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McFarling: For now, VT coach Justin Fuente's not going anywhere

McFarling: For now, VT coach Justin Fuente's not going anywhere


There’s no outlet to plug in the hot seat. No power source available. Not this year.

Fans are justifiably frustrated with Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente. Many are angry. After Pittsburgh’s 47-14 dismantling of the Hokies last week – the third straight loss for Tech – the calls for a coaching change have gotten louder.

It won’t happen. Can’t happen. Not in 2020.

It’s just not financially feasible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slashed Tech’s athletic revenue by about $30 million for the fiscal year that ends in June. Tech’s final two home games against Clemson and Virginia will be played in front of the usual smattering of fans the governor allows. Basketball season starts on Wednesday for the Hokies, and the challenges there will be similar.

The NCAA is planning to stage its annual men’s basketball tournament in March, all at one site, but whether that will actually happen remains to be seen. Scheduled games are already being canceled, including a few at this week’s tournament in Connecticut in which Tech and UVa are scheduled to compete.

How much more revenue could disappear? It’s impossible to say. But here’s what we know for sure: This isn’t a time to pay $10 million for a coach to go away.

That’s what it would cost after Dec. 15 (down from a $12.5 million buyout right now) if Tech were to move on from Fuente after Year 5. Then, of course, you have to account for Fuente’s staff. Then you have to pay the salary of a new coach, which would be in the neighborhood of the $4.25 million that Fuente is receiving annually.

How could Tech possibly justify that right now? When everyone everywhere is trying to cut costs, athletic director Whit Babcock can’t throw $10 million-plus down a sinkhole.

And in the near term, a coaching change might even make the team worse. Consider how difficult the transition has been for new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton in this climate. Now multiply that. Attempting to bring in an entirely new staff and implement new schemes with limited practice time – nobody knows what spring ball will look like – would be ambitious, at best.

The only realistic option is to ride it out with Fuente, at least until the financial landscape improves.

That doesn’t mean that the results in 2020 don’t matter. Oh, they do. They’re all data points. Just like Fuente’s 2016 ACC Coach of the Year award, his loss to Old Dominion in a brutal 2018, his midseason revival last year, his offseason dalliance with Baylor, his 15-17 record against FBS opponents the past three years. All of it matters. The last two games of this season will, too.

But the only way a coaching change would happen this year would be if the people sending angry letters to Babcock also attached seven-figure donations. That’s essentially what happened at South Carolina, where Will Muschamp was fired after a third straight lopsided loss last week.

Tech doesn’t have those kinds of resources. But it does have a similarly passionate fan base that is getting awfully restless.

“That’s part of coaching at a place that values football,” Fuente said in his Monday news conference. “I get that. Nobody’s happy with the record. Nobody likes what we’re doing, and nobody’s more invested in what we’re doing than I am, our staff and our players.”

That’s a good thing. Because nobody’s going anywhere right now. The hot seat at Tech is merely an idea, not a reality.

For better or worse, the repairs are in his hands.

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