For the first time since 1986, someone other than Frank Beamer will be coaching Virginia Tech next season. While the retention of Bud Foster provides for some continuity and new head coach Justin Fuente said he hopes to operate in much the same way as Beamer did, every coach wants to put his mark on a program. It would be unreasonable to think Fuente is just here to manage the house that Beamer built.
Make no mistake, changes are coming to Blacksburg. So what will this team look like under the new regime?
Defensively, this team should look very much the same. Foster is back and with him is secondary coach Torrian Gray and defensive line coach Charley Wiles. Fuente played as a quarterback and his coaching background is all on the offensive side of the ball. Foster should largely be left to run the defense which means there won't be many short-term changes.
Foster has not been shy about his desire to be a head coach and now with Beamer gone, he may not be as attached to the program as he was previously. It would not be shocking to see him leave in the next few years for a head coaching job or as a coordinator for a bigger program to garner more attention so he can eventually make the jump. Assuming Fuente is still in charge when Foster leaves, that will be one of the most important hires of Fuente's tenure.
The biggest immediate change to the program will come on offense.
Fuente has excelled in his career at developing quarterback talent from Andy Dalton while offensive coordinator at TCU to Paxton Lynch at Memphis. Just who Fuente's first quarterback will at Virginia Tech will be remains to be seen, but my money would be on JUCO transfer Jerod Evans, Fuente's first quarterback recruit to Blacksburg.
Brenden Motley performed admirably in place of the injured Michael Brewer this season, but did little to instill confidence in his ability to lead the team for a full season. With Dwayne Lawson considered the future of the program and the current climate of college sports in which so many players transfer, I do not believe Fuente would have pursued Evans and risk a possible transfer from Lawson if he was not confident Evans would be the starter. Now he will have to make sure Lawson is on board with the plan so as not to lose one of the team's top recruits in recent years.
With Fuente comes Brad Cornelsen as the new offensive coordinator. Cornelsen was with Fuente all four years at Memphis as quarterbacks coach and was named the co-offensive coordinator for the past season. The Tigers' offense improved steadily during their tenure together at Memphis going from the 113th ranked offense in 2012 to 19th in 2015. That should be music to the ears of Hokies fans as the offense has been an issue for Virginia Tech in recent years.
While Fuente's biggest challenge off the field will obviously be replacing Frank Beamer in the hearts and minds of the Hokie faithful, his biggest challenge on the field will be developing a dynamic offense that has been largely lethargic since Tyrod Taylor left.
Luckily for Fuenete, he will have plenty of skill to work with in his first season. Wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips will return as will tight end Bucky Hodges and running back Travon McMillian. If Fuente can work his quarterback magic, then this could be a strong offense next season.
In order to restore Virginia Tech to national prominence, Fuente will also have to re-establish Virginia Tech in the Tidewater/Virginia Beach region for recruits. Virginia recruits began moving south to the SEC or to other ACC schools like North Carolina and Florida State in recent years. Fuente has proven himself to be a strong recruiter already, not only building a program out of nothing in Memphis, but in what he has done in his short time at Virginia Tech and it's already paying dividends. It seems he understand the challenge and importance of bringing the state's best players to Blacksburg.
So what can we expect from Fuente's Virginia Tech? An improved offense, defensive consistency and re-invigorate recruiting. That sounds like a winning formula for the Hokies.
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