With Frank Beamer set to retire at the end of the season, Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock now has the unenviable task of replacing the legendary coach. Here are some candidates to keep an eye on:
Prior to the season, Beamer said that he hoped his successor would be someone from his current staff. If that's the way the school decides to go, Bud Foster would be at the top of the list.
Foster has spent his entire coaching career with Beamer, starting as a graduate assistant at Murray State in 1981. He came to Virginia Tech with Beamer in 1987 as the inside linebackers coach and became the defensive coordinator in 1995.
Long considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the nation, Foster has turned down other jobs to stay at Virginia Tech including an offer prior to this season to become the coordinator at Texas A&M. Foster has expressed interest in one day becoming a head coach, but at 56 years old and after so much time in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech may be the only viable option at this point.
As far as we know, there has been no coach in waiting situation at Virginia Tech -- Foster will be just another name on a list of many to replace Beamer. Foster has been very loyal to the school and obviously would bring some consistency to a team that has had the same head coach for the past 29 years.
Last season when Frank Beamer underwent throat surgery, however, it was not Foster who took over as the team prepared for the Military Bowl, but Shane Beamer. If the team would not turn to Foster for the bowl game, would Babcock really promote him to head coach now? At this point, that does not seem likely.
Beamer has served as the associate head coach at Virginia Tech since 2011. The only reason to keep an eye on him is Frank's comments on his successor and, as I wrote above, because it was Beamer and not Foster who took over the team for the Military Bowl.
Beamer has never served as an offensive or defensive coordinator, however, so it's hard to believe he would be considered as a serious candidate. Should he be hired, the move would reek of cronyism.
Justin Fuente is going to be on the short list for every coaching job in the nation this offseason. As the head coach at Memphis, he has brought a perennial loser to heights previously thought impossible.
Did anyone think they would ever see Memphis upset a team like Ole Miss?
Because of what he's done in Memphis, Babcock would not be doing his due diligence if he did not at least find out if Fuente has any interest in coming to Blacksburg.
Fuente has an offensive background which would certainly be a change of pace for Virginia Tech, but considering how the offense has struggled in recent years that may not be a bad thing. Bringing in an offensive coach also leaves open the door for Foster to remain as defensive coordinator.
In his first season at Houston, Tom Herman has led the Cougars to an 8-0 record. Before becoming the head coach at Houston, he won a national championship with Ohio State as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer. When you're the architect of an offense that won the first College Football Playoff with a third-string quarterback, clearly you know what you're doing.
Herman is also recruiting well at Houston, despite having to recruit against a number of big name teams in the state of Texas. His Texas and Ohio ties could be a major boon for Virginia Tech recruiting.
Herman has a grand total of one year of experience as a head coach. Being able to recruit Texas kids to a Texas school is one thing, but how much will those ties help him in Blacksburg? I believe he will hold out for a Power Five job closer to the Lone Star state where he can continue milking that pipeline.
The current defensive coordinator at Alabama, Kirby Smart is apparently very interested in the Virginia Tech job, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today.
Smart joined Nick Saban's staff in 2006 with the Miami Dolphins and followed him to Alabama. He has served as the defensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide since 2008. In that time, Alabama has finished in the top five in terms of total defense six times and is on pace to do it again this season.
Smart's defensive experience certainly would fit in well with the culture at Virginia Tech. Learning from one of the best coaches in the history of college football is a definite plus and he should be able to recruit in the south, something Virginia Tech desperately needs to do better.
Smart has no experience as a head coach and would not be the first assistant from a prominent coaching tree to fail to make the jump. Coaching a defense with its pick of the top recruits in the nation is also a bit different than what Smart will face in Blacksburg.
You also have to wonder if an SEC coach would leave for an ACC job. The fact that Smart's level of interest came out so quickly after Beamer announced he was retiring could be a calculated move by him or his agent to get a better deal at another job, such as at South Carolina.
While most people associate Rich Rodriguez with his disastrous tenure in Michigan, he did raise West Virginia to national prominence so clearly he knows how to recruit in that general region. Babcock was working as an administrator at West Virginia while Rodriguez was there so there is a relationship between the two.
Despite the success he has had at Arizona, the Wildcats will never be able to supplant a team like USC in terms of prominence and he will always be competing with Arizona State within his own state. The ACC Coastal is wide open and begging for a team to take control of the division.
Heading from Arizona to Virginia Tech may seem like a lateral move, but there are seemingly fewer obstacles in the way in Blacksburg than in Tucson.
The long time coach at Georgia may be on his way out of Athens and will quickly become one of the top coaching candidates in the nation. Despite the impatience of the Georgia fan base, Richt has had a successful tenure at Georgia with six division titles and two SEC Championships. He has also won SEC Coach of the year twice. Being able to survive 15 seasons in the most competitive conference in the nation is an accomplishment in itself.
What should really excite Virginia Tech fans is the fact that Georgia has had a top 15 recruiting class in every year of Richt's tenure according to Rivals. With southern schools raiding the tidewater region of Virginia, Richt would be able to start bringing more of those big time prospects to Blacksburg as well as recruit the south.
Richt will be one of, if not the most sought after coach if he is indeed let go by Georgia, but with his ties to the south, I do not see him heading west for a team like USC and I don't see him staying within the division to go to South Carolina. The program to watch is Richt's alma mater, Miami.
Virginia Tech is in a much better position in terms of facilities and fan support than Miami and can likely offer a bigger contract, but it may be hard for Richt to spurn The U for a team in the same division.
MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Beamer family gets emotional talking about Frank's retirement