Virginia Tech athletics released two announcements on Tuesday within three hours of one another. 1) Adam Lechtenberg was promoted from director of player development to Tech's tenth assistant coach. 2) Justin Fuente received a contract extension and an increase in salary pool for Tech's assistant coaches.
Joe and I decided to discuss the news dump with a back-and-forth over four downs. And we promise not to pass on the last two.
Is Bud Foster's retirement happening sooner than anyone wants to admit?
Foster is 58 years old and has coached at Virginia Tech since 1987. Even if he coaches for another 5 seasons, that sun's still setting sooner than many care to admit. That's because Foster is an institution at Tech, and LPD — life post-defensive 🐐 — is
hard scary to imagine. Hokie Nation's safety blanket has covered up a cold offense on plenty of Blacksburg nights. Without Foster, the only thing tucking in fans would've been a bourbon blanket.
GIFs are great segues.
Anyways, this discussion is prompted by the promotion of Galen Scott to assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties. It's worth noting Foster remains listed as associate head coach/defensive coordinator & linebackers coach, notably there's a "co-" absent.
Furthermore, from the Virginia Tech release (emphasis my own):
Scott will continue to play an integral role with Foster in implementing all aspects of Tech's defense.
And per the Daily Press, Foster will still call the defense on game day.
Perhaps assistant to the defensive coordinator is more appropriate.
Either way, the title change seemingly serves as either a retention or succession mechanism for Scott. Regarding the former, the Daily Press reported other schools reached out to Scott about a coordinator role; prudent. More on the latter below.
Brian: Here's the single most interesting line item buried in the Fuente news release:
Fuente indicated that Galen Scott has been promoted to assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties. Scott will continue to play an integral role with Foster in implementing all aspects of Tech's defense.
CUE THE PANIC! IS BUD GETTING DEMOTED? WHERE DO WE SHOW UP WITH THE TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS?
Nah, friends. I think we all need to come to the conclusion that Bud has had a frank conversation with Fuente about his future, primarily in that it won't last much longer. Foster's right around the age most normal (read: non-football) people start to hang it up. You have to wonder if he looks around, sees a program that's in the middle of a complete overhaul, and just thinks about becoming a full time wakeboarder/beard grower/intense grandpa.
The biggest change the Hokies have seen over the last two years isn't even the coaching overhaul, it's the reestablished tenacity when it comes to recruiting. Everyone has to pull their weight, and you have to wonder if the extra days on the road start to wear on a guy who's coming up on 60 (and maybe had an easier recruiting life at the end of the Beamer era).
If this were a Halfwits and Wagers article, I'd put the over/under on number of seasons Bud has left at 2.5. And I'd probably take the under. Wouldn't it make sense for him to head out at the same time as dudes like Mook, Trevon Hill, and Reggie Floyd, the final few members of his last amazing defense.
So it makes sense for Fuente to give Scott a new title with more responsibilities, more money, and a better position to soak up the last years of the defensive savant he's coaching next to.
Is Galen Scott Bud's de facto successor?
It sure feels that way. Fuente's demonstrated multiple times he's going to hire people he trusts, where more often than not said trust was built via a prior working relationship. The pair were roommates, came up in the profession together, and Scott introduced Fuente to his wife. The comfort factor coupled with the fact Scott served as Fuente's defensive coordinator at Memphis makes him the favorite to succeed Foster.
Probably, right? From everything we've heard, it seems as if Charley Wiles will go whenever Bud goes. And if we've learned anything from Fuente, it's that he really loves his dudes (think of all the people who came with him from Memphis). I'd also venture a guess that Fuente feels like he owes Scott, considering the man took a demotion to come to Blacksburg.
I can't decide if it's a good thing or not. I'm sure Scott is a good coach, a pretty good recruiter, and an all-around safe hire. But if things go wrong in the year or two post-Bud and fans come looking for blood, won't it be harder to use Scott as a scapegoat? It's not as if his Tigers' defenses set the AAC on fire, and the possibility of a regression is high, regardless of who the next coordinator is. At the very least, it'll be interesting to watch, with the potential for things to get incredibly awkward.
Is the outrage over Adam Lechtenberg as the Hokies' tenth assistant coach warranted?
There's an odd dynamic among swaths of the fanbase in which they believe Fuente is an excellent head coach, but second guess every move he makes. With entry-level credentials, Lechtenberg was hired for a role presumed to require a candidate with a bit more experience. It's all too easy for even the most loyal Fuente supporters to balk at the decision. Especially when a foe in the division and on the recruiting trail hit the open market and made the splashy hire. That's North Carolina hiring Tommy Thigpen. Although, arguably the No. 2 program in college football — Clemson — also hired a relative no-name from within the program. In any event, it's Fuente's prerogative to hire as he sees fit. Ultimately, he owns the decision, but not the headlines, and time will tell whether or not it pans out.
It's most interesting that Lechtenberg is not tasked to coach a specific position group. He was hired as assistant head coach/executive director of player development, a role at face value to bolster recruiting.
Via the Virginia Tech release:
Lechtenberg will work directly with Fuente in overseeing the program's recruiting efforts and managing Tech's roster.
In his new role, he will manage all aspects of Tech's roster with Fuente from scholarship allocation to directing the team's walk-on program. His new designation also will permit him to represent Tech on the road as a recruiter and engage directly with high school coaches across the nation.
I have a mental image of Lechtenberg crisscrossing the country in a tan 2000 Mercury Sable with orders not to return to Blacksburg until he's secured blue-chip recruits. However, the projected angst from many that an unproven recruiter is charged to spearhead recruiting is understandable.
I've never rolled my eyes harder than I did at the uproar over Lechtenberg's promotion. Here's the deal: do you want someone who will actually work well within the staff, or do you want to overpay someone from a sexy school who you're not actually sure is a good coach.
The Hokies need the money for the assistant coaches' salary pool. They need the money to give Scott a promotion. They need money to keep Ben Hilgart around. Personally, I'd much rather take the extra money from a "bigger hire" and spread it across all of the dudes currently on staff.
Because while it may not make for a splashy headline now, it shows that Virginia Tech and Whit Babcock are willing to pony up to not only keep their head coach, but their assistants as well. It helps with the general perception of the athletic department, and it's a nice thing to point to whenever they have to make a new hire (be it football or basketball).
The athletic department seems obsessed with a few angles of this, but none more so than staying competitive. Take these excerpts from the Virginia Tech beat, articles from David Teel and Andy Bitter, respectively.
Among Fuente's public-school ACC colleagues, only Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Florida State's Willie Taggart will make more. Swinney's average guaranteed compensation is $6.75 million through 2024, Taggart's $5 million through 2023.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is guaranteed $3.55 million in 2018.
Fuente's new deal puts him in the top third of ACC coaches. The seven-year contract is now worth a total of $30.5 million, with $26.7 million of that in base pay and another $3.8 million in available retention bonuses over the life of the contract. He'll earn $5 million in 2024 if he's still at Virginia Tech.
It's not about the numbers, it's about the comparisons. The Hokies don't just want to make sure their coaches are fully compensated for their abilities on and off the field. They want to tell the rest of the country that they can stay competitive in this ever-increasing arms race in collegiate athletics.
Did Justin Fuente earn a salary bump?
The market dictated Fuente receive a raise. In a vacuum, Fuente did not "earn" a raise due to Virginia Tech's results on the field last season. The Hokies were absent a marquee win, though some will argue for 7-6 West Virginia because West Virginia, didn't play for an ACC championship, and exhibited some terrible play calling as well as in-game management. The program did not take a drastic step forward nor backward. Neutral performances do not "earn" raises.
But the coaching carousel makes them happen! Fuente's name was batted around in the Sunshine State, and declining to pursue (as he publicly stated) potential opportunities at powerhouses Florida State and Florida get him some combination of loyalty bonus and market raise.
And while money can't buy happiness, it can purchase stability, at least for one recruiting cycle.
RECRUITS: You want stability? We've got it in Blacksburg, VA!! @CoachFuente's latest contract extension runs through the 2024 season.#HardSmartTough 🦃 pic.twitter.com/MXZ1BOG2MI— HokiesFB 🦃 (@HokiesFB) January 30, 2018
That'll help justify the price tag if Tech can capitalize on the continuity.
Brian: This one's tough. What does earn mean? In his two years at Virginia Tech, Fuente has won 19 games, won the Coastal Division once, and has (for the most part) completely revamped the offensive side of the ball.
But if you turn that around, under Fuente the Hokies have few "signature wins" — beating North Carolina in the hurricane game and West Virginia at FedExField are the closest, right? — and Tech suffered a major regression on offense with the departure of Jerod Evans, Isaiah Ford, and Bucky Hodges. He's been very good, but did he do anything in 2017 that screamed "throw this man all the money"?
Still, Fuente's a very-good-to-great coach. And you have to continuously pay those guys to keep them happy. And the longer they're happy, the longer they'll stay at your school.
We know the head Hokie received a few calls in one of the craziest coaching carousels we've had in some time. We also know that he turned all of those ovations down, which is a type of loyalty that definitely deserves rewarding.
So overall I'm pro-extension/raise, but it seems to set a dangerous precedent. Will Babcock have to go to the bank every December? How often can he do that before the situation becomes untenable? Does any of it even matter as long as the Hokies continue their gradual ascent and continue to win nine-plus games a year?