coaches. Have a honeymoon and nobody really knows much for three years.’ Not here, not this year. I don’t believe that’s right. That’s not how we’re going to do it. Just because it’s easier and pacifies some of the vocal opinions and the social media mob.
If we change coaches now, hypothetically we throw out a young, talented defensive coordinator and players. We have eight (former players) on staff. We made progress in the 757. We have not given this staff a fair shake in my opinion. We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you change coaches now, you miss signing day tomorrow and every class you miss is another year behind. If you change coaches now, every player on our team right now is coach Fuente’s recruit, they can all, almost all, leave immediately and transfer beginning August 1. We could literally have half a team or less if we rebooted and ripped it all to the ground.
We’re also in the middle of a dead period where coaches have not been able to recruit and go out for a year. We are figuring it out and the virtual recruiting is up and running. A reboot of that now will only dig us a deeper hole. There are so many NCAA changes coming down the pike, that that would be another problem to fix from an extreme. Upheaval is a dangerous strategy if you miss, and I don’t think that – I know that we have the right coach, what I’m saying is if you go out there and you miss, look around the ACC, I’m not going to name schools of people that have rotated coaches, the SEC, even Alabama missed on three straight a couple decades ago. If you change and miss, it can get into a sprawl that you don’t want. We believe we have the right guy, and that’s what we’re going to move forward with.
Will this decision be right? I have no earthly idea. I think it will be. I believe it will. It got my absolute best ability out of 25 years and six schools and every ounce of energy I have to put the best decision forward. Time will always tell. I work to remove emotion, do right, sleep well and know my self-worth is not determined by others’ opinions. Especially those I don’t know and who don’t know me. That just makes me more determined.
Football is important here. We must and will do better. Failure is simply not an option. That is crystal clear to me and Justin and to everyone here. That is the standard and that is what we signed up for. We have a plan, we have hope for the future and we did what we thought was best. We felt like this is the most likely successful path. I feel good about it. I’m paid to do what is best, not always easiest or to pacify others. I know I mentioned that earlier. I understand the responsibility and love Virginia Tech. This is my school now. I have lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere since 1988. I want to finish here and do the best I can if I’m allowed to stay. All I can promise everybody out there is we’re going to work every day to make you proud and put everything behind it and ask for your faith.
Finally, last, what we would ask from Hokie Nation, if you can do it, before we play again in nine to 10 months, if you’re up for this, don’t tear it down. Some will try to continue to tear it down and never stop just to justify their previous thinking that we needed to make a change. As Buzz Williams used to say, are you a fountain or are you a drain? Are you putting out things that can be consumed and helpful to others, or are you just a drain?
If you can be involved, please do. It hurts us when you pull your support. You’re really hurting all 22 sports, scholarships, all of that. If you’re able to participate, we now need you more than ever. We have 20,000 donors strong and working our way up. Most who threaten to pull their money publicly usually don’t give too much, but we do know some of you do not feel you can invest in us. It is a gift. We will receive it when you are ready to give it. Social media is not the real world for some of you. Breaking news on that, don’t let it consume you.
I also want to prepare the fanbase for the new transfer world. In the past, most transfers left for lack of playing time and that still happens. However, in the new normal and immediate transfer eligibility, it is going to happen a lot. The old days of college athletics, I liken it to in Major League Baseball before free agency, people would talk about how the teams never change. You would see them in the neighborhoods and restaurants, that’s how you knew them.
I am preparing our fans and everyone that that day is over now in college athletics. You need to recruit very specific and special young people to stay dedicated here and be here. It makes me incredibly sad when anyone doesn’t want to be here, but when anyone doesn’t want to work or be here at Virginia Tech, we won’t get in their way. That is changing. You will see that here and you will see that across the country. In some ways, I think Virginia Tech was just unfortunately first in terms of some of the transfer portal things and some of the people opting out for pros, but you’ve certainly seen that. I don’t love it, but it is not always an indication of our program, just like it is not for all the others across the country.
Lastly, to our former players out there. We have eight to 10 of you on staff. Perhaps there will be more opportunity in the future if we are allowed to do virtual recruiting, we will involve who we can. We recognize that everything was built on your shoulders, and I have tremendous respect for you guys who played and coached here. I know how much it means to you, and I know how much you want us to be successful. Call or email me and come around post-COVID. I’d love to see you.
We have asked our people here and we’ll ask Hokie Nation as well to be neutral to positive. If you can’t say something nice, try to be neutral. I guess the best thing you can say at neutral is “time will tell and we’ll see.”
Last thing, 2020 there is so much anger out there. We’ve been yelling at each for a long time. The season is over. We’re not going to change any of those outcomes. We’re not going to play for nine or 10 months. I’m just asking for some of the anger to ease up a little bit. Let’s heal, because the only way out of this thing at Virginia Tech is together. We have men’s basketball tonight at 6:30. I know that’s a long introductory one. I don’t get a chance to talk a bunch, but I love the Virginia Tech community and maybe I over explained, but I wanted them to know the “why” behind it, and you media folks as well.
On potential bowl invitation and whether him saying VT will play in 9-10 months implies that they won’t accept a bowl bid
That did not imply that. We have some opinions on it. Justin is going through the meetings with the players. Certainly want to let them have some say in it. You also want to make sure if you have some guys turning pro, who is going to play in it? We have talked some about the streak. I don’t know that we believe in the streak with an asterisk, so we’ll see. That’s a long way to say that in the next 24 hours we need to get an answer to the ACC at 5-6. I don’t have that yet, I was more referring to next regular season.
On how he envisions helping Fuente
Some of it I’ll leave private because of the conversation with him, but I meant it more than the obvious of what resources, what do we need to do. Being the head football coach is a pretty big undertaking. Some coaches want to be coached, some want to be left alone, some you have to love on, some you have to kick in the tail. They’re all different. Justin is pretty inward. We had a good breakthrough yesterday. I believe I can educate him on Virginia Tech, on media, on donors, on just being a listening ear. We both talked pretty intimately about how lonely a job it can be. He can help me as well. Football coaches are tough and all that. It’s not always easy to ask for help, but I also take ownership in some of our falling short on the scoreboard because of my executive coaching.
On what Fuente said he needs to change in the meeting
We talked about that. That would be better coming from him. I don’t want to mislead anybody into thinking there will or won’t be – if there’s sound logic for what you have, then we’ll go with that, but we talked through it, we talked support personnel, our recruiting efforts, things such as that. That would be better coming from Justin, but there were no demands made that if you want to stay here you have to do X, because hopefully I’m a coach’s AD. You give them advice and you do that, but they sink or swim with their own people. I think the staff he’s brought together, a lot of new ones, right? Haven’t even been here a year. Pretty pleased and ready to give them a chance to show what they can do.
On football infrastructure update
I’ll do the best I can. I think I talked about those numbers when maybe I shouldn’t have. We have lots of ways people can help. A $20 donor, a $100 donor, but some people are blessed with the resources to do more than that. We put together a plan that we’ve been working and presenting to those folks. I really need to thank our fundraisers in advancement and the Hokie Club as well. With Justin, he and I laid out a plan for the infrastructure, the recruiting, what we’re going to do, this that and the other. We had some people step up, around 15-20 people to the tune of $12.5 million over the next five years. We also believe we can get some help from the university. When I say that, that is not on the backs of student fees and tuition. The university is committed to help. We’re going to be in a good spot. We’re going to be OK. I really love working here and it’s going to be OK.
On what the $12.5 million would be used for
It’s not just people upon people. You can have overkill on that regard. It can be recruiting budget, it can be recruiting staff, it can be some of your analysts, some of your video work. It is not about being the highest budgeted school in the country. I’d love it, but as I’ve said many times before, then Texas and Ohio State would never lose a game. We do have a comprehensive plan, through athletics, through fundraising, through the university that we are very close on that will take us from middle to lower third budget in the ACC to the very top third.
On any changes made to Justin’s contract
On what can be done for fan engagement and opening the program
I believe coaches have to be true to themselves, and I believe Justin is pretty private. That’s fine. When you get him in settings he does a great job. This year, we were not able to take him out any. No donor visits. No things such as that, no caravan events, no former player reunions. Really for the past year, we have done some things through Zoom, but really with all that is going on, he has turned inward, and I get it. Focus on football, focus on this team, ignore the haters. Let’s do this, let’s this.
What I’m working on is, ‘Hey, if people can understand you and feel a part of it and understand your passion and how you feel about being here, then this is going to be a little bit easier.’ I’m a fifth generation Virginian. Virginia Tech is the longest place I’ve been. I feel like I can help him, right? If I moved to Oklahoma he could help me.
On if there’s too many walls up shielding the program from fans
No. I know y’all media don’t like it. Here’s the other thing I’ll say about Justin, I shouldn’t give away his secrets. When he is talking to the media, he’s usually not talking to you guys or our fans. He’s talking to the opposing team.
On if he’d be reluctant to hand out an 8-figure buyout
No, if Justin was not the right coach, we would have found a way to do that. Football is too important. When you’re talking $10 million, that is a lot of money. $2.5 million over four years, it is a lot of money, but if it was wrong, we were not going to keep a marriage together – that’s a bad analogy – a working relationship together just because we couldn’t afford to do it.
Actually, if you’re doing your research and homework on it, you learn about contracts, guaranteed money, fully guaranteed, all of that, I’m not bothered by Justin’s contact at all. I believe he’s due to make $18 million or so on the way out. That’s $10 million if we made a change, so I’d say he’s left some exposure out there as well. The contract is solid. Justin, to my knowledge, every job that’s come his way he simply turned down, ones with more money and more resources. A short conversation with Baylor that I may have messaged wrong and he may have messaged wrong, but other than that, I’ve seen the loyalty that others haven’t seen. I don’t think that Justin is going to start his own talk show anytime soon, but if we let you see a little bit behind the scenes and maybe even meet this mysterious Brad Cornelsen, then people might understand what they’re about and they’re Hokies.
On Fuente speaking to the opposing team in his press conferences…
We talked about messaging and some of the things he says and does. I’ll just leave it at that. With coaches, if we can get an advantage, we’ll do that. He understands that there’s different audiences and there’s a method to his madness sometimes, but I can see how that comes across, especially when you’re losing.
On the coaching staff…
We went through each of them one-by-one and he has confidence in them. He’s going to do those evaluations and I don’t want to speak for him. I don’t go in, I guess I would if I had to do, but I can’t think of a time that that I’ve told a coach that you have to get rid of this person, unless it’s been for bad behavior. As the son of a coach, this is a place coaches want to work because we say that as long as they don’t have a bad background and handle themselves well, you can hire whoever you want. I hire the head coaches, you hire the assistants. I can be a listening ear and give advice, but that didn’t happen yesterday.
On how this season is viewed with everything that has occurred…
It’s always valuable. The point I was trying to make about COVID is that sometimes when I’ve heard Justin speak about it is that it’s difficult. The natural response is that it is for everybody. All I’m trying to say is that I don’t know if we handled COVID great. I know our sports medicine department great and we got the games in, but I don’t know if I did or he did. I don’t know how everybody did it. I just feel like in a unique year like this, it wasn’t a chance to give a true evaluation, especially on defense.
On whether there was a conversation about expectations next year…
We covered some expectations; some that I had, some that he had and things that we agreed on to improve. I’m not in the business of hanging a certain number of games on there. Some games are bigger than others to win and they have enough pressure. Everybody knows we need to perform, but I think that’s a bad strategy. What if you give a number and the recruiting or ethics aren’t good? It has to be more than that, but wins and losses are extremely important at this level and we know that.
On whether donors were willing to pay Fuente’s buyout…
No. What I try to do on fundraising, I didn’t reach out to anybody and say, ‘If I make a change, will you pay for it?’ I feel like we should be able to pay our own payroll and contracts. If we had made the decision to make a change, I may have contacted someone about that, but no, that is false. I think some people get mixed up with our donor positions on recruiting, facilities and infrastructure. I believe that is misinformation.
On whether there were requests by Fuente for more resources…
Not too much, no. What you wouldn’t know, some of our donors do, is that we’re running the plan that we had in place before the season started. We can change some things along the way, but that’s when we said, here’s what things will look like a year from now and two years from now.
On Fuente possibly leaving for another job…
You never know in this line of work. Ultimately, you don’t want anybody with you that doesn’t want to be here. I believe that Justin does, and I’ve seen lots of examples of calls that were made that he didn’t even entertain. He had one short visit with a school last year that he may have handled wrong or I may have handled wrong. Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to you asking him that, but I don’t know that there’s ever a guarantee that anybody will stay, but what I heard yesterday confirmed to me that he wanted to be at Virginia Tech. He believed that this is the place that he can do it and he has the fire and desire to still do it. This is place where we can win the division, compete for ACC Championships and get into the final four.
I would love to see those recruiting rankings higher just because it looks better and I won’t have to answer questions about it. I believe that with the people we have in place, let’s see where that goes. We also had a very good analysis on the two-deep yesterday of where everybody was from and talked a lot about Virginia. We’ve got to get in-roads there and you pick up the five-stars like Settle and Fuller and Tyrod. When we talked recruiting, what I shared with Justin is that I don’t necessarily care where they come from, they’re all Hokies, but what is the plan in Virginia? Can we find some of those guys? He had a plan for that with some good classes coming up. Not that we have to always overachieve, but the best players at Virginia Tech that will play here and stay here like [Greg] Stroman. We talked a lot about that and strategies in other locations. Recruiting numbers are very important, but at the same time, the people that are hitting us on the recruiting numbers were the same ones that were calling us stupid for taking Christian Darrisaw over Delaware State.
On having a press conference to announce Fuente is staying.…
It was all me, maybe it’s wrong, I could’ve just put out a press release. I have the tendency to want to explain because you may not agree with me, but if I explain, you might understand it. I like to please and make Hokie Nation happy. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to do what the masses want, but I just thought that it might be good for people to hear what I believe and support for him. I just thought letting him go cold into signing day and have to answer a lot of questions about my decisions was the smart idea. Maybe this was the wrong decision, but I like to be transparent in my decisions. Like I said at the beginning, I could either say nothing or say as much as possible. It was just a hunch and I hope it works.
On the Hokies’ COVID numbers…
I am aware of where a lot of the other teams are in the league. We’re talking about since March, a lot of guys got it when they came back. How Boston College avoided cases, I have no earthly idea. I know some of the other schools that were incredibly tight and had nothing early on, but broke later on in the season. I didn’t get the sense that there was a lack of discipline. It is an incredibly contagious virus and almost everybody in our league went through it. You’re seeing it happen across the country too, so I feel comfortable with our situation.
On whether he knew Fuente was staying before their meeting, or made his mind up in the meeting…
I wanted to hear some things, but I was pretty well set on it. I would hate for it come down to one meeting, but there were certainly things that I wanted to talk about. I believe in Justin. I’m not unaware of what we need to do. It’s not always the fashionable thing to keep someone when everybody is yelling, but here’s our guy, he’s a Hokie and I believe he’s our best chance to be successful. I’ll take that responsibility.
On his conversations with current players…
I did have a captain or two stop me in the hallway one day, but you don’t want to go around asking too many questions during the season because it spreads and it’s a hard thing to evaluate. You get it in exit interviews, especially with your seniors on the way out the door. The biggest indicator to me is whether they fold up shop and give in or they keep getting better. The best coaches can handle a losing year and come out of it okay. You’ve seen some coaches come out, you see it in basketball, we went 2-16, but we kept on getting better. It is very hard to get in there and ask a whole bunch of questions, but you just watch and learn and get information from other people around. You also don’t want to make your coach paranoid and seem like you don’t trust them. That’s a little more difficult than people think. I just think seeing how hard they played on Saturday and how they celebrated with their coach was huge.
On the recent layoffs…
I can’t comment on HR issues. I can’t give you a number. There were savings, but it was all part of an overarching campaign from paycuts to that to budget reduction in an effort to try to pull back $15 million. Anytime you have to eliminate positions or have paycuts, it’s not a lot of fun, but we felt like if we were going to ask everybody else to sacrifice, we had to put our own skin in the game.
On the optics of paying a buyout after layoffs…
I don’t have the answer for you. I was merely trying to say that with football generating 90-95% of the revenue that funds all of the other sports, that keeping somebody here just because we didn’t have the money would not be a healthy relationship. I realize the paradox and the question you’re asking, I don’t have an answer for you.
On how Fuente can get off of the hotseat…
I understand the hotseat talk and the best way to get off of that list is to win games and do it right. That’s what we’re planning on doing. I want to see noticeable improvement. I didn’t go in there and say that you have to do this and that to keep your job. We’ll know it when we see it. There’s enough pressure there. Those conversations are going to be had and I can’t control that. I hope people see this as a genuine vote of confidence from the AD. That’s the market that we’re in and I don’t doubt that he’ll be on hotseat lists, but I know a way to get off of those pretty quickly, which is to win games.
On how the donors view Fuente opposed to Coach Beamer…
I don’t know. I like Justin, I’m just saying that when people are under stress, they tend to turn inward. We didn’t have a chance to take him out and let him meet some people, but the donors that have met him and know him, understand him. He’s incredibly nice and an incredible family guy, but he’s just a little more introverted. When things don’t go well on the field, everybody piles on a little bit. I also don’t know that it’s fair to compare him to Coach Beamer. I didn’t work with him in his first five years here, but I heard he was a little more prickly back then. He got into it and mellowed and became Bobby Bowden. That’s also another point that it is always tough to follow a legend because you’re also compared to him. I don’t think it has impacted too much. People will get to know him. I don’t think he’ll start his own morning talk show, but he’s okay. Buzz wasn’t the most open person either. Hopefully, he’ll show that people can relate to him and I hope that Justin will express that tomorrow.
On Fuente being the face of the program…
I don’t regret anything about hiring Justin and I think he serves as a very good face of our program. I’m saying that through this year, things that already aren’t his favorite part are ongoing. Then, you have COVID and pressure starts to clamp down. Getting through the season should open things up now. If I’ve given the impression that I don’t think he’s the right face of the program, I said that wrong and I absolutely apologize. That’s not what I meant.
On previous issues in the locker room…
I get the sense that this year was the best locker room that we’ve had in awhile. You’re going to have some things like that. I’ve never heard any player saying they purposefully wanted to lose. That’s old news. I’ve been thrilled with the attitude of this year’s team and the seniors. With the transfers, you’re going to see more of them and it’s not just going to be here. We were one of the first ones that had people enter the transfer portal and Hokies aren’t used to that. Then, we were the first one that had a guy opt out this year with the NFL and COVID. I guess what I’m trying to say is that anytime you have a guy leave your program, you don’t like it, but in the context of college football, this is changing rapidly. There will be a whole lot of movement, so you need to recruit very well, but also recruit guys that want to stay and compete for that school. We don’t just want hired guns. It is a new era of recruiting.
On the new ACC commissioner Jim Philipps…
I know Jim Phillips and I really like him. We met when I was at Auburn in the late 90’s and he was at Tennessee. Then, he went to Notre Dame and we kept in touch. He’s one of my favorite ADs in the country. I would put him at the top. There aren’t too many people that you can put there who are great values. I think he is super talented, and he has great respect for John Swofford and that transition. I think the ACC made an outstanding hire and I can’t think of anybody better.
On former players wanting Fuente fired and voicing it on Twitter…
Certainly, I don’t think it’s a positive. It’s hard to respond back because those guys were amazing players. I know how much pride they have, and they care deeply. They’re entitled to their opinion. I don’t think it serves me very well to say that I disagree with this or that. I talked with a few, not too many, but enough that I think I had a good representation. You listen to it all and make the right decision and hope that those guys don’t have any hard feelings. They’re always welcome back as long as I’m here.
On his son playing college football at William & Mary…
Hopefully the CAA will play eight games in the spring and do that. It’s made me a better AD, looking at those young people. I always did, but not to the depth of the love that someone has for them and your entrusted with that kid. I’ve also learned that you better love that game more than anything to be able to play it at a high level. When you talk about the workouts, the stress, all of the PCR tests up your nose at 5:30 in the morning, all of the sacrifices. It makes you appreciate what they go through. I get paid to deal with it and I’m an adult. I feel for those young kids when people take it out on them. That’s somebody’s child and it’s not fair to them. They’re volunteers so it’s made me a better AD and hopefully more empathetic to that. I’m also much more open-minded to the psychology of injured players getting back to their team after separating to the group.
On rescheduled non-conference games…
I do not believe that we will return to Penn State because they didn’t come here. We do have a game scheduled at a neutral site in place of that which y’all will really like. I believe we moved out to Middle Tennessee State. Next year, it won’t take us long to figure out what we’ve got. We have West Virginia and Notre Dame among others. We like to play on a national stage.
On dealing with COVID…
We all have gone through a lot. The hardest mental health era that I’ve ever had personally, and with the impact it’s had on others and our student-athletes. I’ve also learned that from children of my own in sports. We haven’t been as busy, but the mental stress and not being able to get away from it has taken a toll. I’m doing my best to get through it, but I have many blessings. It’s been a challenge.
On the timeline for the program…
He knows we need to be better and I know we need to be better. I just think that it in a year like this where we went 5-5 and finished 7th, which is not good but not terrible, and we have a staff that we put together where we turned the corner and renovated. Now, it’s time to bounce back up. I’m thinking it’s going to be sooner rather than later. I hope he and I are both here a long time.
On what he wanted to hear in the meeting with Fuente…
I’ll keep that private, but mainly just the desire to do it here and the passion for that. It wasn’t like any trick questions or something like that. I just wanted to hear from him now that the season is over. Let’s talk through this thing because I’m committed if he’s committed. It was primarily things like that. I just wanted to be reassured.
On whether any changes will be made to the coaching staff…
I’ll leave that question for Justin. He and I will talk about that. We did not cover all of that yesterday. I can’t speculate on that.