A teary-eyed, yet proud J.C. Price addressed the media on Thursday afternoon.
Price, the interim head coach for Virginia Tech football after the mutually parting of ways between the school and Justin Fuente, finds himself in a unique situation.
“It’s bittersweet sitting here in this type of circumstances,” Price said. “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 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.”
Babcock, Tech’s Director of Athletics, named Price the interim head coach during a Tuesday morning press conference. The former co-defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator for the Hokies, Price has no head coaching experience at any level.
He’s had plenty of stops along the way to get to this point, though.
A player for Virginia Tech from 1992-95 (he redshirted in 1991), Price was Third Team All-American as a senior. He captained that Tech team to a Sugar Bowl win over Texas, which is a moment many Hokie faithful will never forget. After his NFL playing career, he ventured back to Blacksburg as a strength and conditioning coach (1997-98), and then had a three-year stint at Radford High School as DC/DL coach (1999-2001, where he was interviewed by Will Stewart in October 2001). In 2002-03, Price was a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech.
Price then became James Madison’s defensive line coach in 2004, where he stayed for eight seasons. In 2012, he left for Marshall, and he was comfortable in Huntington, W.Va. for nine years. Then in February of 2021, Fuente brought him on to his staff in Blacksburg, a dream come true for Price.
“Six months ago, I told him [Tech defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton] I’d crawl on my hands and knees to be the d-line coach at Virginia Tech,” Price said.
Now, he’s in the big chair, coaching the Hokies in their final two games of the season, and hopefully, to a bowl game.
“I told him, ‘You know what? I’ll still crawl on my hands and knees to work here,” Price said. “I keep pinching myself.”
Price said one of the biggest things he tried to not do in his coaching career is move around. He stayed in Harrisonburg at JMU for seven years and didn’t pursue any jobs. It was the same at Marshall, where he stayed for nine years. Price called himself “the worst self-promoter in the history of promotion.”
Ten years ago, Price was coaching the Dukes’ defensive line at James Madison. What would’ve he said if he knew he would’ve had, ‘head coach, Virginia Tech,’ next to his name?
“You could have asked me that last Thursday and I would have said there was no chance in hell, and not this soon,” Price said. “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.
“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.”
Miami, Virginia And Beyond
On the football field, the Hokies still have a lot to play for. Miami awaits in south Florida on Saturday evening, while the Battle for the Commonwealth Cup against Virginia is just over a week away.
Virginia Tech sits at 5-5 (3-3 ACC) and is one win away from bowl eligibility. So many emotions surround this Hokies program from the news from the beginning of the week, and the team still has a game to play.
Price told the media that wide receiver Tre Turner is making a 23-hour drive (round trip) to Miami for the game with two members of the training staff, which shows the dedication level of the players. Turner was injured against Georgia Tech and had air trapped in his neck and throat, as Justin Fuente described that following Monday. He played this past weekend against Duke and was fine, but he can’t fly because it exacerbates the condition.
As far as center Brock Hoffman’s injury goes, Price said he practiced on Thursday. Hoffman had his left foot in a boot in Lane Stadium during Tech’s game vs. Duke.
In terms of the actual game, Price explained that almost everything will be the same. He’ll be in the head coach role against the Hurricanes, while offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen and defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton will call plays for their respective units, like before.
Price has spoken to many people over the past few days, from former teammates and people that coached alongside him to Frank Beamer and Bud Foster. He said Foster’s office was one of the first he went and sat in once he had time to sit down and think.
One of the things he’s trying to do to change the mood and culture around the team is how Virginia Tech travels and how they go to the hotel. Price said it’s not a drastic change, because “coaches and players are creatures of habit,” but he wanted to breathe some new life into the team. He said he got that idea from chatting with some friends of his in the business and asking them what they wish they would’ve done differently.
“If the whole season, we had been doing A, I’d have said we need to do B,” Price said. “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 infuse some energy and enthusiasm into the kids in obviously a tough time that they are going through.”
Price said there’s no playbook for what the coaches and players are going through at the moment, and that there’s no perfect time to give someone bad news. He was proud of how the players responded, though, and said they “practiced their hind butts off” and “did everything we asked them to do.”
He praised the coaching staff in a similar manner, too. Many assistants and coordinators were very close with Fuente. Price said he told them all the same thing: “Whatever emotion you’re having is the correct emotion, because it’s yours.”
“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. … 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.”
Tech also had a Zoom with commits from its Class of 2022 on Wednesday night. Price said he thought it went well, and that despite him not knowing what’s going to happen with his specific job in the future, he wants to keep the recruits regardless.
“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.”
He understands that he’s not auditioning for the head coaching job, too. Price doesn’t expect to be the head coach. He said he even told the players he doesn’t expect to be the head coach after the season.
His only goal?
“I want to go 1-0 this week. … 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.”
Full press conference transcription: Link