Bud Foster is one memorable guy. His sideline tirades make Randy Savage look like Mr. Rogers, his defenses make Chuck Knoll’s look more silky than metallic, and his death stare could turn Medusa to stone.
But the man hailed as one of college football’s most imposing figures will be remembered as vividly for the impact he has off the field as the one he has on it.
No assistant coach is more respected or feared, and he has a couple dust collectors sitting on his shelf to prove it — a Defensive Coordinator of the Year honor from American Football Coaches Magazine in 2000 and the 2006 Broyles Award that certified him as the best assistant football coach in the country.
The guy has every reason to kick back and relax, but he approaches his job with as much vigor now as he did when he was first named Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator in 1995.
“He’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive, and he still pushes everybody to keep working hard every day,” said senior safety Eddie Whitley. “His fire, his drive — he’s been doing this for so long, and he’s still got that edge.”
To Foster, there’s always a life lesson he can impart on his pupils, maintaining the competitive spice that makes him great.
Raised in the coal mining regions of Illinois by modest hardware store owners, Foster’s blue-collar mentality took root at an early age. His passion for football grew at Nokomis High School under the direction of Dan Easterday, who served for 23 years as the Nokomis Redskins’ skipper.
Easterday took Foster under his wing, teaching him the fundamentals of football and life. The two remain close to this day, and Easterday has watched a game in Lane Stadium every year since Foster arrived in 1987.
In high school, Foster may not have been the most gifted player on the gridiron, but his work ethic and respect for the game filled in the cracks.
“I was a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Foster said. “I wasn’t blessed with great speed, but I was a good enough athlete. There were guys around me who maybe were better. In order to play in college, I had to practice hard, play hard ... I had to give my best to achieve, but that’s what the game demands to be successful.”
His best earned him a football scholarship to Murray State, where he played strong safety and linebacker from 1977 to 1980. During that time, some of college football’s most brilliant minds mentored him — a defensive coordinator named Frank Beamer and a defensive backs coach by the name of Ron Zook.
“I was very fortunate to be around some really good coaches, positive people, people that had a positive influence on me,” Foster said. “I really respected what coaches did, not just from a coaching standpoint, but how they treated people and how it motivated people.”
Just after Foster’s senior year, Beamer took the reins as Murray’s head coach in 1981. An aspiring coach, Foster knocked on Beamer’s new office door and told him about his dream — a conversation that resulted in Foster being named a student assistant.