Justin Fuente, who had a 43-31 record in six seasons at Virginia Tech, is out as the Hokies’ football coach, athletic director Whit Babcock announced Tuesday.
Defensive line coach J.C. Price will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season while the school starts a national search to fill the position.
“We sincerely appreciate the contributions that Coach Fuente made to our football program and the positive impact he made on our student-athletes during his time at Virginia Tech,” Babcock said in a statement. “While it is never easy to make a change, I believe in order for our football program to attain the type of sustained success that is expected at Virginia Tech, the time was right for new leadership of our football program.”
By making the move now, the Hokies will owe a $10 million buyout to Fuente. Had they waited until Dec. 15, the buyout would have decreased to $7.5 million.
Including his four seasons as coach at Memphis, Fuente has a career record of 69-54.
“To the many incredible young men that I had the privilege to coach, so many of you have made a lasting impact on our family,” Fuente said in a statement. “I can’t thank you enough for your dedication and your commitment to doing your very best, whether that was on the field, in the classroom or in your personal lives.
“… Thank you to the fans of Hokie Nation. I would encourage all of you to continue cheering on this football team — your support means so much to all of them.”
Fuente was hired from Memphis in 2015 to replace legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, and initially the move was applauded for a variety of reasons. Not only had Fuente resurrected a struggling Memphis program in four seasons — including a 10-win season in 2014 — but he also agreed to keep on defensive coordinator Bud Foster, one of the pillars of the Hokies’ success under Beamer.
Fuente was also known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, during his time at Memphis and previously as offensive coordinator at TCU — and offense was the biggest area Virginia Tech needed to address. In the final years under Beamer, it became a constant struggle to make bowl eligibility with an offense that was not nearly as productive as it needed to be.
At the outset, Fuente found great success, going 10-4 with a close loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game. The next year, the Hokies won nine games. But soon, issues started coming to the surface. Foster no longer was as effective as defensive coordinator, and that unit started to struggle, and he stepped down after the 2019 season.
Virginia Tech was hit particularly hard by player transfers as well. By May 2021, the Hokies had lost 43 players to the portal — including former starting quarterbacks Josh Jackson (Maryland) and Hendon Hooker (Tennessee). Fuente struggled to recruit the Virginia area, but perhaps the biggest failure of all was his inability to develop a quarterback after Jerod Evans left following the 2016 season. That Hooker has gone on to find immediate success with Tennessee this season has only served to underscore that point.
In addition, Fuente rubbed some people in Blacksburg the wrong way when he had discussions with Baylor about its open head-coaching job in 2020. Despite all the negativity that was swirling around the program once 2020 ended, after a 5-6 season, Babcock made the decision to stick with Fuente for one more season.
“I believe in Justin,” Babcock said at the time. “It’s not always the fashionable thing to keep somebody when everybody is yelling, but he’s our guy and I believe he gives us the best chance to be successful.”
But the same issues persisted into this season, as Virginia Tech sits at 5-5 headed into its game at Miami on Saturday. Most striking, of course, are the continued struggles on offense — where Braxton Burmeister has been unable to get things turned around at quarterback for the Hokies. Add in stinging last-minute losses to West Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse — with the Hokies blowing chances to win late in each game — and it became too untenable to continue with Fuente as coach.
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