Graham becomes a Gator; Fuente’s seat not hot, but getting warmer

So, you think it’s just now getting to be March and it’s too early to talk football. That would be wrong, and this writer likes to talk football any time of the year. But programs across the country are getting ready to take the field in the next few days.

Surprised? Shouldn’t be. It’s time for spring practice. Virginia Tech’s first day will be March 12, it’s the 26th for UVa, the third for Carolina, March 4 for Ohio State and Nebraska, the 7th for LSU, and 8th for Alabama. Beginning spring practice is determined a lot these days by what part of the country you’re located and how good an indoor facility do you have if you’re not down south or far out west.

This is a big spring for Virginia Tech’s football program and a very important spring for head coach Justin Fuente. This is not to suggest that Fuente is on the “hot seat” that writers seem to enjoy talking about. But he does need a good season. I think he is likely to get one.

Fuente came to Blacksburg from Memphis. It is important to note that the Tigers under the direction of Mike Norvell were 12-2, 8-6, 10-3, and 8-5 since Fuente left town. So, it would appear that life on Beale Street has gotten even better since Fuente left. Norvell is now the new head coach at Florida State. Maybe Memphis is one of those steppingstone programs.

Fuente’s record at Memphis was much less than Norvell’s; 10-3, 3-9, and 4-8, 19-20 total, but that’s not the whole story. Fuente took over a downtrodden program at Memphis, and Norvell apparently one that Fuente had built that was getting ready to become a consistent winner. Fuente’s four teams at Tech have gone 8-5, 6-7, 9-4, and 10-4. That’s 35-20 and for many programs across the country that would be considered success. Ask Kansas football fans how they would feel about that record over four years. They might throw a parade.

Everybody felt Fuente was a good hire for the Hokies, and this is certainly not saying that is still not the case. But there have been too many bumps. First, the program needs a signature win, the schedules haven’t been that difficult, lots of non-Power 5 teams. There have been too many transfers, the roster turnover has been alarming. That can be said about many programs across the country. It’s not simply a Virginia Tech problem, it’s college football trying to decide what direction it’s heading. Right now, I think we’re looking at crossing a bad intersection.

It is also noteworthy that rival UVa won the ACC Coastal Division last season. But the biggest concern is recruiting. It has not gone well; the last class was one of the worst in the nation. Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. You’re read it here before. The best coaches coach at the places with the most talent.

But I believe 2020 can be a big year for the Hokies. It will put a veteran team on the field, the quarterback situation seems to be settled. It will be a veteran team with some quality, proven performers. The schedule does not include Clemson, everybody in the ACC would love to avoid the Tigers, and Miami is at home late. A trip to Carolina will be difficult.

There’s also an early season out of conference game with Penn State. That should be looked upon with a great deal of enthusiasm. First of all, knock off the Big 10ers and you immediately put yourself back in the mix with other good programs, but even if you don’t win, but the game is a heckuva battle, you will derive more from that than a win over ODU or Liberty.

But the future is never as far away as you think. In addition to a good season on the field, Fuente and the Hokie program, needs a quality 2021 recruiting class to sustain the talent level in the program. That is imperative.

2 Cougars, 2 Hokies, Now 2 Gators:

​The greatest field goal kicker in Pulaski County history, and the greatest field goal kicker in Virginia Tech football history, and one of the greatest field goals kickers in NFL history, is now a Florida Gator. Shayne Graham has joined the Gator staff down in Gainesville. The past two years he had been on Mike Dantonio’s staff at Michigan State, but became available when Dantonio retired.

Graham’s numbers still hang on the wall in the Cougar fieldhouse and at Virginia Tech too. He connected on 85.5% of his field goal attempts in his 15-year NFL career.

And a nice sidebar. A great old Cougar will be joining with another great old Cougar down in the “swamp.” One of the finest football players in Cougar history, and also a Hokie player, Todd Grantham is the defensive coordinator at Florida and one of the highest regarded defensive coaches in the nation.

I guess this can be classified as one those you never know where life is going to take you stories but having two Cougars will definitely increase the Gators chances at beating Alabama! Both Grantham and Graham are members of the Pulaski County Football Hall of Fame.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot