BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Justin Fuente had numerous opportunities to leave Memphis, but said Monday that it wasn’t until Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock offered him the chance to replace the retiring Frank Beamer as coach that he knew it was time to make the move.
The 39-year-old Fuente was introduced as the Hokies’ next coach on Monday.
“We all know you don’t replace a legend in coaching. You hope to build on what he’s done,” Fuente said in a room packed with administrators, boosters, football players and Beamer and Beamer’s wife, Cheryl. “You hope to continue to operate in the same manner with the same principals and same integrity that he’s done for so very many years here.”
Fuente spent the past four seasons at Memphis, where he inherited a program that had gone 5-31 over three years. By his third season, the Tigers were 10-3, won a bowl game and finished No. 25 in the Top 25, the first end-of-season ranking in program history.
This year, the Tigers are 9-3 and bowl-bound again, though Fuente will not be there to coach them in that game. He won’t coach the Hokies in their bowl game, either; Beamer and his staff with handle those coaching duties. Fuente will work on recruiting and building a new staff in the interim.
The former college quarterback signed a 6-year contract that will start at $3.2 million his first season and climb to $3.65 million by 2021. He spent the morning doing introductory things, and then was planning on watching nearly 5 hours of recruiting video in the afternoon.
The next open recruiting period begins Tuesday and goes through Dec. 14.
Fuente said when other programs have reached out to his representatives in the past inquiring about his interest, he has always “nipped it in the bud” and went back to work on his team at Memphis. When Virginia Tech reached out, however, his interest was piqued.
“This is absolutely the job I was interested in,” he said, noting that as an observer from afar, he has admired the way the team played, the devotion of its fans, the facilities and their status in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like that.”
With many high profile jobs open, Fuente said he gave no thought to waiting to see what other offers might come his way.
“For me personally, there’s a draw to live in this town and be a part of this program that’s gone about things the way I’ve always wanted our program to go about things,” he said. “I just think that the fit is bigger than, `Well, it’s Georgia’ or, `It’s the Southeastern Conference or PAC 12′ or whatever it is. For me personally, my family … those things were bigger than the unknown.”
The talks between Babcock and Fuente had to be put on hold late last week, allowing Fuente to prepare his Tigers team for a game against SMU. The sides resumed talks Saturday night and Babcock was “thrilled” to be able to finalize the deal early Sunday.
“When I saw the market, the way it was shaping up probably to be the biggest year in history and over 30-some jobs, I just thought, you know what, if we can get in, get our guy and get out, that’s great because the longer it goes, schools are signing their guys back, other people are hiring,” he said. “I thought just then that we could get pressured into a quick decision or overpay or something like that.”
Fuente is bringing two coaches with him, for now: Tigers special teams coach James Shibest and wide receivers coach Holman Wiggins. Fuente said he may bring more after the Tigers’ bowl game. He’s also retaining longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
Babcock said keeping Foster was Fuente’s choice, and not a mandate from Virginia Tech.
However, the Virginia Tech AD did tell his new coach, “If it’s not Bud, you better have a darn good one you bring in here.”