This is a full transcript from Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price‘s press conference on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 ahead of the Hokies’ game at Miami. Thanks to Andy Bitter and Mike Niziolek, who helped compile this 33-minute transcript.
Phew. Hello. It’s bittersweet sitting here in this type of circumstances. On one hand, you have such respect for Coach Fuente and the job he was doing. I’ve been just overwhelmingly humbled by Whit Babcock’s belief in me and him appointing me the interim head coach. And just want to give my best to these kids. These kids deserve to go out a winner. The seniors deserve to win. There’s a lot to play for. And the kids have really rebounded based on the situation.
I think dealing with the last two years, I don’t think there’s a team that’s had to deal with more hardship and overcome more adversity, which the Virginia Tech family obviously knows a ton about, overcoming adversity through the years and different seasons. And these kids are exactly that. They’re resilient, they’re tough and we’re going to do our best to finish the thing out for us. There are still goals that we can reach.
Questions from the media:
Injury updates, specifically Tre Turner and Brock Hoffman:
Brock was at practice today. We’ll see how he progresses. Tre’s going to make the drive. Twenty-three hours. With what he’s got going, we can’t fly him. Says a lot about him as an individual willing to do that for his teammates but also our training staff, the two young men who volunteered to, jumped at the chance to help us out. And didn’t have to convince anyone to try to have drive Tre down. These two guys, they stepped up and they’re going to take the time and they’re going to drive halfway down, then get a hotel and finish it up the next day. And Tre will be there and he’ll be ready to go.
Will it mean more for you, a VT alum who got his career started here?
Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I keep pinching myself.
On taking the team to the memorial on campus:
I’ll be honest with you, I want to keep that between our team and our family. We did do that. It was not something that I would want to even talk about. The fact that we talked about them as players, I asked them not to tweet about it. So I’m not sure how it was even found out about. But I thought it was something that we needed to do to maintain our ‘why’ and understand how important this place is and what it means to me and what it means to our team to finish this thing up and go win and get back to bowls and get back to delivering Virginia Tech its rightful self and its rightful place in college football as a perennial bowl contender and a team that plays for championships. There’s still things out there that we can do. And that was just a reminder of what it means to be a Hokie and I’ll leave it at that. Because it was really something that was meant to stay between us and the team.
On chatting with Frank Beamer and Bud Foster:
I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people. Obviously reached out, and one of the first offices I went and sat in was Bud’s. And I’ve had great advice from guys I’ve played with, guys I’ve coached with in past schools. Coach Beamer, Coach Foster, they’ve all given you great ideas. At the same time, you’ve got to try to get through what everyone is trying to suggest to you and you’ve got to pick out what you think is best and you’ve got to do what I think is best for this team. And I think I am. We’re going to change some things as far as how we travel, how we go to the hotel. But at the same time, coaches and players are creatures of habit.
So the nuts and the bolts have remained the same as far as class schedules, time we practice, how we practice. We’re all creatures of habit. And that part’s not broken, because we’re close. And that’s the heartbreaking part of it. And I’m just going to be honest. And you come up to people and people tell you congratulations, it feels like they’re ripping my heart out. I didn’t want it under these circumstances, but once again, it’s humbling to be the guy that Whit has decided to lead us the last two weeks. And I’m just going to be me and do everything I can for these kids.
On the players’ reaction and having an open-door policy:
There’s no playbook for what we’re going through. The timing of it was the timing of it. No one picks the perfect time to give someone bad news. There’s no good time to give someone bad news. So I understand the situation it came about, but to do it on a Tuesday was tough. And once we broke the team meeting, I think the position coaches did a great job of rallying the young men, of being psychologists, probably, more than anything. There was probably not much football talked that morning prior to practice, and to the kids’ credit, it was an incredible practice.
The kids came out. It was obviously somber, don’t get me wrong. But considering the circumstances and what they went through, just being prior to going out on a practice field Tuesday, those kids practiced their hind butts off. They did everything we asked them to do. It was impressive how those kids responded. And I think when you have a team that one, has gone through so many heartbreaking, just close losses like we have, on top of how their COVID season went, now I know I was not here, but I understand and know it happened, one, because this is my school, and two, you hear the players and the coaches describe what happened in the COVID season. So I think that allowed them to be able to rebound from this in a way that I never thought they would be able to do so quickly.
Was being a head coach ever a goal or did it ever cross your mind when you were younger?
Of course it is [a goal]. I think anybody who gets into this business wants to be in charge. And if they tell you they don’t, I’d call them a liar. Because there’s a process I think every coach goes through, a young coach, you have to learn how to coach or you’re a GA, you become a position coach, you become a coordinator and you think one day I’m going to be a head coach. There’s only so many jobs out there. And for me to be sitting here as an interim head coach is just … I don’t think ever in my wildest dreams thought that that would happen. And to have head coach after my name at Virginia Tech, I don’t think there’s a greater honor.
Price’s memories of Miami:
Oh yeah, there’s obviously the one that will come to mind is the first time we beat them in ’95 my senior year. I think I had a good game that day. I’m not sure. But just what it took to overcome how far ahead they were talent-wise. They were better than us in the early ’90s. And by the mid-’90s, we overtook them. And then from then on, until probably the 2000s, we dominated them. So that was great to see and great to be a part of. And I’ve been a part of a lot of great things at this university. But when you talk about again overcoming adversity. In 1995, we lose to a good BC team, we lose to Cincinnati out here in the mud. And a team that was preseason ranked is 0-2. And to find a way to beat a team that you’ve never beaten, I think that speaks volumes to that team in 1995.
But there’s all kinds of teams that are like that in the history of Virginia Tech. The 2010 team started out 0-2. So I’m just pressing upon these guys that our story is not written. Our book is not finished. What’s it going to say? At the end of the day, if we can find a way to win one, maybe two games, then maybe this team will be remembered as the most resilient, mentally tough team that Virginia Tech’s ever had, to overcome what they have gone through in the last two years. No team has had to overcome what they’ve gone through. And if we can get that done, I’ll tip my hat to the kids. Because it’s about them.
Do your remember your message to team after Cincinnati game?
I’m sure it was emotional. I don’t really recall much of what was said. I’m sure it was profanity laced. It was probably not for print. You know seniors have to lead, that’s what we had on that team. We had really good players. We had really good leaders and the senior class that year, I’d like to think, was a big part of what Virginia Tech became and we are not that far away from being that. In my heart of hearts, we could easily be 7-2 or 8-1, but we are not. We are going to finish writing this book the next two weeks, I just get to sit in the head chair, that’s all.
What’s football prep for this week like?
Like I said earlier, not much has changed as far as the nuts and bolts. I think one of the reasons Whit choose me besides my overwhelming love of this place was that allowed the coordinators to continue to be coordinators. Coach Shibest can still concentrating on special teams. Corn and J Ham can do there thing and I can take some of the other details of the day to day operations off those guys so they can focus on putting together the best game plan to head down to Miami and give our guys a chance to compete against Miami.
Anything surprised you about being head coach?
Just the fact that you never turn your brain off. I constantly think am I doing the right thing? Am I saying the right thing? Did I change the right thing? Cause you can’t have everything the same. You can’t change everything, but everything can’t be the same. It’s a fine line. I’ve been walking that line. I just I’m doing right by these kids so they have a chance to be successful these last two weeks and it’s all about the kids. It’s not about anything else. It’s not about one coach, it’s not about any of that, it’s about the players in that locker room and doing what I think is best for them. That’s tough to say going from a position coach and now you have a say in a lot of things that I didn’t have a say in before. We are going to change some things.
Where do you think things went off the rails this season? And how do you think you can help them be successful?
There’s a lot of parity in college football. You look at it, there’s probably four teams in the country, four, five or maybe six that are probably a little better than everybody else. Then you have a big, large group of everybody else on any given Saturday that can win or lose a game. It’s so fragile, it’s so close, it’s such a thin line between winning and losing when you are in that middle group. Then there are probably 10 teams that aren’t very good. We are in that middle section.
We have just not found ways to win games that we should have. You self-reflect about what I could have done better as a d-end coach, what I could done better as a position coach, how could I have helped coach Fuente and the team more? That’s what I always think about. There’s such a fine line guys between on Saturday winning and losing. The tide can turn so quickly. We just got to find a way to finish off these games.
How do you come up with a plan of attack after speaking to team? Like after position meetings?
I have relied heavily on Bill Teerlinck and Cory Rush, our GA, as far as me not watch as film as I could watch as a position coach, but I was still coaching the guys in the meeting. The great thing about having two d-line coaches, is that the game is so different d-line wise then it was when I played. When I played, everybody was doing the same. Nowadays, the inside tackles and the ends and what they see and how they play are totally different. I know it’s two different positions, but it’s REALLY two different positions. There’s so many small details playing d-end that you don’t have to worry about playing d-tackle.
That’s the great thing about having two d-line coaches. Bill has done a great job of helping me with the film aspect and me and JHam, we needed extra to make sure I know what’s going on, but I was still running the d-end meetings. Me and Bill still run the met separate to make sure those kids get the extra time they need instead of Bill coaching 12 guys with three deep, he’s still coaching have of that. I was still handling the position meetings and in practice I would bounce around then I’m more of a try to make practice runs smoothly and having a head coaches role I would say.
Why change team travel? What does that mean?
Talking to guys I know in this business that have sat in this chair with the label I have, of course, I reached out quickly – what did you do? What were the things you wish you could have done different? What did you do that you liked? If the whole season, we had been doing A, I’d have said we need to do B. If the whole season we were doing B, I would have said we need to do A. It’s not about what it is, it’s about it being different. It’s just changing something to try and fuse some energy and enthusiasm into the kids in obviously a tough time that they are going.
What is the change?
The schedule is going to be the schedule. It’s just little things. It’s nothing, it’s not even a detail that’s even worth mentioning. It’s how we eat, it’s really nonsensical, to be honest with you, but you have to change something, but you can’t change the wrong thing or go overboard. I’m not going overboard, but I’m hoping just by tweaking something a little bit we can have a little more fellowship and become a little bit closer team down the stretch.
If I told you ten years ago when you were at JMU that you’d be the head coach at VT in ten years, what would you have said?
You could have asked me that last Thursday and I would of said there was no chance in hell, and not this soon. Obviously, I always had the goal of being the head coach at Virginia Tech, but if you don’t have goals or aspirations like that to coach at your school then I think you are full of it. I would have never thought that. Everybody has a path in the coaching profession, it takes twists and turns, you make this decision and it’s the right decision, but you never know if it’s the right or wrong decision until it’s after the fact.
The thing I tried to do going into my coaching career is I didn’t want to move around. When I was at JMU for seven years, I didn’t pursue a lot of jobs. I’m probably the worst self-promoter in the history of promotion. I was at Marshall for nine years, and we were happy, you know? If they hadn’t made a change there, I still might be there. I don’t know. That’s the great thing about football. Football mirrors so much of life, you don’t know what comes at you next. I told the kids the same thing I told my two daughters, you control your attitude and effort every day. That’s on you. No one has the power to tell me how I should act and how I should feel. That’s all I’m trying to rely to the kids.
As far as game day itself, your role?
Hopefully I just get to stay out of the way and watch the game. I’m sure that’s not going to happen. I’m just there to support Corn, and JHam and Shibest. I will be obviously making the decisions that every coach makes. I will be wearing the head coaching hat, I will not be the d-line coach, or the d-ends coach. I will have very little to do with that. I will be wearing the head coaching hat as far as dealing with time management, game management, and helping Corn make the decisions on who should go for it and those type of things. On Saturday, I will totally be wearing the head coaching hat.
How did the Zoom with Virginia Tech’s Class of 2022 commits go?
Yeah, I was part of that. The thing is, it’s my school, I love this place. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and I could be the interim head coach for two weeks and then not be here next year. And if I’m not, I still want those kids to come here, I want my school to retain a top-20 recruiting class. That’s my goal. If I’m here, great. In whatever capacity I can be here, I want to be here. I want those recruits here.
We worked our butts off, this staff did, to get a top-20 recruiting class, and there’s a lot of good players in there, but there’s a lot of good kids. There’s a lot of good people, a lot of good families that are in those kids that made verbal commitments to us. I was on the Zoom, I thought it went great, we maybe missed a handful of kids, but other than that, every kid that was committed got on the Zoom and we answered their questions the best we could and relieve some of their concerns. We were just open and honest.
What kind of style of coaching would you say you have? Emotional guy, tough-nosed guy?
Yes, yes, yes. I don’t know, I guess we’re going to find out because I think the way you coach at d-line, which is what I’ve coached my whole life, I’ve never coached another position. I think the type of guy you have to be is you have to be a little excitable, you have to be on edge, you have to be enthusiastic, you have to walk that thin line of control and crazy. Where as a head coach, I guess we’ll find out Saturday, because I’ve never been a head coach at any level. I’m hoping and I’m praying, like Coach Beamer, when I panic is when the kids should worry. I’m going to do my best to keep my cool because that’s what a leader is supposed to do.
I don’t think a leader is supposed to get too high or too emotional, that’s just my opinion. I loved the way Coach Beamer was as a head coach. He used to tell us ‘don’t panic unless you see me panic,’ and he never panicked. So that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m not guaranteeing if all of a sudden we get some calls that don’t go our way that I’m going to revert back to being a d-line coach and lose my ever-living mind, but I’m going to do my best not to.”
How did Monday night and Tuesday morning unfold for you? When did you first get wind that a change was in the air and you might be the interim?
There were a couple of conversations and then I had a good chat with Whit early Tuesday morning. I basically found out the same time everyone else did. The thing about it is this thing is not about me. It’s about the team continuing to improve and it’s about the kids. I’ve always been the worst self-promoter and believe me, the last thing I do is ever talk about J.C. Price. I want to talk about the great student-athletes we have and try and get them a win.
There are still guys on the staff like Brad [Cornelsen] and Vance [Vice] and James [Shibest] who were very close with Justin. How difficult has this been on them and how have they responded?
Everyone has had a great… Obviously, we’re all hurting. Let me say that, first and foremost. The same thing I told the players, I told the coaches. Whatever way you’re feeling, whatever sort of way you feel is okay, because it’s right. Whatever emotion you’re having is the correct emotion, because it’s yours. Those guys have been nothing but solid, man. There hasn’t been a day where we’ve questioned anybody’s ‘want to’ or wanting to continue on.
Everybody’s been totally professional and gone about their business and gone about their work and we’re all professionals. We’ve all been through this. Every coach gets hired, every coach is going to get fired, that’s just the way it is. And you know that going into it. The staff, whether it’s been the guys who are ex-Hokies or the guys who had a longer relationship with Coach Fuente, we’ve all pulled our sleeves up and just gone to work and we’re going to try to put these kids in the best position we can.
How much, if at all, do you view these two games as kind of an audition to be the permanent head coach?
Not at all. Not at all. I want to go 1-0 this week. That’s not coach speak, it’s not about me. I’m not auditioning to be the head coach, I don’t expect to be the head coach at Virginia Tech. I have been promised nothing. Whit has not said, ‘do this, do that,’ no. I’m trying to keep us organized, trying to keep us on the right path, trying to get us in the right position to go win. That’s all that I’m concerned about.
I haven’t thought one thing about becoming the next coach at Virginia Tech and, in fact, I will share with you that I have told the team that I don’t expect to be the head coach after this. I expect to be the head coach for the next two weeks and hopefully I’ll be getting us ready to go to a bowl game. That’s my only goal.
Tre Turner driving down, do you have a concern?
To be honest with you, you’d have to ask Goforth or Brett about that. I’m not really sure or really understand what’s going on. I understand there is some air trapped in his upper chest and throat so I can’t speak intelligently on that. I know that he is cleared to play, but flying would exacerbate the situation and his health, so that’s why we’re choosing to drive him.
Reporter spoke to Clay Helton this morning, he’s been an interim twice. The discipline it takes to be an interim head coach with your future up in the air. Where do you find that discipline?
It’s been instilled for me since I was here, since 1992. When I first got here, it’s pretty chronicled that I was a little bit of a knucklehead. I was probably a huge knucklehead probably the first year-and-a-half, two years that I was here. And I grew up. I left Virginia Tech as a young adult, now I’m coming back and I’m a grown man. I’m just doing what grown men are supposed to do. Grown men are supposed to help young men become better people and that’s all I’m going, and literally that’s all I’m trying to do, see one day at a time, because anything further than that then I’m going to be overwhelmed and I don’t want… to me, if I’m overwhelmed, I’m going to make a poor choice or poor decision. And I’m not going to do that.
Even to the fact that I changed something on the travel schedule an hour ago that I should’ve changed a day ago that I was unsure about and I said, ‘you know what, we’re going to do it.’ I want to make sure that every decision that I make is thought out intelligently, thought out not to rush anything or to put these kids in a situation where they can’t be successful. It’s all about the players. It’s not even close to being about me and whatever happens with my coaching career next year, then that’s what’s supposed to happen. If I’m supposed to be here, I’ll be here. If I’m not, then I’ll be wherever I’m supposed to be. I have a great supportive wife, I’ve got two beautiful, intelligent daughters. They’re older now so they understand this business. I just went through it last year.
And JHam made a comment and it was so true. Six months ago, I told him I’d crawl on my hands and knees to be the d-line coach at Virginia Tech. And now all of a sudden I’m sitting in this chair. I told him, ‘You know what? I’ll still crawl on my hands and knees to work here. I just want to be here. Whatever capacity it is, great. I don’t care what it is. But if I’m not, I’m going to take that and attack that with a great attitude and great effort, like I do everything in my life, and I told the players ‘I don’t have bad days. I have good days and great days.’ That’s the only way I can look at it, and when you’re in this profession, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to forecast what you’ll be down the road. Like I said, you could’ve asked me Monday night if I was sitting in this chair and I would’ve told you you were crazy.
Are you keeping your office or moving into Fuente’s?
No, I’m going everything out of my office. No. My office.
You said you were sorting through getting texts and getting advice to take. What kind of advice did your wife give you?
When I finally got a chance to tell her, she was just ecstatic, excited for the opportunity. But once again, that was also tempered with the fact that I could be out of work in two weeks. So her only suggestion and advice was the same thing that, once again, ‘go out and be yourself and that’ll be fine. Believe in my decisions, don’t second guess myself, and do what I think is right.’ That’s basically what she said, which was echoed by a lot of people.