It all started in the lead up to the 2010 ACC Championship Game when Jack Tyler was a reserve in the linebacking corps behind Bruce Taylor.
As Virginia Tech was preparing for a showdown with Florida State, defensive coordinator Bud Foster kept harping on the speed option play that the Seminoles loved to run. The Hokies repped it over and over again. Still, anytime it was Tyler’s time on the field, he missed the fit and just couldn’t get the play right.
“I remember coach Foster laying into me in practice,” Tyler said. “I was like, ‘Well shoot, I think he should lay into Bruce. He’s the one who’s going to have to do it on game day.’”
Foster understood the importance of the next man up, and he expected excellence from every player on the roster. Sure enough, in the middle of the game Taylor went down with an injury and Tyler was called upon as the replacement.
Foster saw the formation and relayed to his defense that the speed option was coming. Tyler perfected what he couldn’t in practice the entire week, cheating out to get over the top of the tight end. The walk on linebacker made a tackle to stop Florida State on third-and-short.
What seemed like a good play on the surface was a moment of pure ecstasy for Tyler. It was an imprint on his life and the future to come.
“The joy that I was receiving on that play was 100 percent coach Foster,” Tyler said. “Everybody that’s watching the game is like, ‘Oh, wow. Look at this walk on that is making a great play.’ They didn’t know anything about coach Foster laying into me the whole week of practice to get it right. You know, three, four times to finally do it right. Then on game day I succeeded, and it dawned on me that I could reciprocate those things to others and allow my expertise to give it to them. It was pretty much at that moment that stamped that I wanted to be a coach when I grew up.”
Tyler finished that game with seven tackles, including three tackles for loss. It set in motion a stellar career in the maroon and orange where Tyler recorded 286 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss from 2010-2013.
Now, he’s back at the same university coaching the next crop of tough and gritty linebackers. After spending the last two seasons as a defensive quality control coach, Tyler was promoted to linebackers coach this offseason with the retirement of Tracy Claeys.
“I love the way that [Justin Fuente] went about his work every day and where I thought Virginia Tech was going was something that I wanted to be a part of, and still to this day that hasn’t changed at all,” Tyler said. “This program is on the right track right now, and it’s going to places that it’s never been before. I’m excited about that, and I’ve always wanted to stay a part of it and be a part of it. That’s what kind of deterred me from making those moves [elsewhere] even though I thought maybe I would need to.”
Now, Tyler can emulate Foster, the man who got him into coaching in the first place. The legend who produced quality linebacker and defensive play out of Blacksburg decade after decade. In fact, when Foster was in the booth due to a sickness at the end of the 2018 season, Tyler prowled the sidelines in his absence, and those in his camp noted the same mannerisms and gestures in him that they’d seen in Foster for so long.
“If there were a person you said I could be a carbon copy of, it would be Bud Foster,” Tyler said. “That’s as high of a compliment as I could receive. I was with coach Foster for five years as a player and five years as a coach, so 10 years, a whole decade with him. Obviously, I learned so much from him, and that is what I know for linebacker play and defensive play.
“I thought that was the coolest thing because anytime that I can be compared to coach Foster, you know obviously one of the greatest of all time, it means the world. He’s such a legend in my eyes, and in a lot of people’s eyes. Just being in the same sentence as him is a dream come true.”
Tyler is just a part of a larger movement on Fuente’s coaching staff. The staff is now filled with seven former Virginia Tech players in full-time roles including Tyler, Justin Hamilton, J.C. Price, Pierson Prioleau, Corey Fuller, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Ryan Shuman.
What’s the impact of that alignment on the coaching staff?
“Just innately you know you can trust them, that they’re your brother,” Tyer said. “They’re going to look out for you and have your best interest at heart. You just know those things because of where you’ve been and where you’ve come through, just that brotherhood of being a Virginia Tech football player. Without ever meeting them beforehand, I knew that coming in. It just adds a sense of comfortableness and camaraderie and togetherness that maybe you wouldn’t get if you didn’t have it that way.”
Last year, Tyler developed his coaching chops in a new way. Before the 2020 season even started, Fuente created a hierarchy list for who would call plays should the coronavirus spread through the coaching staff and put the Hokies in a bind.
On the surface, it seemed like more of a precautionary measure. However, just two weeks into the season it became a reality. Justin Hamilton and Ryan Smith were both unavailable and stuck in quarantine. It launched Tyler to the forefront to help create the game plan and call plays against Duke.
He received the news that Wednesday of game week and quickly transformed into defensive coordinator mode.
“I grinded like no other for those three days,” Tyler said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to let anyone down. They were a fun three days, a hard three days because of what went into those couple of days preparing, but you know I kind of got my glimpse of what Coach Foster and Coach Ham go through on a weekly basis which is great. It’s fun, but it’s also a grind. It was kind of a dream come true because that’s something I’ve always envisioned myself getting to at some point. I want to work my way there, and to kind of have a little bit of taste there was unbelievable.”
In his debut running the Virginia Tech defense, the Hokies prevailed with a depleted defense, 38-31. Tyler joked that he had to withhold the urge to bring the house on multiple occasions in an ode to Foster, but ultimately, he was just happy to bring home a win.
“The best piece of advice I got that week was from Coach Hamilton,” Tyler said. “He said like just stay you, just kind of stay status quo. When things happen well, don’t get too high and when things are going terribly, don’t get too low. If you stay right there the players will stay right there. I kept that in the back of my head the whole time.”
It’s a current pairing that makes a lot of sense in helping Virginia Tech’s defense operate. Hamilton’s meteoric rise into a defensive coordinator position is something that Tyler took note of every step of the way. He sees the way Hamilton works and wants to emulate it in the same way he modeled himself after Foster. In the end, it could lead to Tyler’s own precipitous ascension to a top coaching position.
“My goal is to one day be a head coach and a defensive coordinator,” Tyler said. “I think a lot of young coaches have those same goals, and seeing Coach Ham, he didn’t just do that because he got lucky. He worked for it. He did an unbelievable job at every step he went to achieving his goals and exceeding those goals.
“I’ve never heard one bad thing about the guy, and that makes sense that he was able to climb those ranks so fast because of those things. It gives you hope as a young coach that maybe one day will be your day.”