For more than three decades, Bud Foster heard Frank Beamer's Fancy Gap drawl ringing in his ears every time he strapped on a headset.
After all, from Murray State to Virginia Tech, Foster's only had one boss for most of his adult life. So when he decided to start running through the team's radio operations with his new staff for the first time in the fourth quarter of the spring game this April, he got a bit of a shock.
"The first time I heard Coach Fuente on the headset, he was like 'Hey, Bud' and I was like, 'Who in the hell is this?'" Foster told The Key Play. "That was kind of the first time I'd heard him over the headset, the first time I'd heard a different voice for me in 35 years. That's when it really kind of hit me as much as anything."
Indeed, for the longtime Tech defensive coordinator and his fellow stalwart on the staff, defensive line coach Charley Wiles, Justin Fuente's arrival in Blacksburg has brought plenty of new sensations for the VT veterans.
"It's been great, man," Wiles said. "It's like a new job without having to move."
The arrangement is undoubtedly an unusual one for the pair — after all, how often is it that a new coach wants to retain staffers indelibly tied to the local legend they're replacing? But Fuente has long been adamant that he valued the continuity the pair brings to the defense, and Foster and Wiles alike assert that (headset surprises aside) the transition has been an easy one.
"I couldn't be more happy," Foster said. "After it's all said and done, we hired an outstanding guy to run our program and I've been really, really impressed by how he's handled everything and how he's done everything. I'm excited to be a part of it, excited how he feels about me, and it's made the transition very smooth."
Foster's late-night flight to meet Fuente for the first time is well-trodden ground at this point (Foster himself admits it's been "well documented"), but he stresses that initial conversation is key to understanding why he decided to stick around in Blacksburg once Beamer stepped away.
"We really didn't talk a lot of football, a lot of philosophy, expectations," Foster said. "(We) knew a lot of similar people, both Murray State alumni, so we kind of hit it off right there."
Wiles said his first impression of Fuente was similarly favorable — he was even struck by how much the new head Hokie reminded him of Beamer himself.
"I see so much, the competitiveness, the toughness, I see all those same characteristics in Coach Fuente," Wiles said. "And he treats you right, he treats you first class, he has the ability to make you want to get out and go to work for him, so Coach Beamer and Coach Fuente have a lot of characteristics that are the same. In fact, I'm sure one of the reasons Coach Fuente wanted the Virginia Tech job was just the culture that was built here and how Coach Beamer did it the right way by not mistreating people."
Fuente has certainly been vocal about his respect for what Beamer built in Blacksburg in the past, and Foster says that's not just lip service.
"I like what he's all about, he's got a lot of respect for what we've done here before and the tradition he's established and he wants to carry on with some of that by putting his own little twist of his own on there too," Foster said. "He's hit the ground running, hit the ground running recruiting trying to really catch up and make some headway that way, just positive all the way around."
If anything, Foster notes the change has been harder on his new boss than the staffers Beamer left behind, since they certainly have plenty of familiarity with the area already.
"The biggest transition has probably been for him, coming from Memphis and coming here, moving his family," Foster said. "So obviously he's asked me and Charley, he'll ask us about things around the university and around town, things like that."
But Fuente did bring some changes with him. Foster, Wiles and RBs coach Zohn Burden are the only holdovers from Beamer's days, after all.
"Obviously you've got to be careful, it's a new staff and a new regime, but they're wanting to put their twist on it and he retained me to hopefully carry on our defensive tradition here," Foster said. "They retained Charley and Torrian (Gray), and then he got an opportunity to go home, and he did that. But I really like our two new additions that we have defensively."
Fuente and Foster had to find Gray's replacement in a hurry, but since poaching CBs coach Brian Mitchell from West Virginia, the DC said he's come away impressed with Mitchell's Big 12 experience and his record of doing "an outstanding job wherever he's been."
The other new addition to Tech's defensive staff presents a more interesting contrast with Foster. Galen Scott ran Fuente's defense at Memphis, yet he's now relegated to a role coaching Tech's safeties and serving as assistant head coach.
But instead of that resulting in any tension between the two, Foster said it's been smooth sailing. He admits he's long considered Scott "an up and coming star in this business," and thinks Scott's immediately brought plenty to the table.
"Galen's played in our scheme, when he played college football (at Illinois State), they ran our defense, so he knows our terminology, he played one of the linebacker spots," Foster said. "He's expanded to playing a little bit more odd front the last couple years, and we get into a little bit of that ourselves, and so it's been good to kind of pick his brain to see what's been good for them, what hasn't been good for them, what's been good for us and what hasn't, and how can we put the things that have been good for us and them together.
"But I'm really excited about him. I think he's a dynamic, young energetic guy with a great football IQ and great mindset, an outstanding teacher and I'm really excited about him and the future we have together as well."
Foster points out that Mitchell has experience as a DC as well from his days running East Carolina's defense, and with "the best D-line coach in the country in Charley," he thinks the Hokies were able to "put together a dynamic staff on the defensive side of the ball."
And, thus far, he says Fuente has mostly left him alone to manage it.
"To be honest with you, the only thing we've talked about defensively is personnel," Foster said. "I think what we do and what we've done speaks for itself."
But he adds that while Fuente's changed a few things this spring and fall "as far as how you meet and things like that," he feels that "football's football when it's all said and done."
Wiles agrees with that assessment, nearly word for word.
"There's a lot of different things we're doing in the offseason, but spring ball was spring ball, coaching's coaching," Wiles said. "I coach my guys the same way, and that's, 'Work hard, every day. The message is coming from Coach Fuente, and it's exciting and our football team, I think, is responding very well and everybody's excited about the future."
Foster certainly feels that anticipation building as well, and he thinks even Fuente himself has tapped into the buzz surrounding just what this combination of stout defense and innovative offense can achieve.
"I think he's excited because when he was running the offense at TCU, Gary Patterson was the head coach there but also a defensive-minded guy, a guy with a strong tradition defensively, and you put those two things together, and you can kind of see the success they've had," Foster said.
Foster is well aware that he has some work to do to hold up his side of that particular bargain. He's got a few scheme tweaks in mind for the coming season to avoid last season's slightly disappointing results, but he doubts anything too radical is on the horizon, noting "we're gonna do what we do."
"I hope we can continue the path we're on defensively," Foster said. "Even though last year was a drop-off by our standards, you're not gonna do that for every year."
But if he can course correct ever so slightly and get his defense producing the results it managed in Beamer's heyday, he might just get awfully accustomed to hearing Fuente's voice in his headset instead.
"I'm excited about the potential for having an offense that's gonna score 40 points a game, and if we can do what we can on defense, I hope that means some special times ahead," Foster said. "We've always said as good as we've been, we can be better, and I truly believe that, and I think we can do that with this guy. His offense and our defense together and it can be a potentially powerful weapon for us down the road."