Virginia Tech and Director of Athletics Whit Babcock have mutually parted ways with head football coach Justin Fuente, who went 43-31 (28-20 ACC) in six seasons in Blacksburg.
“We sincerely appreciate the contributions that Coach Fuente made to our football program and the positive impact he made on our student-athletes during his time at Virginia Tech,” Babcock said in a press release. “While it is never easy to make a change, I believe in order for our football program to attain the type of sustained success that is expected at Virginia Tech, the time was right for new leadership of our football program.
“Virginia Tech is one of the most attractive football jobs in America, competing in one of the nation’s premier conferences, the ACC,” Babcock continued. “I’m extremely confident that we’ll be able to identify and hire a new head coach who can build on our rich history and winning tradition.”
The Hokies were 5-5 (3-3 ACC) under his tutelage in 2021. After opening the year with a tremendous win over then-No. 10 North Carolina, however, Virginia Tech struggled. Tech squeezed past Middle Tennessee and Richmond but lost four consecutive games against Power 5 opponents, including three straight at home.
Fuente & Co. had opportunities to win in three of those games, too. Tech couldn’t score on 12 plays inside the ten-yard line in the Black Diamond Trophy game at West Virginia, and led late in games against Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Irish kicked a game-winning field goal, while the Orange threw for a 45-yard score with 19 seconds left to beat the Hokies.
The offense struggled through games one-through-six but came to life in game seven. It was the opposite for the defense, however, who carried the Hokies through the first six games and then allowed 550 yards to Syracuse in the loss. Virginia Tech bounced back with a win at Georgia Tech, then fell at Boston College the following week. In the final home game of the season on Saturday, Nov. 13, the Hokies defeated Duke, 48-17, to send the senior class off the right way.
They weren’t the first slip-ups for Tech under Fuente, which struggled at times over the past four seasons. Over that time, Tech is 8-10 in one-score games and 3-6 in five-point games.
J.C. Price, who played in Blacksburg from 1992-95, will now lead Virginia Tech through the end of the season as interim head coach.
From The Highs To The Many Lows
Originally hired from Memphis in late 2015 to replace College Football Hall of Famer Frank Beamer, Fuente led the Hokies to a Coastal Division title and a 10-4 (6-2 ACC) record in his first season. After posting a 9-4 (5-3 ACC) record in 2017, however, Fuente only finished above .500 once in his next three years.
Defeat at Old Dominion in 2018 (49-35) made life difficult for Fuente and Virginia Tech, who needed to schedule Marshall in December (and win) to get bowl eligible. Tech did so and won, though the team lost four straight games at home (a 3-4 record in Lane Stadium in 2018), the first of three instances of VT losing three consecutive home games in the Fuente era.
In 2019, a blowout loss to Duke in 2019 (45-10) set the Hokies back, but the group responded. Virginia Tech won six of its next seven games before losing at Virginia in Charlottesville for the first time since 2003. VT finished with an 8-5 record after a Belk Bowl loss to Kentucky, but the Commonwealth Cup loss stung, especially with painful results at ODU and vs. Duke still lingering.
Last year, Virginia Tech’s 29-year bowl streak ended when the team opted to not go to a bowl. The Hokies lost five of six games late in the season, including three home games in a row. Two of those games, against ranked foes in No. 9 Miami and No. 25 Liberty, were decided by a combined four points. However, despite seemingly being down and out, Fuente & Co. closed out the season on a high note with a 33-15 win over Virginia.
Three days after the victory, Babcock called a press conference. In that meeting with reporters, Babcock announced that he had full trust in Fuente and was “energized” about their conversations heading into 2021.
Fuente entered the season on the hot seat and, despite a heartwarming win in the season opener against UNC, the Hokies slipped up too many times midseason in winnable games and situations. All of that led to Virginia Tech parting ways with Fuente on Nov. 16, 2021.
Justin Fuente’s salary was $4.25 million in 2020, though he took a pay cut due to COVID-19. Under contract through 2024, his buyout is $10 million.
Statement from Justin Fuente
A statement from Fuente was included in the Virginia Tech press release. It said in full:
“On behalf of Jenny and our family, I would like to thank President Sands, Whit and the entire Virginia Tech community for extending me the opportunity to lead this football program for six seasons.
To the many incredible young men that I had the privilege to coach, so many of you have made a lasting impact on our family. I can’t thank you enough for your dedication and your commitment to doing your very best, whether that was on the field, in the classroom or in your personal lives.
To the fabulous assistant coaches and support staff at Virginia Tech, I can’t express how much I appreciated all of your work and all your sacrifices. It takes so many dedicated, hard-working and loyal people behind the scenes to make a football program run smoothly. Thank you.
To all the donors who have recently stepped up to make substantial contributions to Virginia Tech Football, please know the importance of your commitment. So many improvements have been made to point our facilities and overall student-athlete experience in the right direction. Thank you to the fans of Hokie Nation. I would encourage all of you to continue cheering on this football team – your support means so much to all of them.
Finally, to Jenny, Cecilia, Caroline, Charlotte and the rest of our family, thank you for your unwavering love and support. We have all been in this together and we will continue to be in this together on the next step of our journey.
We leave Blacksburg with many great memories, but above all else, our family cherishes the many relationships that have been established and that will always endure. To all of those players, coaches and staff who are still fighting on, know that the Fuente family is always cheering for you.”