Bye Week I Presser 9/16/19: Justin Fuente

The Head Hokie discusses bye week preparations, the Jerry Kill hire and Furman specifics.

[Mark Umansky]

Publisher's Note: Nico Naha contributed to this transcription. Transcription lightly edited for clarity.

Excited about the announcement with Coach [Jerry] Kill and joining our staff. Coach Kill I've known for some time, coached against him in 1-AA football as I moved on to TCU. He and Coach [Gary] Patterson are very close friends. So we continued our relationship through that time and reached out to him this summer just to see if he would mind coming to watch practice for a few days and stay over here at my house and watch fall camp and kind of give me some good feedback and input on everything we were doing program-wide and over those couple days we began to have some discussions. I didn't think there was any way this was actually going to work meaning that he would be interested in it, but he was and it's been something we've been working on for some time. So I'm excited to welcome him to Virginia Tech. I think he's going to be a fantastic resource for myself and for all of our coaches. This is certainly not, I don't know how much anybody reads into the release, but I mean this isn't have anything to do with Coach [Bud] Foster's situation or anything like that. This is an opportunity for Coach Kill to come in and continue to give us good feedback, be involved in virtually every aspect of our program from just drawing on his years of experience and knowledge. So I'm excited to have that resource for our coaches and for myself. We're looking forward to getting him here and putting him to work so to speak. So that's a good part of it. We've obviously got the bye week with a very talented Duke team on the horizon. We will practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We'll not practice Friday or Saturday and then be back at it Sunday focusing on ourselves. For Tuesday, Wednesday, and then both Duke and ourselves on Thursday.

Special assistant is a pretty vague title, maybe it's designed that way to give you some leeway. What do you expect him to help out with and in what capacity?

Well, I expect him to be a resource for all of us to use in terms of planning, management. I mean, this is certainly not anything to do with Danielle's [Bartelstein] roll. Matt Transue, who is in that role for right now handling the logistics of our team. This is not that, with the departure of Danielle it did leave us an opening and some flexibility to work with, so I think he's a guy that can help us as we plan, both game plan, practice plan, evaluation of everything that we're doing here.

With his title he can't work with players, right?

That's correct. Yeah, he's not on the field coach.

Ok so be on the field during games or just box?

We'll figure all that. We have coaches that are off the field that travel with us and fulfill their legal responsibilities of what they're allowed to do and we'll fill that all out as we as we move forward.

And then you said he stayed with you when he was here during fall. I don't know if you can share everything he said, but what were some of the observations he had, something that stood out?

It was really good. I told him I wanted to talk about everything from the minute details that he noticed. I've done this before with other coaches people that, you know you can bring in that are going to tell you the truth. That you don't really want somebody to come in and say, 'Yup everything looks good', and leave. You want somebody that's got the courage and the knowledge base to give you good feedback, but also understands that some of it will we can take and implement, we can't implement all of it. Everything looks different, situations are different. So everything from how practice was organized to personnel to scheme and assignments and all that sort of stuff.

You said you didn't know if this was going to come around as a full-time thing. What were the hurdles there or did you have to convince him? I know he had a pretty good job at Southern Illinois. He's had a history of seizures and stuff like that. Was there was that a long process back and forth?

Well, I thought that the biggest thing was Southern Illinois and what Southern means to Coach Kill. What he did for that place as a coach, what he was now doing for it as an administrator, the relationships, the friends that he has in that community. I thought that was going to be really difficult and I believe that it was really difficult. It was discussions with his family. He's now a grandfather. They're all those sorts of things that have nothing to do with football that he was trying to figure out. I talked to his to his lovely wife Rebecca on the phone. I wasn't trying to convince anybody to do anything they didn't want to do. But I did feel like there was a genuine opportunity and genuine interest from both the parties as we kind of made our way through discussing, could it happen and if so, how would it happen and all that sort of stuff.

Did you guys play every year when you were at Illinois State?

Yeah, we were in the same league.

So any memories of coaching against him stand out from that time?

I was not the head coach, so I didn't really, I didn't know Coach Kill on a personal level there. I wasn't at the conference meetings and that sort of stuff, but I did see firsthand what he did with that program. I'll probably get the numbers wrong, but I believe they've won one game maybe his first year all the way to, they used to call it the Gateway Conference, multiple Gateway Conference championships. And my last couple years there, we were pretty good too. So we had some pretty good games, some pretty good battles, but was really remarkable because his teams were always hard-nosed, tough, disciplined football teams.

He's battled some serious health things, been forced to resign a couple times. Did you sense that? I don't know if you want speak for him, but did you sense that he didn't really want to give up the football side of things? That he got in there, that itch was still sort of there?

I think that I'm safe in saying that he does not want to be very far from football. I got that is in his blood, that is who he is. Obviously he has had some health issues to deal with, some difficulties along the way with with his health. I hope I'm not stepping out of line here by saying in his heart and soul he's a football man. And that was probably, probably part of his reason.

Switching gears a little bit, with Silas [Dzansi] obviously went to the bench, struggled a little bit, had a couple false starts. What are you seeing from him that's causing those struggles here in the early going for him?

I don't know that I can put my finger on it right now. I know what he's capable of, I believe in him. I see how hard he works every day. He knows that he can and will play better. It's part of our focus this week, but we've got to have as a group. I'm not I'm certainly not signaling out Silas on this, but we got to get Silas feeling good and and playing better and that goes for every position.

Luke was a guy you mentioned in the preseason that he was ready to play, you weren't sure he would cause you had Silas, but he's kind of stabilized the line a little bit. What have you seen from him as he's kind of coming in these second halves the last couple of weeks?

I've been pleased with the progress he continues to make. He's a very good worker. That whole group is a good unified group of hard-working kids that have some talent that are gaining experience literally by the day and by the game, but it has been nice to be able to put Luke in there. The other thing is Silas, he tires and he's had some cramping issues and those sorts of things and having another capable person to put in there even if, not necessarily 'cause Silas is struggling but just 'cause he needs a little break has been nice.

Which players have kind of a chance to benefit the most from the bye week, whether that's from a healing standpoint or development standpoint?

I mean obviously the couple offensive linemen we hope continue to to get back. I'm talking about Zachariah [Hoyt] and TJ. [Jackson], Tyjuan Garbutt hasn't played since the block there on the sideline in the first game. Hopefully we can get those guys closer to being healthy again. We have a bunch of guys, you look at the freshman defensive tackles that are playing a lot that need this work. Not necessarily gameplan work just technique work and playing the game. We've got some young guys in the back-end that need this work, you know Nadir Thompson is somebody that we've got to get healthy and back going that didn't dress for us last week. Then going on the offensive linemen. We've got to get great work, this week for them to get them to continue to come along.

It's kind of a weird season with two open weeks. This one's early after three weeks. Do you treat it any different when it's early in the season versus later in the season or is it kind of the same approach?

Yeah, to my recollection, I don't remember. I can't recall having two before, I'm sure it's happened before on the schedule I just can't recall it. No we're not treating it much different it's a little unique in that we play on a Friday as opposed to playing on a Saturday with the Duke game. So on the back-end it'll be a little bit different, but as far as how we're going to handle this week, it's pretty similar to most weeks. I have had bye weeks that are later in the year where you really can't hardly practice because you're just trying to get guys back ready to go and that's certainly not the case for us this week.

Coach I asked you earlier this year about, your wife and kids and how you have a countdown clock at your house during games. Take me through a typical game week with your family and all during the game week.

Well, it's mostly my wife doing the work and me at the office during game week, but with our new schedule, I'm up and out pretty early in the morning and get home after they're in bed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday we get our work done a little bit earlier than we used to with the old schedule so I get a chance to get home and spend a little time with the kids in the afternoon and we don't talk much about football. Usually if there's a Thursday night game we'll watch a little bit of that game, Thursday night before the girls go to bed, and then Friday morning I take them to school and I always enjoy that time of breakfast and either trips to the bus stop or trips to school. And then depending on our games on Saturday sometimes they'll come up to the hotel, one or two of the girls will come stay the night at the hotel. Usually if we have a twelve o'clock kick we get up so early I don't usually do that but that's always fun for them to get to do then we get up and go play the game and start it all over again. It is a fun part to have them play a role in this. We obviously as coaches work long hours and all that sort of stuff and that's just part of the deal, but it is fun when you can try to bring them along through that. It is a lifestyle, it's not a job and getting to share it with other people is what makes it enjoyable.

Real quick. Also, it's really neat after the game just the interaction. That's gotta be special after a tough grind of a game to have them there.

They're always happy to see me. I can always count on that for now. So I appreciate that. I don't take it for granted either, and I know they're getting older and I know there may be a time when they don't want to hold my hand or give me a kiss in public, but that time hasn't arrived yet and I'm enjoying every moment of it right now.

We kind of ask you every week but with Damon [Hazelton] obviously he's got an extra week to get healthy how are you kind of getting him along? Do you feel better now with this break that he'll be available for Duke?

I really don't know, we'll see. We're trying to progress him back out there to see, but I thought I knew three weeks ago. You know what I mean? I feel a little foolish for being as optimistic as I was. Not because of Damon disappointed me. I really felt strongly that everything was going to be fine, and it obviously wasn't so I really don't know. We'll see as we go through this week, hopefully by the end of practice on Thursday maybe I'll have a guess as to how far along he is.

With Ryan [Willis], he's dealt with some adversity the last couple of games. Talked about having to have a quarterback that could deal with that. How do you kind of see his mentality and just the last couple weeks kind of dealing with some of the turnovers and obviously heard some boos on Saturday? How has he handled that?

I think he's done a good job of trying to stay focused on the task at hand. It's a difficult job. It's a difficult position, and he understands that and what comes with it and you play sports long enough you're gonna be in situations that are difficult and that's kind of part of sports, is having to handle those those types of situations. I think he's done a good job. He's got to keep his focus on improvement and not on the other stuff, which is easier said than done, but I think he's done a good job so far.

Just a follow up on that. You were a quarterback, I'm sure you heard it at some point. Is there any personal experience that you had with that?

Not to get into my career because it's not even worth talking about, but I played before I was ready and did not play well. I redshirted and then my first couple years I wasn't very good, and I really wasn't ready to play. I was kind of playing by default. Not because I'd really won the job and playing that position poorly is not very fun. I know because I've done it a lot, but it also can fuel your fire and your desire to improve and find a way to play it well, and that's what you've got to have. You've got to have the ability to, not ignore the things that didn't go well but learn from and adjust and move forward and it's got to fuel your preparation so that you don't find yourself in those situations again. There's also nothing better than playing that position well. It's really a very, I don't know if powerful is the right word but influential position in college football today in terms of being able to determine the outcomes of games or having a large say in the outcomes of games. Playing it well is a wonderful, wonderful experience and struggling is difficult, but you've got to find a way to let that fuel your preparation so that you don't find yourself in those situations as often.


I'd love to know what the response from the league is about the "block" on Garbutt. CFU didn't seem as frustrated with these questions either. Not too shabby.

I think Bud mentioned in his last presser that the league reported they missed the call.

Thanks! I missed it.

I appreciate Fuente's transparency talking about Coach Kill's role and why he was brought on. Even though he didn't elaborate on the exact roles and responsibilities he will have, it was nice to see him not just close down and keep us in the dark with how this came about (which I was kind of expecting).

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

Nice interview. Good information...seemed like Fu was relaxed and just having a conversation. Probably helps to have a few questions in there that aren't just about football performance and on the field play.


Great info thanks for sharing. One question - would it be possible to get a link to the video of these pressers in the article?

This is one of the best interviews of Fuente that I've read in the last year or two. Without seeing video, just reading transcript it seems like he was a bit relaxed, answered all questions. Great job. Also, it's nice to read a good article that is free these days.


"So everything from how practice was organized to personnel to scheme and assignments and all that sort of stuff."

Isn't that Fuente's job? Sounds like Babcock and Fuente had the 'First Strike' meeting where the boss asks "What do you need from me to improve the team's performance?"

counterpoint - this has been in the works for some time.

"Take care of the little things and the big things will come."

*Playing Devil's Advocate*

Counterpoint to this Counterpoint: The 'First Strike' Meeting happened way back at the end of last season which is why Jerry came over the summer. Fuente isn't going to come out and say, "You know, I really am not good at what I do, so my boss convinced me to reach out to someone I trust who knew how to run to a program to come in a consult for us."

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

Fuente said this is something he has done before. There's no evidence that Whit had anything to do with it

There's also no evidence that Whit didn't have everything to do with it.

(Besides Fuente's public media address.)

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

So if there is no evidnece one way or the other, the default position should be to assume it did happen?

Not at all. It's just that I, like you and most every other fan have no idea if there's more to it or if it's as clear cut as Fuente eluded to. Like I said, just playing Devil's Advocate.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

[He] stayed over here in my house, watched fall camp, and gave some good feedback and input on everything we were doing – program wide. Over those couple days, we began to have some discussions – I didn't think there was any way this would actually work, meaning that he would be interested in it, but he was.

Fuente was there, and he's giving a pretty detailed description of how it happened.

I read that too and agree (look my first post in the thread), but I'm just implying there may be more to it, especially in regards to why he came in the first place. It's very possible that Whit asked him to invite a trusted mentor for consulting purposes at the end of last season and it lead to more or it could just be really well-worded coach speak. You and I will never know.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

There is no indication whatsoever that that's the case.

You're entitled to your opinion. I'm entitled to mine. Nothing either of us has said is anything more than interpretation from a scripted statement.

I think we'd all appreciate it this year if you started treated your posts as such and not like the gospel. Your matter-of-factness and undying desire to always have the last word gets old. Thanks bud.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

Whether you're in the "fire him now camp" or "give him some time" camp, Fuente is a class act. I appreciate his honesty and I like the way he describes dealing with adversity- to actively take steps to improve in the areas where one is struggling.

"I play real sports, not trying to be the best at exercising..." - KP

Some insight there possibly as to why HH or QP has not been thrown into the deep end when Willis has been less than perfect.

Proud author of one plaid comment.

I assume this was the insight you were talking about?

Not to get into my career because it's not even worth talking about, but I played before I was ready and did not play well. I redshirted and then my first couple years I wasn't very good, and I really wasn't ready to play. I was kind of playing by default. Not because I'd really won the job and playing that position poorly is not very fun.

Fuente definitely tends to coddle the QB, which IMO isn't necessarily a bad thing for long term development.

Twitter me


Proud author of one plaid comment.

I don't know if "coddling" is the right word, but Fuente is outright telling us that it's his strong preference not to put a quarterback in a position that they're not ready for, and that he's trying to equip his quarterbacks to succeed.

See, they don't have experience, and how can you get experience if you don't have experience?

Demonstrate in practice that the coach can trust you to perform better than the starter on a consistent basis would be one way.

Proud author of one plaid comment.

This reminds me of looking for an internship at the Engineering Expo.

"Sorry, we are only looking for interns with prior experience"
-Basically every recruiter there