For posterity's sake, let's start with the final sequence of events of Virginia Tech's 38-35 loss to Liberty. Yes, in a Fuenta era bulleted by head-scratching in-game coaching decisions — from overzealous field goal attempts to clock bungling — this, the day he graduated with his degree from the Mike London School of Game Management™, needed to be documented. What unfolded — the magic of BeamerBall mismanaged and overthought into another demoralizing loss — was a microcosm of the Justin Fuente Era.
There's the elation of the walk-off blocked kick. Virginia Tech stood on Marvin Gardens, stared down a street of houses and hotels straight through Boardwalk, and somehow rolled an 11 to fall ass backwards on GO, collect two-hundred dollars and walk away unscathed.
But it was for not. Fuente called a late timeout which negated the effort. Moreover, it provided walk-on kicker Alex Barbir a practice crack at a long attempt, the exact opposite of what Fuente intended.
"I've always done this," said Fuente. "I don't believe in waiting until the last second to call timeout on those situations. Because I don't like ever letting the kicker get a free swing at it. I hollered, 'time out'. I guess I waited too long."
Fuente noted he burned that final timeout in order to ensure he had the proper personnel on the field to execute the block, for a kick that ultimately wound up blocked. Barbir was a paltry 2 of 6 (33%) on field goal attempts between 30-49 yards this season, with a long of 42. Instead of letting Tech's chances of a miss ride against a low-percentage FIFTY-NINE YARD FIELD GOAL, and moving to overtime, or having a shot for a completion, timeout and kick of their own, Fuente decided to make sure he had everything tidied up.
The situation then unraveled further. The uncertainty of whether or not Tech had to defend another field goal attempt or an offensive play perplexed Fuente and the rest of Tech's braintrust. Forget for a minute that the FIFTY-NINE YARD FIELD GOAL had just been blocked and Fuente could've hedged that Liberty probably wouldn't stick another fork in the light socket, but Tech had the benefit of the aforementioned 30-second timeout to organize itself and prepare for either contingency. This was the result:
Predictably, Liberty took the free 8 yards to the boundary and Barbir won the game on the subsequent 51-yard field goal attempt. The result was maddening and a product of an unorganized and incompetent organization. Full stop.
It's another step into the basement for a program that over the last three seasons on Fuente's watch has consistently lowered the bar. Pick your favorite or insert your own:
- Loss to Old Dominion
- Recruiting 📉
- Duke Debacle (worst home loss in 45 years)
- Handpicked Bud Foster replacement's affair during recruiting trips is publicly played out over social media.
- Loss to Liberty
- Snapped UVA streak
Fuente's vision for Virginia Tech football is to become the best developmental program in the country. Reconcile that notion with the fact that his Hokies in Year 5 lost to Wake Forest and Liberty as double-digit favorites both according to Vegas and SP+. Tech stands at 4-3 with a roster Fuente was publicly bullish on leading up to the season. And for those who don't understand the difference between relaxed expectations of making the ACCCG with a 10-game conference schedule in a COVID-climate versus falling flat against Wake and Liberty, I will try to help you.
Consider this litmus test: What if this column was about UVA football? How happy would the schadenfreude and incompetence of your rival make you? What if the Hoos were set to sign a full recruiting class without a single 247Sports Composite four-star, the class with the goal of being "elite" according to the head coach in February? Would you feel good about Tech's chances against them down the road? How about knowing the previous class was among the ACC's worst?
Personally, I would laugh my ass off and make memes.
Talk about a look in the mirror.
Virginia Tech has its share of hurdles to overcome. It's not a financial institution with blue-chip pedigree. However, Fuente has ignored two natural advantages: the media and fanbase. He does the bare minimum to placate both. He wants to be just a football coach in a role which demands more in order to achieve success at Tech. Fans have been cut out of the loop, unless the athletic department needs money that is. Long gone are the days in which you could spend a summer or spring day in Lane at an open scrimmage or practice. Instead of regular one-on-one interactions to yield a bevy of different stories from unique voices, media access has been limited to the point of homogeneity. Beyond a few infrequent exclusive conversations with Fuente, the most media access to his program was provided to SI to pull the onion apart on the shitstorm that was the 2018 locker room. Makes sense.
To put an exclamation mark on the point, a friend sent me this disheartening and thoughtful post from CZYHOKIE, a founder of VTScoop.
Horribly stressful at times, but we always did it for you guys, AND for the guys in Bburg. At one point they needed a mouth piece, and that's the vision we had here.
I've fallen on the sword many many many times for VT, so many I became numb to it. It's not reciprocated, and it's not solving anything. I am done doing that
Fuente is clueless to even leverage friendly media. It's simply a complete lack of understanding across the board for how to manage a free platform and reach the fanbase.
The goalposts have moved so much that a couple of quarantined Friday nights filled with a handful of @CoachFuente tweets was a magical and beloved occasion. Parts of the fanbase have talked itself into believing it can build an ACC contender largely from the transfer portal and that every 3-star with a single Power Five offer (Tech) is the next Christian Darrisaw. (It can certainly supplement with transfers but not enough to overcome its inferior recruiting and they aren't, respectively.) Fans have come to terms with the next on-field disappointment.
For all the excitement he created in 2016, Justin Fuente has sucked the fun out of Virginia Tech football. The honeymoon was over after the Georgia Tech loss in 2017. It was evident he wasn't as advertised after Duke demolished the Hokies last season. And now a divorce looms, with Tech stuck in the relationship for all the wrong reasons: the (buyout) money.