November 30, 2015
Fuente thankful for opportunity to be the head coach at Tech
The former Memphis coach said he admired the Hokies from afar for many years and always wanted to be a part of something like what the program has become
Quotes from the Fuente Press Conference

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and AD Whit Babcock quotes

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster quotes

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech new football coach Justin Fuente met with the media, athletics department staff members, and players on Monday in the football players’ lounge less than 24 hours after Tech AD Whit Babcock announced the hiring of Fuente to replace retiring coach Frank Beamer.

The 39-year-old Fuente, whose wife and three daughters were also in attendance, comes to Tech after spending four seasons at Memphis, where he turned around a program that had won just five games combined the three seasons before he arrived. In the past two seasons, he led Memphis to a 19-6 mark, including a 9-3 record this season.

“Justin was absolutely our top choice and the only one we offered the job to,” Babcock told the audience. “I know that every AD will say that, but I sincerely want to assure you that it's true. And also to sit up here in front of you today and say, my saddle is hitched to him and vice versa, as well as our 22 other coaches, but he and I are in it together, and I'm proud to tell you he was the top choice and the one we wanted, and I'm thrilled that he said ‘yes.’”

Babcock was familiar with Fuente from Babcock’s days as the AD at Cincinnati. During that time, the American Athletic Conference invited Memphis into the league, and Cincinnati and Memphis became league opponents. Babcock first met Fuente at a league meeting. He also became aware of the football situation at Memphis, which was bleak.

But Fuente gradually made the Tigers into winners. They went 4-8 and 3-9 during his first two seasons there, but went 10-3 last season and won the Miami Beach Bowl. They finished ranked in the top 25 of both The Associated Press poll and the USA Today/Amway poll for the first time in school history.

“Very rarely in coaching hires do you get this: A four-year window snapshot where you can directly attribute it to that coach and that staff, meaning a lot of places you come to, they're inheriting players and quarterbacks,” Babcock said. “They're [Fuente and his staff] doing this, all of that, and I know Justin would defer the credit, but to take Memphis – and you guys know the stats, they won, I believe, five games total in the three years before they got there. They started with 51 scholarship players in the first team meeting, and you can have 85. They won the first conference title at Memphis in 40-plus years while stepping up from Conference USA, [had its] first 10-win season since 1938, and in 2014, Coach Fuente was [conference] Coach of the Year. Most wins in a two-year period. They had a first-time-ever national ranking at the end of the year by the AP and USA Today in 2014, and then this year as high as 12th or 13th and on to beating Ole Miss.

“Coach Fuente got this job in large part for much more than beating Ole Miss, but I remember what I thought of when I saw the Memphis stats and the data, and to watch what they've built in four years, and to do that, that's when I started to think of Justin as the right guy.”

Fuente was widely sought after during what has been termed by those most knowledgeable about college football as one of the craziest offseasons in recent memories. Numerous high-profile “Power 5” schools are making coaching changes, including Southern Cal, South Carolina, Missouri, Miami, Virginia and others.

Fuente said a dozen schools approached him or his representatives. He was only interested in one job – Virginia Tech.

“I've admired this program from afar for many years, on television, the way the players have played, the way the fans have cheered, their traditions, the wins, the losses, the facilities, the support, the league changes, and I've always wanted to be a part of something like that,” Fuente said. “The thing about this job is it comes with all of those things wrapped up in a community that I cannot wait to raise my three girls in, and that was a huge contributing factor to me. I don't say that disparagingly about any place that I've ever lived. I'm just very thankful for the opportunities I've had beforehand and thankful for this opportunity.

“This is absolutely the job that I was interested in. Whit is correct – I had really no interest in anything else, just this, because of what it has been and what it can be and the community that comes along with it.”

Fuente met with the team and the man he would be replacing on Sunday night. He said it was intimidating walking into Beamer’s office and seeing all the conference and national Coach of the Year Awards, but Beamer made him feel welcome, and the two even talked about Murray State, where Beamer once coached and Fuente graduated.

“I just felt so great sitting in there and getting a chance to visit with him, and obviously we all know you don't replace a legend in coaching,” Fuente said. “You hope to build on what he's already done. You hope to continue to operate in the same manner with the same principles and the same integrity that he's done for so very many years here.”

Fuente brings to Tech an offensive philosophy that has been productive during his time as a coach. This season, his Memphis team ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense (42.7 ppg), 12th in total offense (510.4 ypg) and 14th in passing offense (324.4 ypg).

Prior to taking over at Memphis, he worked for five seasons at TCU. He spent his first two years there as the running backs coach before moving into the co-offensive coordinator role. He coached current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for two seasons.

TCU finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense all three seasons during his time as the co-coordinator. The Horned Frogs also finished in the top 20 in rushing offense all three seasons.

“We want to change the tempo,” Fuente said of his offensive philosophy. “That doesn't mean we want to go at such a speed that we hang the defensive side of the ball out to dry, so to speak, by making them play the whole game, but we do want to control the tempo. We have been a run-the-ball-first team. We have made big plays through play-action pass and moving the pocket and getting the ball on the perimeter, and that's what we'll continue to try to do.

“I believe that's the best way to have success as a team. [If] you can run the football, you're better on defense. You're better on offense. You're better on special teams. And then you can make some big plays through the play-action pass and getting the ball to the edge. We'll continue to change the tempo and start with running the football.”

Fuente already has started assembling his staff, and it starts with current Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who has agreed to remain aboard with Fuente. Foster has been on Beamer’s staff all 29 years and wanted to remain in Blacksburg.

Fuente and Foster met for roughly 90 minutes recently, and Foster came away excited. He had never met Fuente, but the two share an equal admiration for TCU head coach Gary Patterson.

“If I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to be the head coach, I’d love to be here still,” Foster said. “We’ve put a lot into this thing, and I think once I met Justin, I felt like he’s a great fit, and I’m excited about the opportunity of the offense he can generate. I’m just hoping we can continue defensively with what we’ve done – I don’t have any reason not to think we won’t.

“It’s going to be exciting. To work against that kind of offense when we do spring ball and fall camp and those things … there are a lot of things I can continue to learn and grow from. I can pick their brain and what gives them fits and vice versa. I’d like to think it’s a great fit, and hopefully, that’s how Justin feels keeping me around.

“I’m excited about the next chapter. What we’ve done here, we’ve leveled off the past couple of years, but it hasn’t been that long ago that we were playing in the Sugar Bowl. I’m excited about where we can go. Our expectations aren’t going to change. We’re going to work to be the very best we can be and win championships. I’ve felt all that talking to him.”

Fuente also has brought two coaches with him from Memphis – tight ends and special teams coach James Shibest and Holmon Wiggins, who coached receivers at Memphis. Those two were at the press conference and plan to recruit for Tech immediately.

Tech’s current coaching staff will coach the team in the bowl game, while the incoming staff will work out of the press box at Lane Stadium. Athletics department officials already have set up computers, printers and phone lines there.

“Absolutely, I will stay out of the way,” Fuente said of the Hokies’ bowl preparations. “Absolutely. I wouldn't even dream of getting in the way.

“I think it's an awesome benefit to get to be around and see and watch the kids interact and get a chance to not be – quite honestly, not be in charge of it, but just be able to sit back and observe and watch. So I think it's a huge advantage. I really do. I'm excited about it.”

The job brings Fuente to the East Coast for the first time in his career. All of his experience is from the Midwest and Southwest. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he played two seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to Murray State. He then coached at Illinois State, TCU and Memphis before landing in Blacksburg – the place he wanted to be.

“I'm incredibly humbled by this opportunity,” he said. “I cannot wait to get started. I have a deep respect for Virginia Tech and for this community. Thank you, Whit, thank you, President Sands, for letting me be the next football coach here.”

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