BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is stepping down at the end of the 2019 football season.
The longtime Hokies assistant made the announcement at the team’s media day on Thursday. Foster’s wife Jessie and his son Grant were in attendance at the team’s indoor practice facility.
“I’m not sick, I’m not burned out, at least I hope I’m not sick,” Foster said with a smile. “Nobody is forcing me out. It’s just going to be time when it’s all said and done.”
Foster, 60, told Tech players moments before publicly revealing the decision.
After taking this year’s team photo at Lane Stadium, coaches and players gathered in the locker room for a previously scheduled meeting about media day. Coach Justin Fuente told the team 2019 was going to be a special year and introduced Foster to tell them why.
“I saw him today coming into work and he gave me a smile, but it was weird, I knew something was off,” Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “The coaches took forever to come in and they had this aura like something was up.”
The announcement left the entire room in stunned silence.
“I knew he was getting older and he’d been doing it forever, but I didn’t think it was going to be this year. I thought he could go forever, I picture him as a young man,” Hollifield said.
Foster, who is currently FBS’s longest continuously serving assistant by seven years, was entering the final season of a five-year extension that he signed in 2014, a contract that made him one of the highest-paid defensive coordinators in the country. This latest round of contract negotiations were much different.
“In this business you don’t get the opportunity very often to go out on your terms,” Foster said. “I’ve been very blessed to have this opportunity.”
“He’s a hall of famer in whatever hall of fames will come in the future,” Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock of Foster. “He’s perhaps or I don’t think perhaps, he is the greatest ever at his craft of defensive coordinator...the definition of a leader and I certainly want to celebrate that. His loyalty, his sense of place in this Hokie land, he personifies it, even that tough, strong Hokie stone. He’s the fabric of this place. He’s the brand, he’s the icon.”
Babcock had several more meetings with Foster in the following months — meetings which included coach Justin Fuente — but a final decision wasn’t made until recently.
Fuente thought his defensive coordinator might stick around for a few more years having seen how reenergized Foster was in recent weeks, which included a surfboarding session on the lake with a few players.
“I didn’t really know which way it was going to go, quite honestly,” Fuente said. “I know that we wanted him here if he wanted to be here. And I’ve made that clear to him on multiple occasions. But I didn’t know....this was certainly a long, thought-out thought process and one that I think he’s come to peace with.”
That’s why Fuente hasn’t spent much time thinking about a coaching search. Babcock pledged to offer the resources Fuente needs to get the candidate he wants, but there’s no time table in place and a decision isn’t “remotely close.”
“To be candid, I’ve been worried about today,” Fuente said. “Now I’m not copping out of the question. I’m not sure, is the answer to that. I don’t know. Certainly I’ll put plenty of thought into what we need and what we’re looking for. I don’t think it’s going to be a distraction for me as we go through the season.”
Once Foster made the decision, he wanted to announce it before the season so his contract status wouldn’t be a distraction for players this fall.
It’s why Foster doesn’t plan on taking much about the decision in the coming months either — he didn’t even take questions after his brief statement on Thursday — as he looks to keep everyone focused on the 2019 campaign.
“It was very hard on Bud, his first focus was always on the players,” Babcock said.
And turning around a Virginia Tech defensive that struggled last season with eight first-year starters.
The Hokies finished with the 85th ranked scoring defense (31 points per game allowed), 98th total defense (438.7 yards per game) and 106th rushing defense (210.3). Foster also had issues with his knee — had offseason surgery — and spent the end of the regular season coaching from the booth on doctor’s orders.
Foster hopes all those issues — on the field and off — are behind him as he looks to go out on a high note.
“I’m going to give them every ounce of energy I have and I’m going to expect that in return,” Foster said. “That’s really what it comes down to. I love our players, I love this team, I love their focus. Our focus is going to be on this team and their season. We have some great kids. We have an opportunity to do some special things. I feel good about them. I can promise you, I’m going to give them my very best for the next 120 days.”
The 2019 season will be Foster’s 33rd season with Virginia Tech and 39th overall. He was brought in to coach linebackers in coach Frank Beamer’s inaugural season as coach in 1987 and took over as defensive coordinator in 1995 (he was co-defensive coordinator for a season). Beamer stepped down after the 2015 season.
Virginia Tech has finished in the top five in scoring defense on seven different occasions under Foster, leading the nation twice (1999 and 2006), and led the nation in total defense in both 2005 and 2006.
Since Foster took as sole defensive coordinator in 1996, the Hokies have the most sacks (856) and interceptions (380) in the country. During that stretch 45 of his players have been drafted (11 in the first or second round).
Virginia Tech already has some tentative plans to honor Foster during his final season. The Hokies will honor the 1999 team that reached the national title game on Sept. 27 when they host Duke at Lane Stadium. The home game against Wake Forest on Nov. 9 will be “Bud Foster Night.”
“Maybe we’ll even ask everyone to grow a goatee,” Babcock said. “And that’s plenty of advance notice for people like me that take awhile to grow one. Maybe we’ll do that. We will get there and we will do that and we will do it right because transitions are important at Virginia Tech.”