BLACKSBURG — Three months after Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock was hired in 2014, he terminated the men’s basketball coach and hired a new leader of the program.
Legendary Hokies football coach Frank Beamer announced he was retiring the following year.
Babcock is dealing with a similar one-two punch in 2019. His previous basketball hire Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M after taking the Hokies to the Sweet 16.
With the ink yet to dry on Mike Young’s contract for that job, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster announced he was stepping down after the 2019 season on Thursday.
"His sense of place in this Hokie land, he personifies it even that tough, strong Hokie stone,” Babcock said, on Thursday of Foster. "He’s the fabric of this place. He’s the brand, he’s the icon.”
The search for a new defensive coordinator hasn’t started yet and when it does Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente will be the driving force behind it, but the athletic department’s recent history in dealing with major coaching transitions will help.
Foster and Babcock referenced the successful transition from Beamer to Fuente on Thursday.
"If there ever was a road map for a nice transition, Coach Beamer did it," Babcock said.
Even with Virginia Tech finishing 2018 with a losing record, Fuente’s 25-15 record in three seasons is the most wins by any Tech football coach in his first three seasons. In his inagrual campaign, Fuente won ACC coach of the year honors as he led his new team the conference title game. The Hokies have also maintained their winning streak over Virginia (15 straight victories) and bowl streak (26 seasons).
While neither Williams nor previous men's basketball coach James Johnson have no continued ties to the university, that's not the case for Beamer, nor will it be for Foster.
Part of the football transition blueprint exercised in 2015 included making Beamer an ambassador to the football program. Babcock stressed the importance of having Foster remain with the university in a similar role on Thursday.
“It will not be a figurehead role,” Babcock said. “Coach Beamer’s isn’t. He works and does everything we ask. Bud can be involved in the drive for 25. He can be involved in fundraising. He can be involved in on campus recruiting for all sports. He can coach our coaches. He can help with student athlete development and young people transitioning in. he can be on the radio shows, the ACC Network. He can be a liaison to all those former players who played for him. He will have value here and he will still be around, it just won’t be with that play sheet hanging off his khakis everyday.”
Babcock and Fuente also haven’t been shy about embracing Beamer’s legacy.
Fuente started a game day tradition of having the team’s top special teams player wearing Beamer’s No. 25 jersey. Tech renamed the indoor practice facility in November on the day it unveiled a statue honoring Beamer in front of Lane Stadium.
There are already celebrations planned for Foster in 2019 — Tech is honoring the 1999 team on Sept. 27 (Duke) and a Bud Foster night on Nov. 9 (Wake Forest) — and the Hokies will continue to honor the Lunch Pail tradition the longtime defensive coordinator created long into the future.
With Babcock crediting Foster for the “This Is Home” slogan that defines athletic department’s overall brand, it can't be avoided. Foster used the phrase in an emotional postgame interview after the 2014 Military Bowl discussing the five-year contract extension that goes through this season.
Babcock also hopes the fan base pulls together just as it did four years ago when Beamer’s departure “didn’t fracture us,” a point he made when looking back at the transition in an interview with The Roanoke Times in June. Babcock reiterated the point publicly on Thursday.
“He hasn’t left yet but he’s going to leave it a whole lot better than he found it, and Virginia Tech’s bigger than all of us,” Babcock said. “It’ll be hard getting over coach Beamer and now coach Foster. But it'll move on and he made it a lot better on all of us. Hopefully, the Hokie family can be united. Let’s celebrate it and pull it together.”