- College football reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
- Graduate of Northwestern University.
There are certain moments when a head coach’s fortunes flip for good.
Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente avoided one of those moments in late 2020, as a win over Virginia in the Commonwealth Cup ensured there wouldn’t be a coaching change in Blacksburg. Fuente entered this season on the hot seat, but the Hokies opened with a win over No. 10 North Carolina and took a 3-1 record into their home showdown with Notre Dame.
Virginia Tech took three separate leads against Notre Dame, and it seemed to be in front for good when it went up 29-21 with 3:55 to play. But the Hokies surrendered 10 points — including an inexplicable tying 2-point conversion — to fall 32-29.
For Fuente, the loss flipped everything, and there was no going back. After going 2-3 since the Notre Dame defeat, he’s out as Virginia Tech’s coach with a 43-31 record in five-plus seasons in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech’s hire of Fuente earned high marks. After an excellent run at Memphis, he looked like the right man to energize the Hokies after Hall of Famer Frank Beamer’s retirement. At first, he backed up the hype, leading Virginia Tech to the ACC championship game in his first season — he won league Coach of the Year honors that fall — and followed up with another Top 25 finish in 2017.
But things steadily declined from there, as Fuente won more than six games just once. Virginia Tech had an exodus of players in 2018.
The Hokies are now in the market for Fuente’s successor. Although this job isn’t LSU or USC, it should still be desirable for a range of candidates. Virginia Tech is a football-focused program in the always-winnable ACC Coastal Division, and it boasted national-level success under Beamer. Whit Babcock is a respected, well-connected athletic director. Fan support is excellent, although Virginia Tech has some financial limitations that candidates would need to investigate.
A big factor here is personality. Babcock needs to prioritize candidates the fans can truly embrace. They were used to the folksy, affable Beamer for decades. Fuente had a frostier approach, which turned the mood after the first few seasons.
Here’s a look at 11 names of head coaches and coordinators the Hokies could consider to replace Fuente.
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