We start this round-table with a tweet from @VT_Football as a written statement from Coach Fuente:
Statement from Head Coach Justin Fuente pic.twitter.com/8tQmZTsaPI— Virginia Tech Football (@VT_Football) January 23, 2019
In case you haven’t been paying attention to Hokie Nation comings and goings (in this case lots of goings) four big name players have applied to transfer to other programs. Now, first, putting a name in the portal doesn’t guarantee a transfer offer, and second it doesn’t guarantee that a player won’t end up with no fish so he comes back. Human nature tells you that most players wouldn’t put their names in if there wasn’t some interest detected in some way, and face it this is a bridge burning move, no coach is going to want a player, who pulled this stunt, back. Scholarships are too tightly limited and there are too many opportunities to reach out to other players. It’s really that simple.
So the four horsemen riding into the sunset are:
- QB - Joshua Jackson, Jr.
- WR - Eric Kumah
- TE - Chris Cunningham
- RB - Deshawn McClease
So what’s the question set and what’s going to happen next?
I get the public outcry among fans. I do. Especially after a tumultuous offseason last year and rough 2018 season. But let’s calm down. Outside of Eric Kumah, and perhaps Deshawn McClease, the Hokies didn’t really lose someone who was going to make an impact next season. Cunningham was firmly behind Dalton Keene and James Mitchell and he knew that. Jackson was gone the minute he got injured. He was limited as a passer and it was evident in every game he played.
It’s a bad look for sure. No one wants to see these many players leave the program and it doesn’t help the public perception when knuckleheads like Trevon Hill and Mook Reynolds tweet at multiple departing players suggesting there’s something much bigger out there. Reynolds and Hill sealed their own fate. Neither are bad kids, but made bad decisions along the way. Trust me on that. Hill had multiple opportunities and it was time for Justin Fuente to act. That’s how you establish a culture.
I don’t think anyone should panic here. If someone like Tre Turner or Dax Hollifield had left, yes, then I would be worried.
The sky is not falling, but the concern is understandable among members of the fan base; I get it. Key players are leaving, one of them (Eric Kumah) out of nowhere. One of the team’s best assistants is moving on, and the Hokies are coming off their worst season in 26 years in 2018.
Consider this though, a majority of the players who have left the program over the last 18 months have been players recruited by Frank Beamer. Some will now point to Josh Jackson and Deshawn McClease, who were both members of Justin Fuente’s first class, but that was a transitional class and most of the heavy lifting was done by the staff of Frank Beamer. These guys stuck around because, at least at the time, they bought into Fuente and what his plans were for the Hokies in the new era.
It’s important (and obvious) to note that each player likely has their own set of reasons for leaving the program. As fans and media members, we can opine on why a player wants to leave, but at the end of the day, these are KIDS. Kids who are looking out for their best interest and doing what they believe is best for their future.
The one thing I will note is that I come away from this with a vibe that Justin Fuente and his staff are very much in the camp of “you buy into what we’re doing, or you leave.” Quite honestly, the program needed that on the tail end of the Frank Beamer era, considering the poor play on the field. It’s been a topsy-turvy tenure on the field for Justin Fuente’s teams so far, so the ultimate judge of how big of a deal these transfers and staff losses are won’t really be known until we see what the on-field product looks like in 2019 and beyond.
Virginia Tech has gotten the Last Chance U treatment lately with the departures of talented players that have played significant roles on the team. The transfer portal isn’t a portal, but has become a black hole for the Hokies’ talent and depth (and for that matter, all non-traditional powerhouse schools). The pesky attrition that has followed the team around since last season continues to bother the fanbase, and for good reason. The common theme which has been pointed out repeatedly is that these are Beamer’s recruits who are leaving. This gives credence to the theory that Fuente is essentially saying to the players, “if you don’t want to buy in, the door is open.”
That is probably a harshly-painted picture of what the true feeling in the locker room is, but it does show that the transfers will stop once the players that aren’t 100 percent committed to the culture have left. There may be some animosity from the now-transfers towards Fuente because of the way he has managed egos. It is also true that Fuente has successfully recruited upper-tier high school prospects, such as Tre Turner and Dax Hollifield that have already shown their talents, and clearly buy into the system in place. Tech will be fine from that perspective, once they garner some extra depth from the transfers lost.
So does it suck losing talents like Kumah, productive playmakers such as Cunnigham and McClease, or locker room leaders like Jackson? Heck yeah. But these two seasons are laying the foundation down for the rest of Fuente’s tenure in Blacksburg, however long that lasts.
Back in June of 2018 there was a change adopted regarding student athletes and rules about the notification of transfer. Previously students had to ask schools and programs for permission to transfer from their current institution which that entity could deny. The new change creates a model where the student athlete must only notify the university of a wish to transfer. At that point the school is mandated to enter the student into a transfer database. Other program’s coaches are now free to contact the student athlete. The rule change took effect on October 15, 2018, and the familiar names you see cascading from Virginia Tech into this portal are due to this change. In the last few days the Hokies have experienced four such applications to the transfer portal: QB Josh Jackson, RB Deshawn McClease, WR Eric Kumah, and TE Chris Cunningham. While that may seem shocking, it’s barely more than 25% of what Penn State has dealt with. As of the time of this writing the Nittany Lions have suffered 11 declarations into the transfer portal. I believe the transfer portal certainly provides increased leverage for student athletes, but I am not prepared to panic as all these names are entered. This is college free agency. These opening few years will likely showcase dramatic declarations, but the portal will balance out. On top of that, a declaration into the portal doesn’t mean the athlete is transferring. They can fully elect to remain. Furthermore, I genuinely believe that a program like Virginia Tech has more to gain than lose from such a system. The days of programs like Clemson and Alabama locking down four-star and five-star recruits for years is over. I think the Hokies are more likely to attract players that could immediately start than they are to lose starters.
The new transfer rules that college football has adopted has made this offseason have a free agent market. Big name players from prestigious programs have been transferring left and right to “gain a better opportunity.” Viriginia Tech, as you know by know, has had four well-known players request to transfer out. Some of it could be coaching staff conflicts as suspected with Kumah, but it a lot of it appears to be fear of losing their job. Jackson and Kumah could’ve very likely won position battles in the offseason and had major roles, but with guys like Willis, Patterson and then Turner at wideout, they’d prefer more security. Especially now with graduate transfers being able to play immediately, guys are snatching a starting role somewhere else for their own agendas. Sad in a way, but I guess it’s understandable.
It looks very much like the parting will be on terms that allow for all four to complete their degrees at Tech. Where they might show up will be of some interest, but all are probably headed for mid-major programs. Scott Loeffler recruited Jackson, and has now been hired as the head coach of Bowling Green. Lefty might need a midsized pocket QB. Kumah is a good receiver, frankly I am shocked that he’s going but upon thinking about the Military Bowl start, maybe nozzomush. His farewell tweet left out Fuente, and there was no dearth of retweaters and commenters who failed to notice. As the day wore on there seemed to be a growing acrimony. That sort of recoil can affect their prospects in other programs, that’s for sure.
How damaging is this?
This remains to be seen. I don’t think it is damaging. The transfer rules are changing the game and it’s going to happen to everyone at some point or another. If a kid loses his job, he is going to leave. These players aren’t quite wired like the ones who helped the Hokies rise to prominence in the 90s and 2000s. Look at Penn State, a legit top-10 program, they are getting hammered with transfers, too.
Outside of Kumah, I am not too concerned with the guys who have left. I liked Cunningham and McClease, but neither could take their position and run with it. The Hokies will add two freshmen to the mix at running back next season. As for Kumah, he is a good player and his physicality will be missed. Thankfully, though, wide receiver is the deepest position on the team and Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner are the unquestioned starters.
Honestly, I’m not sure it’s all that damaging. Sure, it seems like the popular sentiment on social media right now to crucify Justin Fuente and his staff over all of the departures, but think about WHO is departing rather than HOW MANY are departing. Outside of Eric Kumah, all of the other departures to date can be rationalized. Chris Cunningham, Josh Jackson, and Deshawn McClease all had reasonable motives, at least on the surface, to support a decision to transfer.
Cunningham was behind Dalton Keene, and seemed primed to be passed by James Mitchell as well. Jackson was going to be in a dog fight to earn his starting job back against Ryan Willis, Quincy Patterson, and Hendon Hooker, and Deshawn McClease never got consistent playing time or carries on a game-to-game basis. All of these transfers can be explained away...at least so far.
If you want to toss in the Holmon Wiggins departure as the team’s wide receivers coach, it’s hard to blame a guy for going to coach with the greatest in college football history in Nick Saban.
The damage these departures have are probably overstated, but there certainly is a bitter aftertaste in the air in the days following the transfers. I see this more as a change in how the Hokies may be viewed by players from other teams. With the new transfer rules in place, Virginia Tech and Fuente will have their opportunities to poach players from other schools as well. But transfers won’t want to come here depending on how they view this locker room and the culture Fuente has instilled in Blacksburg.
All the new transfers have a lot of pros and cons. Talent is being dispersed a little bit more, it makes the offseason more interesting, but it gives the players too much say in my opinion. Yes, these are grown men, but they still are in college, and really under a contract with the university. The NFL is where you can whine for a trade and go make millions. In college, show some loyalty, show some grit, and go win your job rather than lay back and go take someone elses.
In the big picture for teams; power 5 schools that aren’t powerhouses will now have a shot at more talent when 4 and 5 stars on the bench transfer out. With that being said, it makes recruiting a lot more difficult in trying to prepare for transfers and find kids that show loyalty. Is it good or bad? Not sure yet, but we’ll find out before too long.
In the grander scheme of things, the most damaging loss is that of Wiggins to Alabama. We lost his recruiting chops, as well as his skill at developing some of the best receiver talent and depth that we have seen in a while - if ever.
Kumah was the only surprise for me. I’d have really liked to have seen him for one more season, but he wasn’t a primary receiver - that had gone to Hazelton, and the other outside is owned by Tre Turner, now. With Hezzy in the slot, there was no where for a Senior 2nd X to go to attract draft attention.
As for Jackson. He lost the starting QB job at the UVA game. He wasn’t suited up at all for the bowl stretch, and I didn’t figure that he was going to beat out Willis. In fact the Willis starter, Patterson backup scenario is nearly perfect since both are of similar size, body type, skill sets, and capabilities. It makes for a smooth transition through 2019 with Patterson taking over the reins in 2020, 3 years of eligibility and a pile of 2016, 2017, and 2018 signees behind him.
So really other than bruised egos and old school fans freaking out... it’s relatively minor. If not beneficial.
Does this mean major changes in the offing?
Not yet. One thing I would like to see is Fuente add some recruiting juice to the staff with his next hire. Fuente doesn’t possess the oversized personality of Dabo Swinney who can easily sell his program. Even before Dabo was winning big, you just knew he was going to be a major factor in recruiting. Now, Fuente has an opportunity to add a good recruiter to the staff.
I really do believe in Fuente long-term, however, I would like to see him step outside of his comfort zone with his next hire. The last two hires of Nix and Mitchell have proven, thus far, uninspiring.
But as far as Fuente being on the hot seat? Not even close.
Let’s see what the on-field product looks like first.
Even so, it’s hard to envision Justin Fuente being relieved of his duties before 2020, even if the on-field product does not get any better. There is a pretty substantial buyout in his contract, which absolutely matters, and in addition, his recruiting classes have been pretty good. There’s no reason to pull the trigger before you absolutely have to, especially if the roster competition is strong. In my opinion, given the youth on the roster, the difference between firing Fuente after 2019 or 2020 is not all that large, especially if money can be substantially saved by firing him a few years down the line contractually.
With all of that being said, there is no indication that Whit Babcock and the athletic department is even entertaining the idea of letting Fuente go. After all, there really has just been one bad season since he arrived in Blacksburg.
For Virginia Tech, there are going to be no forseeable major changes in the next two years. If there is no growth in the program in that time frame, then Fuente’s buyout becomes a reasonable discussion. That really is the only major change Whit could make at that point, assuming neither Fuente or Whit don’t take jobs at larger programs.
For college football, change will be gradual. This rule will not apply to the vast majority of players who are generally happy with the school which they choose to go. There will be more movement in the college football landscape for sure - we will hear more stories on GameDay about a player dissatisfied with his playing time on one team finding wild success on another. That’s the whole point of the rule, and the intention is good. Expecting this amount of departures year after year may eventually be plausible, but not in the near term.
Not uniquely for Virginia Tech, but for the whole of the College Football landscape having a “free agent” market will be a big shift, especially for those players that are already graduated and do not have to sit out a year.
I think it will to an extent. The bowl season/early offseason will now be like a miniature recruiting time. Graduates will jump in here and there and make impacts on team that could shake up the conferences a little bit. This really just adds a whole new element to the sport, I don’t expect this to be a huge thing going forward, but then again I’ve been wrong before.
Yes it does. This is going to change everything, not just Virginia Tech as a Power 5 program, but every other Power 5 program where players used to be trapped in their pine riding 3 to 4 star world while waiting for some 4 to 5 star to get hurt, or goof up. Many of these kids in many programs are going to make their moves based on their potential attractiveness to the pros. Riding the pine gets you splinters not $$$$. And ultimately that’s what this is all about. At least these four hung around long enough to get their degrees. Ultimately, that’s really what college sports are all about. The scholarship player earning a college degree. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be all about. Wink wink..
So, the Roster Reviews for Spring and Fall are going to be very light on Seniors, again. I think it stands at 6 we’ll be more positive when the roster is reposted after all of this.
It does look pretty lame for the outside world, and Hokie Nation; however. Justin Fuente, never Mr. PR Savvy, needs to get way ahead of this and start actually really talking to the media and his favorite sources. The fans are restless and uneasy. That’s never good when you are making major changes to a program, and sometimes it’s changing faster than you are.
Don’t worry about it. This is the last of the 2015 Beamer recruiting class that Fuente signed in an emergency. Most of the kids from that signing class have said good bye in one way or another. Fuente needs a new receivers coach, maybe he can move Cornelsen over there and find an OC who doesn’t panic and shutdown in the 2nd half after a ripping good 1st.