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As I do every Sunday morning, I got some hot coffee, then Maggie the WonderBeagle and I thrashed out the results of the previous day’s Virginia Tech football game. It was another loss, and I was trying to develop some level of outrage about how the state of the program has fallen so far since the glory days of the 90s and early 2000s.
It was at this point Maggie looked up from sniffing every leaf in the back yard and said “why would you? Do you really think anything’s going to change?”
Admittedly, the hound is right.
If you take yourself through what would happen if you made the change this morning, you see the foolishness of such a move. Unless you’ve got a name coach ready to come in tomorrow who can lead the program back to the 10-win seasons of yesterday, the first thing you’d have to do is name an interim coach for the rest of the season.
That alone says to fans we’re punting on the rest of the season, not to mention the question of which assistant would you elevate to the job temporarily. This isn’t your father’s program where if Frank Beamer left, Bud Foster could grab the helm and the program would keep on trucking. Indeed, one of the bigger issues on this team is the performance of some of the key assistants. You going to promote one of them?
Then there is the danger that the assistant does really well those last few games. With nothing to lose, many times the team plays better as they rally around their teammates. Then there’s pressure to let the interim stay as the head coach, the school does it for the sake of continuity, and you soon realize why that coach was an assistant and not a head whistle.
You certainly don’t save any money in that scenario, as you’re going to pay the head coach any way. If anything, it costs you more because you have to pay the assistant you promoted more. So you’ve spent money you don’t have just to make a change that doesn’t make the situation any better.
I’m not arguing you shouldn’t consider a change at the end of the season. But this is an unusual year where all players get a mulligan and can come back next year regardless of eligibility. And there is a possibility that head coach Justin Fuente might just “get it” before the end of the season. There were signs of that yesterday.
My big problem with Fuente this season has been signs of a lack of attention to detail when it comes to game preparation and strategy. It started with the North Carolina game, as I wrote in this post, where he had a strategic advantage and ignored it, approaching it like it was every other game. The team was equally lethargic and unprepared for Wake Forest, and when all signs said it's time to get intense, they did the same thing with Liberty.
For three quarters yesterday, he had it dialed in. You could see the offense had worked on a game plan to run plays against its tendencies. I have every reason to believe several older members of the staff got with defensive coordinate Justin Hamilton and helped him prepare to the point that he was ready and called a very nice game Saturday.
It’s a first step, in my eyes, to Fuente understanding what he needs to do to make the program successful. Last week because of all the grief he took, he got the entire staff focused on being ready. Maybe this week he gets the staff just as focused on what happened in the fourth quarter and they fix that.
Of course, maybe unicorns fly through my backyard and leave a few gold eggs too, as I realize we’ve been down this road with Fuente before. It shouldn't take heat from previous disappointments to force you to get focused.
But perhaps in a year that really doesn’t count, where everybody gets to come back, this will be the impetus to finally push Fuente in one direction or another.
You see it all the time in business. A good manager stays up late the night before the big presentation and works 24/7 to get ready, then relaxes. The great manager just gives that sort of effort every day.
Fuente showed for three quarters yesterday he can motivate his staff to be great. Now he needs to show he can do it for four quarters, week after week.
Otherwise all the players may be eligible to come back next season.
But he may not.