February 3rd, 2016, will be a day that stings for a bit longer, fellow fans. Not necessarily because of what was in our control, but for what wasn't. Not for what we knew was coming, but for looking into the abyss. It's the day the abyss looked back.
I WOULD like to congratulate the new recruiting class of 2016. We thank you for your dedication to signing at Virginia Tech, and your open mind to a new coach and a new era. I know that what we've got isn't rated highly, but I think it's also underrated. Some of the pieces are criminally disregarded or tossed aside for asinine reasons. Stars and ratings do matter, yes. But you've got to make the best of what you have, and what the Hokies have still has a lot of upside and room to grow. That's also coming into a team that's painfully young already, and will stay that way next year. Coach Fuente mentioned that next year the team only has about 10 graduating seniors or so- an indictment of the recruiting in the previous era. I say era because It's obvious now that new era is growing closer and wider in breadth every day.
Replacing Torrian Gray will be a problem- as would replacing any solid recruiter and great position coach. We'll have to deal with it. Once he took that pay cut- there were some kerfuffles going on behind the scenes even before that- the writing was on the wall. Fuente couldn't plan on him sticking around that long. The fact that he jumped just after signing day (anyone else find it suspicious or off at the time that they didn't mention or interview him at all at the press conference? I did) makes me think that this was a planned event- he was sticking around while they wrapped up the class, no more, no less. I hate the disingenuousness of this move on all sides, and I feel bad for Khalil Ladler, Jovonn Quillen, Reggie Floyd, and Tyree Rodgers. All the defensive backs, really. Heck, it might even explain why Kendall Fuller left for the NFL if he knew beforehand about the arrangement, if there was one. But again, we move on; it's a business. People have to replace coaches all the time in the big bad world out there. It's just that we've been shielded from it for so long. It's the new reality of Virginia Tech football. We've joined the rest of the nation, for better or for worse. DBU is done. Torrian Gray was the guy. The Lunchpail might stick around, but those dings and dents are going to be more pronounced- and had trended that way the past two years, anyhow. Virginia Tech is going to have to find new things to sell.
In reference to today's signing day disappointments? I'm going to say one simple phrase: what do you think was going to happen? I'll freely admit I whiffed on what happened to Durr and Bailey. Check 247, so did everyone else. Wells stayed with Florida. Guess what? It's currently a better football school in his home state. If they definitively told him ‘yes, we want you', he was going to stay. They're a better football school in his own home state. We complain left and right when kids decommit from us or leave the state to go elsewhere. I'm not going to complain about a kid staying at a better in-state football program. That'd make me a hypocrite. Dominique Ross? He was already committed to UNC- and they're a better football program than we are right now. Even if their past couple years haven't been great, this year they got into the ACC championship game. I still won't complain when someone doesn't break their word, including him, Wells, Tomon Fox, Chase Pine, or Coney Durr.
This doesn't excuse the fact that we got in on them late. How do you expect a guy to come up with signings in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar faces after just two months on the job? The fact that we were even in the conversation on players like Fox and Pine came to us as a complete surprise just this past weekend. You were expecting us to flip their commitments? That's a mite unrealistic. As for the Bailey ISU commitment, from ALL that I have heard he gave his word to Fuente and Wiles. He either turned his back on it or was forced to sign with Iowa State because they offered his brother. For those that would get mad at us for taking ‘marginal' talent, which was what Josh Bailey was by general definition. ISU offered him and his brother a scholarship, we only offered JaQuan. That's how it goes sometimes. Recruiting is a fickle business. At the margins where we currently sit, it's even more fickle, and the swings even more violent.
I'm not sure much more could be DONE about this class, guys. It wouldn't be Beamer who could fix it. You want to say we could've hired Mark Richt had we waited? We also could've had to hire Everett Withers. You roll the dice with these things and I think Fuente's going to be a good hire, but it takes time. Trying to yell at him for this class when it wasn't developing even at the beginning of the year with a depth of talent? It smacks of impatience. If you want to put some of the blame on Gray, Foster, Burden, and Wiles, you probably can. Burden actually fared alright, though. He was either the secondary or primary recruiter for Patterson, Beckett, Jackson, Hopple, Quillen, Denmark, Deablo, and Kumah. That's a lot of our best recruits right there. It then goes down to Foster, Gray, and Wiles. Wiles didn't have a spectacular year, and Gray didn't, either. Foster's never been a recruiting mastermind. Face it- this year's recruiting class was going to roll in and be mediocre at best from the start. MAYBE we keep Landon Dickerson in the picture. MAYBE we keep some of the other highly ranked guys in some semblance of interest. But this was always going to happen, and frankly, the falloff was going to continue regardless of whether or not Frank retired this year. Our recruiting has been bobbing up and down, and now it's a low point. Set your expectations for next year accordingly. Fuente is still a new coach with a lot to prove at the ACC level. They're doing what UNC and Clemson were selling just a few years ago- selling hope and dreams.
The problem with the fanbase right now is that we're being overly emotional. Few want to hear logic- everyone is going to throw out that ‘Fuente can't close' and ‘We hired no real recruiters'. Maybe, maybe not. I'll tell you it's harder for Fuente to close than someone with a more proven track record like Mark Richt. I'll tell you it's harder for him to recruit a player from scratch with baggage from the last regime in two months than it would be for Miami or a multi-year established coach like Fedora at UNC to do that. Simmer down. This was never going to be easy. We never have had amazing recruiting classes, even when we were rolling. We're going to have to remember that this was a multi-year job, and not judge a man on what he can't do in two months. You know what he did? He held most of the class together. We'd've probably never have grabbed Jerod Evans or Demitri Moore. We'd definitely not even be IN the Pine competition. We kept pretty much everyone that could or would stay. That's the recruiting that Fuente HAD to do. Over the next year we'll see what he CAN do.
So then. What are the Hokies to do moving forward? The team just lost the reason behind DBU. Tech pulled in what many consider to be a noncompetitive recruiting class. They're weary and battered- this offseason is the best and worst of times around Blacksburg. It means they're going to have to do the hardest thing there is to do with what they've got: Win. Virginia Tech is going to have to establish a new tradition. Justin Fuente is going to have to get points this year, because we're replacing most of the front 7. That's going to be hard with a brand new quarterback and system. The coaches are going to have to win this year and next year with what talent they can cobble together and recruit their butts off now that they've got time to establish relationships and actually recruit over a duration. Luckily, it seems like Fuente has a system in mind that can work- it did at TCU, it did at Memphis, and it SHOULD here. They're going to have to find a new defensive backs coach, or move Galen Scott there and hire someone else. Let's not be afraid to go after someone established, please.
I want to look into the storm and spit into the wind. But right now, we're facing a cold reality. This is no longer the Virginia Tech you knew. It was going to happen sooner or later. Beamer would retire, Foster would either become a head coach or move on, and the world would keep chugging along. I will forever support the Hokies, and if that means if maybe not forgetting where we came from, then at least putting a strong demarcation line behind us as we move forward, that's fine. DBU is over with, at least, as we knew it. Beamerball is finished after fading for years. The Lunchpail is battered but not broken yet- even if the rust patches are getting larger with every passing year. I rage against the chains that bind us- for years it was an inept offense and an inability to recruit. Now it's the unknown and a cold reality of a new dawn. Enough yelling at each other, enough complaining. Regardless of whether or not we want to, we must soldier on into the unknown together. We'll see what the new day brings.