Babcock, Fuente ready to move forward with Tech football program

Head coach Justin Fuente talked with Baylor officials Wednesday, but he informed AD Whit Babcock on Thursday that he likes the outlook of Virginia Tech football and is thus staying in Blacksburg

BLACKSBURG – A tense 48-hour period ended with good news Thursday morning, as Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente elected to remain in his current position after conversations with Baylor University officials for their head coaching job.

Baylor officials reached out to Fuente on Tuesday and met with him near Blacksburg on Wednesday. Fuente met with Virginia Tech Director of Athletics Whit Babcock on Wednesday evening, and then Thursday morning, he told Babcock that he planned to stay in Blacksburg. Fuente just wrapped up his fourth season with the Hokies and is 33-20 in those four seasons, all of which ended in bowl berths that extended the NCAA’s longest active bowl streak to 27.

“To Justin’s credit, there have been a lot of jobs since he’s been here – numerous, numerous ones – that, when they have called, he has simply turned down,” Babcock said in a teleconference with members of the written media Thursday afternoon. “Baylor is the first one that he listened to, and I would like for you guys and our fans to know the difference between interviewing for a job versus letting someone come talk to you in your hometown. Justin is from out that way and spent a lot of time in the Big 12.

“Of course, you never love it when your coach is talking to other people, but he has turned down a number of other opportunities, a lot of money, and his loyalty is probably not as widely known as it should be.”

Babcock stressed that Fuente made no demands and never used the discussions with Baylor as leverage for concessions here at Virginia Tech. The two met two weeks ago to discuss budget items, facilities, and staffing and are on the same page in regards to those items.

Virginia Tech has devoted resources to its football program recently, including a $17 million investment in a student-athlete performance center scheduled to be completed later this summer, along with a $5 million project that calls for the renovation of the football program’s weight room and position meeting rooms. The latter project is slated for completion this summer as well.

Also, Babcock signed off on the hiring of Jerry Kill as a special assistant to the head coach in September – Kill recently left for a position at TCU and both Fuente and Babcock are re-evaluating the position – and Fuente’s salary ranked third among ACC coaches entering the 2019 campaign.

Babcock said that both he and Fuente were excited about the prospects for the upcoming season. Fuente recently completed his staff with the hiring of Ryan Smith as the cornerbacks coach. Smith coached at JMU, played at William & Mary, and knows the state well, which should be an asset to the Hokies’ recruiting efforts. Plus, the addition of Bill Teerlinck as the defensive line coach brings NFL experience to the staff – he coached with the Buffalo Bills for the past two seasons – along with that of Darryl Tapp, a former Tech player who played 12 years in the NFL. Tracy Claeys was added as the linebackers coach and has been a defensive coordinator at seven stops in his career.

Not only that, the Hokies return 19 starters off this season’s squad, including standout quarterback Hendon Hooker, along with talented receivers Tré Turner and Damon Hazelton and the ACC’s leading tackler in Rayshard Ashby.

In other words, Fuente and his staff have put the program in position for short-term and potentially long-term success. Fuente’s decision signifies that he wants to see it through.

“I believe he really wanted to be a Hokie,” Babcock said. “Sometimes, when you’re from that neck of the woods and the money is incredible and they’re going to come to your house and talk to you, you might let them do that, too, even if it was your profession. He was straight up in my book. No problem with it whatsoever.

“In fact, I think it shows an even bigger commitment on his part. He’s not Frank Beamer, and he’s not Bud Foster — and we don’t want him to be. He’s a little more private than most, but when you know the Justin that I know, then you know how much of a Hokie that he is.”

Babcock admitted, though, that the past 48 hours had caused him some stress and even raised his blood pressure. But he kept confidence in the coach whom he hired to replace Frank Beamer.

“I had faith in Justin,” Babcock said. “I knew how much he likes being here. You don’t have to go to Virginia Tech to be a Hokie, and he’s shown me that.