Virginia Tech’s Spring Game this past Saturday gave Tech fans a small glimpse of what is to come in the 2019 season; while the quarterback competition continues to be the focus heading into the fall, head coach Justin Fuente’s job security might become the bigger story.
After taking over for Hall of Fame coach Frank Beamer in 2015, Fuente was named 2016 ACC coach of the year after leading the Hokies to a 9–3 regular season record and representing the Coastal Division in the ACC title game against Clemson. With similar success in 2017, Fuente became the first Virginia Tech head coach to post 19 wins in his first two seasons with the program. The early success was enough for Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock to extend Fuente’s tenure through the 2023 season, but a 6–7 record in 2018 raised some questions from Tech fans.
Beamer's influence on the Virginia Tech football program is not taken for granted in Blacksburg. Beamer earned 23 straight winning seasons and built a culture of football that fans grew accustomed to and have been proud of. The Hokies got off to a promising start in 2018 with a road win against Florida State, but the third game of the season featured starting quarterback Josh Jackson suffering a season-ending leg injury against Old Dominion, a game Tech would shockingly lose 49–35. Although the Hokies remained a competitive football team throughout the season, a play-in game with Marshall was needed to get into the Military Bowl, a game they lost to Cincinnati 35–31.
Fuente’s upcoming season is his most important one to date. When legendary coaches like Beamer leave teams in college football, it normally isn’t until the third, fourth and fifth seasons where teams start to see the entirety of what the new head coach is bringing to the table. As the college football world revolves around recruiting, we will truly start to see what kind of players Fuente is bringing into this program, while also seeing how well Fuente can develop the talent that he has already.
The quarterback position is going to play the most integral part in Fuente’s success moving forward. Fuente was marveled for his development of Josh Jackson in 2016 and 2017, but Jackson decided to enter the transfer portal in his final year of eligibility. After a year in which the Hokies’ offense ranked 39th in the country led by quarterback Ryan Willis — who showed potential, but also serious areas to improve on — it is still to be determined if Fuente is the coach that can develop the redshirt senior into a solid quarterback. The development of the highly recruited dual threat quarterback Quincy Patterson II is also something to be monitored as well. If there is no significant improvement in both of these players in 2019, Fuente’s seat will get even hotter.
With all of that being said, there are a multitude of factors that go into a losing season, and Fuente isn’t the only person to blame for 2018’s shortcomings. Bud Foster’s defense was ranked 85th last year among 130 qualified teams, and games against Old Dominion, Georgia Tech and Pitt highlighted its inability to stop teams from scoring.
At the end of the day, college football is dominated by the best coaches who recruit the best players. Coaches like Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer are incredibly hard to come by, so it is important that the Hokies have a coach who is not only building a winning culture, but also making Blacksburg a place where the top recruits want to come. Fuente very well may be the man for the job, but questions will have to be answered in 2019.