After six years as head coach, the Virginia Tech Hokies dismissed Justin Fuente on Tuesday. The decision was expected, but the timing was strange considering the Hokies blew out Duke on Saturday, and Fuente met with the media on Monday.
Now, the Hokies are once again looking for a new football coach, just six years after the legendary Frank Beamer retired.
So, what’s next for Virginia Tech?
We’ve compiled the first version of our coaching board, which will feature several names, many of whom probably aren’t even under consideration. Still, their names have been bandied about through various outlets.
On Tuesday, athletic director Whit Babcock said he would prefer someone with head-coaching experience, and his previous hires in other sports indicate that line of thinking. We will still include some coordinators on this list for different reasons.
Babcock has tended to work fast in the past. With only two weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s possible the Hokies could have a coach by the first of December.
Now, here is our coaching hot board. And, these are in NO particular order.
Billy Napier is someone Virginia Tech fans really like. Various media outlets have linked Napier to the Hokies over the past year if, of course, there would be a vacancy in Blacksburg. There is now a vacancy. The Louisiana coach has plenty of other options, too. A former assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama and Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Napier has done an outstanding job at Louisiana.
All Chadwell has done at Coastal Carolina is win. He had the Chanticleers up to No. 14 in 2020. Before he became the coach at Coastal, he was the head coach at Charleston-Southern, where he had success but had to vacate several wins to NCAA violations. That is a concern for more prominent schools. Chadwell is a good coach, who runs a unique offense, and he will move up this offseason, whether it is at Virginia Tech or not.
Look, you knew Shane Beamer was making this list. I don’t see it happening. First, I don’t believe Babcock would hire him. Secondly, Beamer stated on Tuesday he was extremely happy at South Carolina. In his first season, Beamer has done a terrific job as a head coach with a flawed roster. Again, this one is not happening.
Clawson is a program-builder. He’s been outstanding at every stop, from Fordham to Richmond to Bowling and now with Wake Forest. He has the Demon Deacons at 9-1 in 2021. He runs a prolific offense and knows how to develop talent. This doesn’t feel like the move because Clawson doesn’t have the recruiting chops Virginia Tech seeks, and he seems extremely happy at Wake Forest.
You want to talk about a potential high-ceiling hire, that is Will Healy of Charlotte. A former college quarterback at Richmond under Clawson, Healy has two head-coaching stops on his young resume where he inherited massive rebuilds. While his record has yet to reflect the work he’s done, he’s proven he can recruit at the lower levels. Power-Five recruiting would be a whole new ballgame. I doubt this one happens, but his name is out there. The Fuente experience hurts Healy, as does his overall track record of success. Fans will see that 27-36 record and go after Babcock on Twitter.
Marshall head coach Charles Huff has a much higher ceiling than Healy. Huff, 38, has worked under Saban at Alabama and James Franklin at Penn State. He’s an elite recruiter who played college football at Hampton. He is 6-4 in his first season at Marshall, so he lacks head-coaching experience. But I implore you to watch Huff speak, and you’ll likely run through a brick wall for him. He’s a very intriguing candidate, who Hokie fans would like.
I don’t expect Freeze to be a real candidate. Babcock stressed the importance of representing Virginia Tech the right way. He also mentioned background checks. Freeze’s past at Ole Miss is checkered with violations, which likely makes his candidacy a non-starter for the Hokies. Freeze runs a prolific offense and has a quarterback in Malik Willis, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Willis is also a former Virginia Tech commit before flipping his college choice to Auburn in 2016.
Herman, 46, is working as an offensive analyst in the NFL with the Chicago Bears this season. If you recall, he was a part of the 2015-16 hiring cycle that featured Fuente. Herman was hired by Texas and lasted five years before being fired in January. Herman checks some boxes, as he is an outstanding recruiter. Outside of that, though, he doesn’t seem like a natural fit at Virginia Tech. The new coach needs to fit the culture at Virginia Tech. That doesn’t feel like Herman.
Moorhead, 48, is the current offensive coordinator at Oregon. He is another former head coach with an impressive resume. He led Fordham to a 38-13 record before stepping up in competition in 2016 to be Penn State’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. He did so well there; he became the head coach of Mississippi State in 2018. He only lasted two years in Starkville, but do some research, and you’ll see he didn’t exactly get a fair shake there. Moorhead is a respected coach with connections who knows the region reasonably well from his time at Penn State.
Mike Elko is the current defensive coordinator of the Texas A&M Aggies. He, too, checks some boxes. Elko took over as Texas A&M defensive coordinator in 2018. He took over a terrible defense and, under his watch, has steadily become one of the best in the country. And, have you seen A&M’s 2022 recruiting class? He can recruit. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been a head coach. He worked for Clawson at multiple stops before moving to Notre Dame in 2017 and A&M in 2018. I like Elko as a candidate.
Josh Gattis is another intriguing name. The current offensive coordinator at Michigan, Gattis, spent four years at Penn State and one season at Alabama before agreeing to be Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator in 2018. The former All-ACC wide receiver at Wake Forest had made the previously unwatchable Michigan offense a respectable unit. Another interesting nugget about the 37-year-old Gattis is he has a strong tie to Babcock. While Babcock prefers a candidate with head-coaching experience, Gattis is another who could become a star. Much like Elko, I believe Gattis could be a strong hire.
Freeman, 35, is the current defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Before coming to South Bend in 2021, Freeman spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati under Luke Fickell. I like several candidates on this list. Freeman may be my favorite. A former Ohio State linebacker, Freeman, will be a head coach very soon. Why not at Virginia Tech? Is there a risk? Sure. But there are risks with every potential coach in this cycle. Freeman has everything. He’s young, successful, charismatic and he can recruit. Oh, and he can coach, too. Someone is going to hire Freeman soon. Why not the Hokies?
We will keep you posted on Virginia Tech’s coaching search and profile any new names we hear in the mix. For now, GO HOKIES!