For a good portion of the day on Friday, the Virginia Tech Hokies were the lead story on all of ESPN. I initially saw #VirginiaTech trending on Twitter—or X—and quickly saw there was a “bombshell” story over on ESPN.com regarding Virginia Tech football.
So, I headed over to ESPN and saw the Hokies, front and center, in a story titled, “Why Virginia Tech unraveled after Frank Beamer’s tenure — can the Hokies recover?”
Essentially, the story began around the end of the Frank Beamer era, through the entire Justin Fuente era, and ends with new head coach Brent Pry. It was an excellent look back over the last several years by Andrea Adelson.
My first thought, there wasn’t a lot in there that we didn’t already know. Sure, there were some details that came off as alarming, but we knew the Hokies were struggling in Beamer’s final years, especially when it came to funding and recruiting. After all, those things go hand in hand.
Adelson identified the frosty relationship between Beamer’s former top aide, John Ballein, and Fuente. Several people spoke off the record in the story, including former staffers, coaches and players. Some, like former quarterback Quincy Patterson, spoke on the record.
We aren’t going to delve into the downfall of the Hokies. In fact, we’ve done it over and over and over in recent years. We’ve acknowledged Beamer’s final years, as hard as it was for us to do. We’ve been on the record on how Fuente did so much wrong. We’ve talked about the Hokies being cheap. The truth is, whether you liked Fuente or not, there was plenty of blame to go around.
Fuente, of course, didn’t help things with his public persona. He didn’t embrace the community the way Beamer did and continues to do, or like Pry does. Fuente and his staff essentially killed recruiting relationships within the state of Virginia.
Pry has detailed the importance of recruiting in Virginia. Of course, with NIL and the transfer portal, things will never be the way they were under Beamer. But Pry’s efforts have begun to pay off. The Hokies have secured commitments from some of the state’s best players for 2024; now they just need to sign them and keep them on campus.
But back to Adelson’s story. The financial numbers, some of which we knew, were still shocking, such as the oft-criticized Nike deal. Virginia Tech fans know all too well the Hokies have been locked into a horrible deal with Nike by today’s standards.
Players also pointed to their apparel, a matter of pride for many college athletes. Virginia Tech’s Nike contract, which pays roughly $1.98 million in cash and apparel annually, ranked among the worst deals in the Power 5. Babcock said players got everything they needed, but some complained gear was in short supply.
The stunning part came when one former player talked about needing new gloves, and if you lost your initial pair, well, then you were screwed. Fuente, to his credit, worked with his coaches to pool together extra gear to give to players in a reward system.
There was also a story about weights. The Hokies remodeled the weight room in 2021 but didn’t buy new weights. Eventually, Tech did buy new weights.
Several former players spoke in the story, and the theme remained the same.
Things have changed recently under Pry. And those changes began under Fuente. Better times are indeed ahead. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Hokies will ever reach their Beamer-era success again. Pry does appear to be the right man for the job, but he needs to win — and soon.
Athletic director Whit Babcock did speak in the story, so this wasn’t a hit piece on Virginia Tech, or Fuente, for that matter. Some defended Fuente while acknowledging some of his shortcomings. Fuente nor Ballein spoke to Adelson for the story.
It was a good recap of what’s been a tough time for Virginia Tech fans. But I think we can all agree that we are ready to look ahead and not behind.