Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock is a smart man. The athletic director at Virginia Tech since 2014, Babcock has made some good decisions, especially as it pertains to head-coaching hires.
On Monday, Babcock made the biggest non-move of his tenure when it was reported the Hokies would retain Justin Fuente as the head football coach.
Justin Fuente is likely returning next season at Virginia Tech, industry sources told @Stadium. The school announced a Tuesday news conference regarding football topics— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 14, 2020
In recent weeks, the rumor mill was red-hot over Fuente’s future with the team. You had some arguing there was no money to replace Fuente, while the other camp steadfastly said, yes, the money was there.
Apparently, the astute Babcock doesn’t understand the basic economic principle of sunk cost.
On Tuesday, Fuente’s buyout would go from $12.5 million to $10 million, leading many to speculate a change was on the horizon.
Had Babcock parted ways with Fuente on Tuesday, it would have cost Virginia Tech $10 million.
Meanwhile, another subpar recruiting class followed by yet another mediocre season will cost Virginia Tech much more in the long run.
So, why did Babcock choose to roll with Fuente another season despite mediocre results on the field and a continued decline in recruiting?
There are two trains of thought here. The first being, Babcock didn’t get the guy he wanted.
Whether it be Luke Fickell, Billy Napier, or Tony Elliott, perhaps Babcock made a run and couldn’t strike a deal. Instead of settling on a Plan-B hire, Babcock decided to give Fuente one more opportunity and wait for the next coaching cycle.
Or, perhaps, Babcock was simply apprehensive about making a move.
Babcock has to nail his next football coach, or he could be on the hot seat. And, make no mistake, Virginia Tech will be in the market for a new coach — sooner than later.
Earlier on Monday, the Hokies announced that Babcock would field questions on the state of the football program on Tuesday afternoon via Zoom. You can probably expect a bunch of non-answers, such as the university’s new financial commitment to football and giving Fuente the additional resources he needs to compete at the highest level.
Oh, and COVID. Yes, COVID-19 has affected everyone. That’s not to be disputed. But don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it has only affected Virginia Tech.
Give me a break.
You can’t teach someone something that doesn’t exist within them. You magically think Fuente will become this happy extrovert, selling his plan to Virginia Tech’s top donors, mending fences with former players, all the while making the Hokies a force on the recruiting trail?
It is not going to happen.
Look, fans could buy this type of situation two years ago that the head coach would look within himself and make the requisite changes to turn the Hokies. Now, no one buys it.
A historic home loss to Duke, losses to Liberty, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Pittsburgh gives everyone all the data points they need.
Fuente’s not the guy.
He can’t recruit, and the offense — his specialty — continues to regress. Quarterback play — his expertise — continues to regress. Yet, instead of Fuente looking in the mirror and realizing something needed to change, he insisted it was the “most ludicrous crap” he’d ever heard about taking over playcalling duties.
Babcock knows this isn’t working. He’s too smart. But instead of fixing it, he’s willing to let Fuente burn more bridges and put the Hokies another year behind in terms of returning to relevance. Look, when I say relevance, I don’t mean a trip to the College Football Playoff; I mean competing for the ACC Coastal title.
That’s the bar, folks.
For many Virginia Tech fans, seeing Shane Beamer take the head-coaching job at South Carolina was bittersweet. Everyone wants to see him succeed with the Gamecocks; however, many wanted him in Blacksburg.
Would that have been a good move? Who knows. It certainly would’ve excited the fan base and donors.
The Virginia Tech fan base has become apathetic. That’s a dangerous place to be. And it’s going to get worse.
If fans are allowed back in the fall, what will Lane Stadium look like? I expect full crowds because fans have missed football. But what if the Hokies have another bad loss in September?
Richmond is on the schedule for 2021; what happens if the Spiders are the latest team from the state of Virginia to dethrone the Hokies? Fuente has already lost to Old Dominion and Liberty.
It could happen.
Now that Fuente is staying for 2021, he better make some staff changes. Having Brad Cornelsen trot out there as offensive coordinator again next season is akin to him giving a middle finger to Virginia Tech fans.
As stated many times in this space, I do not doubt that Justin Fuente is a terrific human being. However, that doesn’t make him the right guy to be the head football coach at Virginia Tech.
In announcing Fuente’s return to Virginia Tech for the 2021 season, Babcock essentially just kicked the can down the road.
Virginia Tech will be in the same position next winter after another disappointing season. And while the buyout may be less, the other financial ramifications may be far more significant.