Well it’s half way through June, and the football news is nibbling away at the writing schedule. This week we got word of a player “Sword of Damocles” hanging over Josh Jackson’s Tech eligibility. Then we waltzed through a few really nice commitment pickups for the coaching staff, including one that was nearly unexpected. Cam’Ron Kelly (the surprise) and Jayden Payoute are both high quality athletes likely to play in the defensive backfield of the 2020-2023 Hokies. Both have offensive chops so you never know where those playing opportunities will cross paths with the depth chart.
We ended the week with a bit more good news, this time on the coaching and staff side of things. Coach Fuente nabbed a former colleague of Coach Shibest’s, Tyrone Nix for coaching the Safeties in the Defensive Backfield. He will replace Galen Scott, and it’s not a step down. Nix comes to Blacksburg with a ton of experience, and a solid reputation. He’s also gives us a much improved Gulf Coast Recruiting exposure (which is prime SEC Territory). It’s no guarantee, but opening more doors at more high school programs is always a good thing. Recruiting also took the primary seat in the reeling back of Mark Diethorn to take over the Director of Player Personnel job.
Okay, so we’ve seen these articles what’s with the quick over repetition?
In my 36 year career as an IT professional, I looked at every complex difficult project with three “P’s” in mind; Patience, Process, and Progress. No matter how massive something looked, every time I applied the three “P’s” most things worked out and often became very successful. So how do they apply to the Virginia Tech Hokies of 2018, or even 2016-2025?
It’s really critical to remember that the program had begun to wane at the end of the Beamer Era. No matter how much we love Frank Beamer and now great he was for Virginia Tech, all great efforts do slide to their functional ends. Though Coach Beamer still had the fire and desire to lead his teams, those teams were beginning to suffer from a falloff in talent. This occurred both at the recruiting level, and the developmental program level.
I don’t have all of the metrics, but it didn’t take much to see that the number of STARS behind players’ names on recruiting roles was dropping down. Our last really star running back was David Wilson. We had the converted Tight End experiment of Logan Thomas to replace Tyrod Taylor. Then when we had a first rate QB, Michael Brewer, it was only for two years, and the physical toll on him was immense. We had creeping injury syndrome, and a frustrating level of knee, ankle, and foot casualties. It almost seemed like it was viral. What was obvious is that it was time for a change. The Hokies needed a coaching youth movement, without doing damage to all of the great things put into play by Frank Beamer.
Enter someone who seemingly and unexpectedly put the three “P”s to practice, and some really interesting things have begun to develop. Justin Fuente and crew may not look particularly patient (he is relatively young, high energy, and all football) but Patience is what he implemented first. There was an immediate tempering of the impulse to clear the decks and effect massive changes. Fuente was gracious in taking over the program, allowing Frank to coach his final bowl game in full control. Fuente quietly and methodically moved his staff into place without major disruptions. He managed to talk Bud Foster (perhaps Fuente’s greatest recruiting achievement) into staying in Blacksburg, and kept Charlie Wiles and Zohn Burden on staff. If you look at that staff roster you will see a really good scattering of veteran Beamer Era folks, along with lots of new young talent that has a distinct “Hokie Flavor” to it. Fuente is still being patient; he’s refrained from running off Beamer era recruits, and in fact, reached out and made most of them his lead players on the field. Yes, we did lose a few here and there, but the transition was smooth and not too many people are going to quibble with 19 wins in two seasons after replacing a legend.
That brings up the next “P”, namely Process. The Hokies were famous for having great defenses and special teams. We didn’t, however, shine on the offensive stats boards. Vick was a special case, the mind reels at what could have been if he had stayed. But then we sort of became mundane, average, and predictable. We stumbled through quarterbacks; some good, some better and then there was Tyrod, who grew into the job enough that he took the sting of Michael Vick’s departure away. What we never really had was a process. We never really established a theory of offense, and the process to put that theory into practice. We just sort of did what we thought would work, and then executed it regardless of whether or not it did.
Justin Fuente brought both a theory of offense and a process for implementing that theory to Blacksburg. Two and a half years is not much time to demonstrate that process, though. We’ve had some setbacks, two different quarterbacks (perhaps even a third), and a very shallow skill position offensive depth chart means that the process is still in building and reconstructing phase. The magic, here, is that the process included the best of the old instead of excluding it. We saw the re-emphasis of special teams and the process put into place to keep that discipline alive in the new era. We also looked at the defense, something that Fuente’s prior team, Memphis, struggle with. The retention of Bud Foster allowed the defensive theory and process to remain in the sustainment phase. Foster looks like a whole new man with a new air supply and energy. It’s that Offense, though, that is still a process in transition. We will have to wait and see how it shapes up for 2018.
Finally, there is the formidable task of maintaining progress. Patience and Process are only rewarded by progress. It is astonishing to see a team going through a massive coaching change, a complete revamping of off-field training regimens, a new offense, a new coaching philosophy, and transitioning players, win. It hasn’t been pretty sometimes, and some games over the last two seasons were coaching puzzlers in many ways, but Justin Fuente and Bud Foster have managed 18 regular season wins and a 50/50 split in bowl games over their first two seasons together. That is a 10 win season, and a 9 win season at a program transition stage that does not often see that sort of progress. Ask me how our progress is this time next season. It always should be a positive answer.
Think about where we were in June 2015. Hokie Nation was out of patience, and so were many people running the athletic department. The process was worn, threadbare, and hopelessly out of date. Critically, progress had not only stopped but had begun to unwind into regression. Those were all signs of the need for major change. We are about to start seeing the third season of the transition unfold. There are indications that it will be a difficult. So, it’s time for Hokie Nation to lean hard on the first principle, Patience, because there is really process in place, and progress is being made.