It’s the topic which never gets quite enough attention when coaching carousel situations emerge, and when coaching vacancies are discussed: If the new head coach has a specific point of expertise, how will the program fill the vacancy for the “weak-side” coordinator — the one with expertise on the other side of the ball?
If Head Coach A is an offensive guru, then, how will the program handle the vacancy for Defensive Coordinator B?
It’s not enough for Head Coach A to be a great play caller; if Defensive Coordinator B can’t stop a flea, the program won’t rise. As a perfect example of this, consider Texas Tech.
Kliff Kingsbury is unquestioned as an offensive mastermind, but his defensive coordinators are weak and ineffective. The Red Raiders show no real signs of becoming a program that can ever win more than nine games or crack the top three of the Big 12 in their present configuration. It’s not that the head coach isn’t good at what he does; it’s that he doesn’t ensure success on the side of the ball he doesn’t know well. Budgeting, resources, and a willingness on the part of the assistants to buy into a larger overall plan all form the full puzzle when coaching vacancies are discussed. Merely hiring at one position can move the operation forward, but the real key is for the head coach to have the coordinator who can take care of the other side of the ball.
This is the time to pivot to the reports on Saturday that while Justin Fuente of Memphis will soon be named as Frank Beamer’s replacement at Virginia Tech, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will stay on in Blacksburg to help Fuente.
Hiring Fuente — an evidently talented coach but also a man whose Memphis team lost three games in a row in November — is a good move. It’s not a great one; it’s a good one. Fuente might struggle in the upper reaches of the ACC. What he’s done at Memphis is very impressive, but it’s not what Urban Meyer did at Utah in 2004 (12-0 and a Fiesta Bowl win). Fuente needed to have a quality defensive coordinator in order for Virginia Tech to create a truly GREAT coaching situation.
The ideal goal, all along, was for Foster — Frank Beamer’s best and most trusted assistant — to be convinced to stay on the job and provide total continuity for the Hokies’ defense. That Virginia Tech was able to hire Fuente and keep Foster is what should make Hokie fans extremely happy on Thanksgiving weekend.
There are no questions about Bud Foster’s coaching acumen on the defensive side of the ball. It had been felt in some quarters — perhaps as little more than a blurted-out voice; who knows? — that Foster might be a good choice to lead the program as the head coach. Yet, Foster’s late-August remarks about fining players could not have helped his chances of becoming a head coach, if indeed he ever wanted the job. This wasn’t so much a matter of whether Foster was right or wrong; it was a matter of a coach needing to exhibit the public-relations savvy that’s needed of the icon of the university. An ACC head football coach is the face of the university at Clemson and Florida State and Georgia Tech. At schools such as Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State, the head basketball coach becomes the face of the school.
The point is plain: Coaches in positions of great visibility — coaches asked to be caretakers of cherished public entities such as a big-ticket sports program — have to be smart speakers. Foster did not give that impression in late August, so as Virginia Tech moved to replace Frank Beamer, the idea of Foster being elevated to the head spot seemed remote.
This — THIS — is the ideal arrangement the Hokies and athletic director Whit Babcock should have pursued. It’s the arrangement they secured.
Virginia Tech has already become a winner in the coaching carousel — not because of the hire of Justin Fuente in isolation, but because Fuente and Bud Foster will work together. It should be a very productive and proserous partnership, one which just might be able to lift the Hokies back to the heights they attained when Foster and Frank Beamer transformed the program into the attractive destination it is today.