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An Open Letter to Virginia Tech Hokies Head Coach Justin Fuente

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After seeing the latest pressers, it’s become obvious that there needs to be an intervention of some sort. He’ll never read this, but it’s written in honesty to a man who has lost the good will of a good deal of his fan base, and is increasingly unlikely to either finish his current contract, or receive an extension. FWIW... GO HOKIES!!!

Warmups at the 2016 Virginia Game
John Schneider - SB Nation

Instead of the Monday Grades Article. They weren’t worth mentioning one of our regular Facebook followers would tell me what they were, and this week, he’d be completely correct. Hey, I’ve had times like that in my life. I had to dig deep and look into my habits and expectations so that I could make the necessary adjustments to fix the failure. So, who knows, maybe someone will read this and pass it in front of him. The word is Introspection, coach... Introspection. So without further ado...

Dear Coach Fuente,

This will probably come as a surprise to some of my readers, because I have been accused repeatedly of defending you too much. Well, there is some truth to that. I firmly believed in giving you every opportunity to rebuild a program that had been crippled by neglect and mediocrity for several years. In the beginning I thought that it would take at least five, if not seven, seasons before the program would be fully on its feet. That was my realistic evaluation regardless of the remainder of the crowd’s opinions. This is year five, and the fan base is calling for your head, if you hadn’t noticed.

I think that’s a large part of the problem, too. You aren’t acting like you have noticed anything problematic about your program. Not only are you failing to “act” like you understand how much trouble you are in, you aren’t “acting to correct” obvious faults. So, let’s go through what’s pretty plain, and see if some magic – ‘hey, look at this’ fairy gives you a clue, because short of having a dull instrument with the word CLUE written on it, you don’t seem to have understood. (Mind you this is business, not personal. This publication will not go there, and no one has any business going THERE, either.)

Coach, your program is failing. It’s not just the wins and losses part of things, either. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Your record over the past five seasons is going to be hovering right around .500 and frankly, that’s an ‘F’ in most gradebooks. First let’s visit the reality on the ground.

Most of those of us knowledgeable regarding football contracts and other money matters understand that the Athletic Department is hemorrhaging capital this season. Under normal circumstances, it’s not a wealthy program. However, this past several seasons have been moving from bad to worse (maybe worst would be appropriate, here). Your contract buyout is high enough that your dismissal would make it nearly impossible to hire another coaching staff. Certainly, you and your agent are fully aware of this situation. So, your hotseat has been radically cooled by a huge chunk of change that would be due upon separation. Even the post season guarantee is high enough to be daunting. This won’t be the case as we approach the end of your contract, and any sort of renegotiated extension is unlikely to happen. That means even if you stay, unless you find some measure of success in 2021, there would be a full-on revolt from the fan base if you were extended. So, the reality on the ground is that you probably have exactly one season to get this right and save yourself. Barring that you are unlikely to be coaching in Blacksburg in 2022. (This is not a casual analysis, so let’s stipulate that you’ll have one season left.)

Before we get to how you might fix things, let’s see where you have driven off the road and are now grinding through the woods. The first problem is that you allowed friendships to supersede quality coaching. Your Offensive Coordinator is not capable of planning and execution of anything approaching sophistication (even at the college level). A note, is the disappointing failure of Paxton Lynch at the NFL level. He was incapable of reading defenses, on-field game management, and preparation. Your offense does not work, and has not worked since Jerod Evans followed you from the Memphis recruiting circuit. Evans was capable of running your 6 play one-read and go quarterback run heavy system. In addition, the passing scheme is so basic, and the route designs and concepts so spare that most passes are either low percentage deep shots, fades to the seams, and the remainder short screens behind or at the line of scrimmage.

The fundamental reality, again, is that it does not work. Four out of five seasons of inconsistency is ample enough evidence. Your boundary side bias is also marginal strategy that makes the defense’s job much easier and limits your ability to operate in space. Power 5 defensive lines and linebackers live for beating blocks and blowing up plays run into blind alleys.

Your second issue is recruiting, some of that has been fed by the first issue – offensive players really aren’t interested in attending a program from which little or no notice will be taken by the next level. Make no mistake about it that’s the goal of most 4 and 5-star recruits. I won’t bother pushing out the ACC recruiting rankings for each season; but suffice it to say, you are standing neck deep in the outhouse – and that is ranking in the ACC. There just doesn’t seem to be a focus and purpose to your recruiting. Many fans, this is a Virginia school if you hadn’t noticed, are livid that you’ve practically abandoned the state. I cannot pretend to understand what is going through your staffs’ minds at the moment, but limited success at putting a good offensive line on the field, and picking up some advantageous transfers doesn’t seem to be a great result. Quarterback development has been a problem, and even worse, because they are running so much their unannounced injuries are seriously crippling to the already limited offense. Your long-term prospects for bringing in home grown talent are beginning to fade, and that’s what also eventually starved Frank Beamer’s teams after 2009.

The last issue is your complete failure at communication. If you are a great guy with a great way of doing things… no one has a clue about it. You are the master of ‘coach talk’. Which means you say nothing specific whenever possible. Now, with all of the problems you are spending any good will capital as you refuse to admit that you have a serious problem and then get miffed at the media for daring to ask the question as to how you intend to fix it.

The “I don’t see a problem, it’s just execution” excuse ran out several seasons ago. That’s a form of blaming the players and non-play calling assistants. Fans see through that old “bad High School coach” gambit. You might take it under advisement. No one is saying you are ever going to show up as a back slapping, hail fellow well met type; but more than a few Communications experts have noted that your public relations skills are right there with Brad Cornelsen’s game planning and play calling. This is about how you handle things, not the AD’s staff. They have to deal with what they have to deal with, and right now, they are dealing with a coach and coaching staff that is in crisis and fails to recognize it.

So, how do you save your 2021 season? You have to understand that your slack is gone. A great deal of the vocal fan base wants you gone two years ago. The remainder just is holding on to their flags, pennants, and tee-shirts in hopes of seeing a glimmer of hope of returning to Division 1 Power 5 respectability.

I am going to make this last paragraphs really quick. First, fix your offense. The defensive coaches were already handicapped by newness, and lack of practice. We understand that. Your offense, however, does not work. It is wrong for the personnel that you have, and frankly, not even sophisticated enough to work at a G5 or even FCS level. Spread it out. Put an Air Raid on the field, give your players a chance to do something, instead of repeatedly running the same six failing plays into the line and punting. Your “explosiveness” is pure sandlot, and until you admit that, you aren’t going to win much.

You are losing future players faster than they can grow up to play ball in college. Your recruiting is only marginal. This is a tough year, yes, but there were signs that things weren’t working very well before COVID struck. Find a Virginia recruiting expert, and find some players outside of the normal feed chutes who might be developed. But continuing to do what you are doing is not working.

Finally, find someone to help you with your personal and staff public relations. Open scrimmages to the public. Engage with your players on the sideline. Study some films of Bud Foster on the sideline with his players. You don’t see Dabo Swinney or Brent Venables passively standing there talking to no one and interacting with nothing. Get more mass access and press access events scheduled. Make yourself available for public events. Do something positive – the team and coaching staff used to help move the new students into the dorms. Do an annual health and fitness program activity at Hokie Wellness. Heck, just show up at Hokie Wellness on the drill field to say hello, talk up the conditioning program, staying fit and healthy. DO SOMETHING!

The head coach of any team is first and foremost a manager of the image of the team. You don’t seem to have a very good grasp on that. My suggestion is to take 1/4th of that 4 million a year that the AD is paying you and hire a few PR folks, and listen to them. Actually, that might be my best advice to you. I am reminded of a quick anecdote told by a now famous starting pro offensive lineman. He loves to fish, and came up to you and noted that you were reputed to like fishing, too. He asked if you had tried any local fishing holes and told you that there were some good places for catching small mouth bass, on the New River. You admonished him for not concentrating on football. Perhaps you should have talked a bit about fishing. It certainly wouldn’t have hurt. He seemed pretty disappointed in your response and your relationship with him soured.

I have a final observation and piece of advice. You don’t listen. Your ego is in the way, and my guess is Jerry Kill told you that. It didn’t sink in. Perhaps, with all of the noise you might actually get the urge to listen for a change.

Good Luck,

TMF and the Gobbler Country Staff