BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech introduced its new head football coach Justin Fuente at a Monday press conference in Blacksburg. Fuente, who will take over from retiring, legendary Hokie football coach Frank Beamer, arrived in Virginia Sunday night.
Fuente comes to Virginia from the University of Memphis. There he led the Tigers to an 18-6 record over two seasons. The Tigers will play in a bowl game this season.
"You don't replace a legend in coaching. You hope to build on what he's already done. You hope to continue to operate in the same manner with the same principles and the same integrity that he's done for so very many years here," Fuente said. "I've admired this program from afar for many years, on television, the way the players have played, the way the fans have cheered, their traditions, the wins, the losses, the facilities, the support, the league changes, and I've always wanted to be a part of something like that."
Following his prepared statements, Coach Fuente answered questions from the media:
Q. Curious, you touched on the idea this being the job you wanted. Obviously with all the shuffling in college football, lots of places are coming open. When in the process did you kind of identify, ‘okay, it's just me and Whit, it's just me and Virginia Tech’?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I don't know if there's one day. I just know that -- without getting into all the specifics, when opportunities come about, they contact our representatives and our representatives contact me, and I usually -- for everything else, I just nipped it in the bud and wanted to make sure I did right by the University of Memphis.
I had a really good job, and I was really happy there. I loved where I lived. I loved our kids. Our kids worked incredibly hard. They were fully invested in the program. So I didn't feel the need to do anything. I wasn't desperate to move, but when this opportunity came along, I felt like it was a really good fit and was extremely interested in it.
Q. Being a Midwest guy and from Oklahoma, I know all your ties are pretty much Midwest, and Virginia Tech being such an East Coast based school, recruiting, everything, what do you maybe plan to do to kind of adapt or what do you see as some of the transitions that will maybe allow you to adapt or help adapt to everything being East Coast based?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Sure. Well, we had the same issue when I came to Memphis from TCU. Same question, actually. And the answer is, we'll hire great people. People always went out, and it doesn't matter what part of the country you're in, you hire good people to do a good job, and other people recognize that.
I want us to have a very tangible program in this state. I want us to reach out through camps, clinics, which I know Coach Beamer has done for many years. We want to continue to do that, to continue to develop those relationships, and we'll hire good people and put them in good spots, and they'll do a fantastic job.
Q. You said at Memphis your definition of success changed over the four years that you were there. I'm wondering since this is a little bit different than what you went through there how you might -- if you know, how you might try to define success in your first year or two here.
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, you know, it's obvious why we said that when we started at Memphis. We had to find reasons -- we couldn't measure it just with wins and losses when we started. I still believe that, even when we had success, there were games that we won that I was not happy with our team. I didn't
think we did things the right way. There were games that we lost that I was extremely happy with them. So I think you have to be careful. And what I'm talking about is I understand fans want wins, and I understand that part of it.
But internally, I think you have to be careful in how you measure whether they're doing what you're asking them to do. You have to do things a certain way in order to give yourself a chance for success. It doesn't always guarantee that you'll have that.
In terms of how I would measure it this year, I don't know if I've been here long enough to even think about that. I mean, I've got -- I know very little about our team. We don't even have our staff put together and all that sort of stuff, so it would be a little premature for me to throw out expectations and all that stuff right now.
Q. I think everybody has seen the stats that your teams have put up over the years. How would you define your offensive philosophy, and is that something that translates anywhere that you coach?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Yeah, I think I'm one of the unique offensive coaches in that I have a deep respect for the other side of the ball. And when I say that, there are a lot of offensive coaches out there that want to lead the country in total offense no matter what, and that's not what I believe in. I believe in trying to find a way to win the game. I think coaching for Coach Patterson at TCU for five years, who's obviously a defensive-minded coach, helped me develop that feeling.
That being said, we want to change the tempo. That doesn't mean we want to go at such a speed that we hang the defensive side of the ball out to dry, so to speak, by making them play the whole game, but we do want to control the tempo. We have been a run-the-ball-first team. We have made big plays through play-action pass and moving the pocket and getting the ball on the perimeter, and that's what we'll continue to try to do.
I believe that's the best way to have success as a team. You can run the football. You're better on defense. You're better on offense. You're better on special teams. And then you can make some big plays through the play-action pass and getting the ball to the edge. We'll continue to change the tempo and start with running the football.
Q. That forcing the tempo and you mentioned the system you brought from TCU to Memphis, what are the roots of that? Where did you learn offensive football? Does it go back to your playing days in high school, at Murray? I’m just curious as to the roots of it.
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, when I took over at -- when I got the job at TCU, I was a running back coach, and I had been a 1-AA offensive coordinator at Illinois State at a pretty young age, and we had a couple good coaches on our staff, Coach Wiggins was one of them, that we kind of got together and we were a little more traditional I-pro team and we had some good players and had some success.
I moved to TCU as a running back coach and really was enamored with the way that they ran the ball at TCU at the time. They got the ball to the perimeter; they ran some option stuff; they did some things formationally. I think that had a big influence on me, and then eventually I became the coordinator there. I've really, in short, taken bits and pieces of what we've done in the past and tried to build it together. I think the true mark of it is molding it towards your personnel. That's the most difficult job and the most important job in terms of offense or defensive football is what can our guys do well, what can we get them to do well, what are their skill sets, and trying to mold it to fit.
It does you no good to say that you've got this certain offense but yet you don't have the guys with that skill set. You've got to mold it to what they've got, and that's a lot easier said than done, quite honestly. That's a big challenge. So we've taken bits and pieces over the years, different influences, talks with other people, and then tried to mold it to what we had.
Q. You said you had a good job, so I'm curious, what was the mood and the meetings like as you told the people at Memphis, your players, that you were leaving, and it seems like they have nothing but appreciation for what you did. What was the tenor of those meetings?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, the meeting with our players, boy, it was difficult. I'm glad that I got to do it. I'm glad that I got to tell them face-to-face. I know there was a lot of -- there were a lot of reports, but I got to tell them the facts. It was maybe the hardest conversation I've ever had in coaching. I could hardly get started, if that tells you anything. I walked in the room and they went dead silent, and it was hard.
But I'm awfully proud of those kids. I'm appreciative of the way they worked. They truly bought into something that wasn't there at the time. They bought into a theory or a belief that we had no tangible proof that we could do it, and they bought into it and they went out and did it.
It was a difficult conversation. I'm glad we had it. I'm glad it was a face-to-face conversation. I've always tried to be as honest as humanly possible with our kids. When I'm happy with them, they absolutely know it, and when I'm not happy with them, they absolutely know it. But that didn't make it easy. It made it very difficult.
Q. Coach, you mentioned a lot of potential opportunities for you professionally before you took this job. What was it specifically, though, about this place that was so attractive to you? Was it the culture, the leadership? What was it that made you say, okay, this is a place that I only want to consider?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I think the first thing is Whit and his leadership. Just in the same ways that he checked around on me, I called around on him. It was a fantastic review of a guy that you truly want to work for. Obviously the tradition, this is big-time college football, and we all want our shot at coaching at the highest level.
I feel like this is obviously a program that's had tremendous success. You do have to follow a legendary coach, however, but I really believed in everything that I had heard about the way this place went about its business, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Q. Justin, you already mentioned Coach Patterson and you talked about some of the origins of your offensive philosophies. I was wondering what else you might have learned that you've taken from Coach Patterson and maybe some of your other biggest coaching influences or influences off the field that have affected your career and your track?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Sure. We have taken everything in terms of the way we practice, the way our schedule is arranged, the way our off-season is run from TCU. When I got there, I was completely enamored with the way it ran and took basically very detailed notes on it and knew if I ever got a chance to run a program, I wanted to do it that way in terms of how we practiced, how we ran our off-season, our player development. So that's been a huge influence in the football aspect of our program.
Coach Patterson has had a huge influence on me. I still consider him a fantastic resource and use him on a consistent basis. I try not to bother him during the season because I know he's a very focused coach. But I do enjoy spending time with him in the off-season and bouncing things off of him.
I've had some interesting influences in my life. In high school I played for a fantastic high school football coach named Bill Blankenship that was very laid-back and cerebral and just a blast to play for. He actually went on to be the head coach at the University of Tulsa for a few years.
In college my position coach at Oklahoma was a guy named Dick Winder which was the exact opposite. He was old, rough, tough, West Texas, in your tail all the time, and I would have stepped in front of a train for either one of them. I thought it was a great example of the different ways to get the most out of your players. I'm probably somewhere in the middle of those two. But they've been a huge influence on my personality professionally and how I've tried to do things.
Q. Whit mentioned the fly-on-the-wall aspect of having 20 practices to watch. Will you have to watch them from afar, or will you be out there with them, and how much benefit is there for you to be able to see how kind of guys operate for those 20 practices?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I don't know that -- first of all, I don't know that I'll be at every one of them just because of recruiting and that sort of stuff. I don't even know the schedule. We don't know when they're playing and all that sort of stuff. Absolutely I will stay out of the way. Absolutely. I wouldn't even dream of getting in the way.
I think it's an awesome benefit to get to be around and see and watch the kids interact and get a chance to not be -- quite honestly not be in charge of it but just be able to sit back and observe and watch. So I think it's a huge advantage, I really do. I'm excited about it.
Q. Much of your success in the last two years can be attributed to Paxton Lynch, 6'7" quarterback who's got 28 touchdowns, had seven in the first half this past Saturday. Is he the type of prototypical quarterback that you'd like, and do you believe that that type of quarterback is already on Virginia Tech's roster?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Well, I would like guys that can move around. I don't know that you're going to find very many 6'7", 245-pound guys that can run and throw like Paxton. I mean he's a special player. But I do -- I would like -- I always think of when we talk about it in the staff room, is I don't want guys that were like me at quarterback.
I want somebody that can move.
You know, and I don't know. I have a recruiting meeting and a meeting about the current roster after this, and I'll look at all that stuff. To say we do or don't, I have no clue. But I'm looking forward to working with all those guys that we've got and trying to piece it together.
Q. When do you hope to have your staff in place, your deadline for getting your coaches together, and besides Coach Foster, do you hope to retain any other coaches that are currently on staff?
JUSTIN FUENTE: Yeah, sure. I don't have a date. Essentially we've got two weeks of recruiting, and then it goes dead for almost a month. Both teams, it's kind of a unique situation because both teams are playing in bowl games. I want to be sure I pay due respect to the University of Memphis by making sure that they have enough guys there to win their bowl game because I want them to go win.
But I also know that I need to move forward in this aspect, too.
There will be some guys that will stay there the entire time until they're done and then we'll bring them aboard. I think you'll see it just pieced together, then there will probably be a little bit of a lull as recruiting is over -- or not over but in the dead period and teams are really focused on bowl preparations, and then after that stuff is over, then I think you'll see it pick up a little bit more.
We'll talk to some people, both on this current staff and not on this current staff, to try and put the best staff together to give us a chance to win.