If you have ever heard one of my radio appearances or follow me on Twitter (@kensing45!), you might know my affinity for a specific Ric Flair quote: “To be The Man, you gotta beat The Man.”
Well, two months into his new job as head coach at Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente feels very much like The Man. Thank you, Bud Foster, for providing the opening to a Ric Flair analogy.
"Wooo!" Bud Foster says at post-game presser.
How do you spell that?
"I don't know," Bud said. "Have to ask Ric Flair probably." #Hokies
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) October 28, 2016
Coming from the longtime Hokie defensive coordinator Foster, “Wooo” also spells endorsement; an emphatic endorsement for Fuente from the right-hand man of Virginia Tech legend and future Hall of Famer Frank Beamer, deeming the first-year head coach The Man in Blacksburg.
Replacing The Man like Beamer was for Virginia Tech can prove unenviable. Look at Ray Perkins. I write this from the L.A. Coliseum, where coaches like Larry Smith, Paul Hackett and Lane Kiffin all tried unsuccessfully.
But with his Hokies positioned to reach the ACC Championship Game in Year 1, Justin Fuente has taken up the proverbial sequenced robe from Beamer with the same skill Ric Flair carried the moniker “Nature Boy” after Buddy Rogers.
Apologies for belaboring the Ric Flair parallel. Blame Bud Foster, not me. But I digress.
Fuente has fast proven himself the right choice to succeed Beamer, with Thursday’s win at Pitt putting the Hokies firmly in control of the ACC Coastal heading into the final month. Barring collapse, Virginia Tech’s title game appearance will mark its first in five years, perhaps a testament to Fuente’s following a legend not being quite as difficult as others before him who tried and failed elsewhere.
After Beamer built Virginia Tech into a fixture at or near the upper echelon of college for the second half of the 1990s and throughout the 2000s, the Hokies regressed in the 2010s.
That’s not intended as a slight of Justin Fuente, mind you — on the contrary.
Taking over a program that had been languishing in the land of repeated .500 finishes, Fuente faced a rebuilding job. He’d turned a program in much greater disrepair previously, transforming Memphis from one of the worst programs in FBS to Top 25 in short order.
Even at Memphis, though, Fuente didn’t become The Man so instantaneously; nor did his unique brand of offense produce results so quickly.
Virginia Tech’s failing throughout the previous half-decade could be attributed almost exclusively to offensive ineptitude. Beamer made changes to his offensive coaching staff, but nothing clicked.
Through two months under Fuente, the Hokies came into the night ranked No. 29 nationally in scoring offense at 35.9 points per game. They tacked on another 39 in the win at Pitt. A season ago in Blacksburg, Tech slogged to a 17-13 loss against the Panthers.
Tech flourished Thursday with an approach very much reminiscent of Fuente’s successful Memphis teams of 2014 and 2015, attacking via a prolific passing attack and sprinkling in a multifaceted run game. Quarterback Jerod Evans went for 404 yards, with the rotation of six ball-carriers totaling another 152.
Virginia Tech’s transformed from methodical at best, plodding at worst, to stylin’ and profilin’. Add the defensive guru and former Beamer enforcer Foster as the Arn Anderson to Fuente’s Nature Boy, and the Hokies again look to have a Flair For The Gold.
Justin Fuente has established himself as The Man at Virginia Tech. Wooo, indeed.