Publisher's Note: furrer4heisman emailed this piece to me last night.
I used to work for a non-profit organization. It had a very small number of full-time employees that answered to a board of directors as we worked together to help people and raise enough money so that we could both help those people and still have jobs.
When I came on board the charity was about 15 years old. The members of the board were all veteran members and most of them had been there since the charity was founded. They had a way they liked to do things and change was a very slow process.
A couple of years into my tenure we started to get very backlogged. The number of people who needed assistance was outpacing donations. Word was getting out that we existed and could help, but the necessary funds weren't coming in as quickly. Every day I'd take a call from someone desperate for our assistance and have to hear the silence on the phone when I told them how many months it would be before we could approve it.
This convinced the board that we needed a professional fundraiser. Not just someone who could get on the phone and drum up individual donations, but someone who knew how to write grant requests and had connections with foundations that could result in the kind of funds that could truly make a difference.
The person we brought on was sharp and had a long career working with a variety of non-profits. They knew their stuff but also brought a very different point of view of how charities are run and what makes them an attractive recipient of funding.
Some of their suggestions were easy to implement, but a few were more difficult to get the board on board with. Particularly when it came to the board itself. This all came to a head when the entire staff and board met for a seminar with the head of one of the larger foundations in the area.
What that person told us was very blunt: "You are not a professional board. You are a mom-and-pop board."
What he meant was the structure of our board of directors didn't meet the standards required to receive grants from his foundation (and others). Board members didn't cycle, and there weren't rules in place for how board members came on and off.
Everyone on the board genuinely loved the organization but they weren't willing to say goodbye unless it was on their terms. They were all friends, they all loved being on the board and they didn't want to change what they had, even if it meant giving our organization a lower ceiling.
Someday Justin Fuente isn't going to be Virginia Tech's football coach anymore. That day could have been Thursday, but instead that morning he and his staff put on their best pair of team-issued sweats, put in massive dips and got back to work in Jamerson Athletic Center. Or at least took a picture that made it look like that. Either way.
Fuente's eventual departure, whether to a school offering more money or because he is fired, will mark the day Virginia Tech's athletics department enters the modern era. Because his departure will mean one of two things: Either we lost a football coach because we couldn't match what another school could offer him or we have to convince a coach with a solid resume to come to Blacksburg and clean up his mess.
The third and most desirable option, that Fuente retires as Virginia Tech's head coach in 2037 with two national titles and street named after him, probably isn't going to happen.
The reason the day of Fuente's departure will steward the Hokies into modern college football is because of the nature of Frank Beamer's 29 seasons at Virginia Tech. When Frank came back to Blacksburg, not only were the Hokies a football afterthought, but college football and athletic departments as a whole were in the middle of undergoing a drastic change.
It was only two years before Frank became head coach that NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma et al finally freed college football and set it up to become the big business it is today. Before that ruling, the NCAA only allowed one football game per week to be televised. One. Per. Week. Until 1984.
Before the full effect of that ruling could be felt across college athletics, Virginia Tech found a coach that would spend nearly three decades as the face of the department. And it wasn't just that Frank brought the Hokies to greater heights than they'd ever seen, it was the way he did it.
With Frank at the helm, the program was ours, not his. He won and did it in a way that really harkened back to an older era. And because he won, built, won some more and kept building we never really felt the need to abandon our old school ways.
Season ticket holders didn't have to pony up to keep their seats. There wasn't a sense of urgency to get an indoor facility built or renovate our offices and facilities. Those things did happen, eventually, but happened well after they should have for a program of the stature Virginia Tech fans fancied themselves.
The winning came without the giving so why should we feel like it should ever be otherwise?
Virginia Tech is a solid football program. It's a Top 20-40 program most seasons. That means you typically win 8 to 10 games and that's where Tech is. And the athletic department (and by extension Hokie Club) is a solid athletic department that does a solid job of raising money. Tech is currently 40th in expenses according to the last USA Today report (among public institutions). We get what we pay for.
In college football's era of truly big business with big budgets and big TV revenues, Virginia Tech has never had to look in the mirror and ask what we really want this to be. Frank made it look easy for the better part of 29 seasons and the hiring of an on-the-rise head coach that was a "cultural fit" seemed too easy as well.
So what will happen when Virginia Tech eventually loses a coach to a program that not only wants to be a Top 4 program, but fundraises and spends like it or when VT has to hit the reset button on the leader of its program?
It's possible the fanbase will realize that part of desiring a championship football program means taking that next step and having professional-level fundraising. It's possible the fanbase will give up on its championship aspirations and be comfortable with having the solid program that comes with having a solid athletic department. Or it's possible the fanbase becomes disaffected with the entire concept of intercollegiate athletics with professional athletic departments and attendance, donations and TV ratings tank.
All are possible and honestly there is no wrong answer among those three for any individual. But if you want a team that makes the playoff regularly considering the current state of Virginia Tech's revenue and expenditures, then I genuinely don't know what to tell you. If you're in that category then you're honestly better off taking door #3.
But for now, we are all stuck with each other. Fuente is stuck with the Virginia Tech fanbase and athletic department and we're stuck with him. I'm sure he'd like to see more from Hokie fans in terms of monetary backing of the program just like the fans would like to see him not lose at home to Duke by 35 or not lose to UVA by any amount.
We're stuck with each other until one day when we won't be. And when that day comes we'll finally see whether Virginia Tech is going to raise its ceiling in college football's modern era.
(P.S. – Pay the players.)