From the sidelines
By Marty Gordon
Sometimes, it is hard to say goodbye. On a day when Virginia Tech honored a long list of seniors at Lane Stadium, there were many questions about whether it would be the last appearance for head coach Justin Fuente on the Hokie sidelines.
Fans, including many in the stands on Saturday, have expressed their displeasure in the football team’s success or should we say lack thereof. Fuente has been on the hot seat since last year but so far has weathered the storm. Now, the question: Is he out or is he still the coach of the Burgundy and orange. For this week, he is still in.
The online chat forums have called for his head after losses to Boston College and Syracuse. He was even booed by the crowd at Lane. Not something any head coach is hoping to experience.
In play is a decrease in the amount a buyout could cost the university to let him go before his contract runs out. That date is around December 15 when the amount would drop by $2.5 million. But onlookers wonder if the university can wait as recruiting hangs in a balance. Recent commits have stood the ground, and so far, none have “decommitted” in the midst of Fuente’s hot-seat discussion.
Getting rid of Fuente could cost the university anywhere from $7.5 to $10 million.
The Hokies can still be bowl eligible if they can get by Miami and Virginia in the final two games of the year, which are both on the road.
Saturday, Fuente was all smiles as the team managed to produce one of its best games of the season and maybe of his career here in Blacksburg with the defeat of Duke.
He has avoided questions about his future, even saying he has no control of that and will keep doing what he is doing: coaching the Hokies on a week-to-week basis.
But that has not squelched the discussion as to who might be his replacement. As a matter of fact, the next coach talk has taken center stage not just locally and regionally, but nationally.
After the game, Fuente praised those outgoing seniors who were honored on Senior Day.
“Thanks to everyone for coming out and supporting us,” the head coach said. “It was a special day for those seniors, and I’m happy to send them out in their last home game on a positive note. I’m proud of our kids and their perseverance through tough, adverse times. They continue to amaze all of us in this building who see them every day with their resilient nature and their care for each other. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Inspiring, quite honestly, to all the coaches and everybody around them. They’re a great group of kids.”
Fuente was named Virginia Tech’s head coach on November 29, 2015, after orchestrating a dramatic resurrection of the football fortunes at the University of Memphis.
The Hokies enter their sixth season under Fuente in 2021. Through Saturday’s game, he has compiled a 43-31 record in Blacksburg. While the coach’s overall mark is not terribly bad, expectations for the Tech program have pushed the demands even higher.
Media members skated around the subject during the post-game press conference.
The non-asked question might have been: “Coach, what would you say if this was your last appearance in Lane Stadium?” A simple wave might not be enough for the Hokie fans who seem to have already written off Fuente and a return to the sideline in 2022.