CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The ACC includes four new head coaches this year, but only one faced a tightrope explaining his vision of the future without treading on the past.
Miami’s Mark Richt, Syracuse’s Dino Babers and Virgina’s Bronco Mendenhall have faced no such balancing act. They are free to emphasize the need to change the program’s culture.
For example, Richt can talk about discipline and accountability. Miami’s players – at least the ones that stayed out of trouble – and the Hurricanes’ fan base nod their heads in approval at such comments. It’s the same to a lesser degree with Babers and Mendenhall.
At Virginia Tech, though, new coach Justin Fuente is replacing a legend.
Frank Beamer’s teams may have slipped at the end of his 29-year run of building the Hokies into a national name, but he retired at the end of 2015. There was no ugly dismissal – no matter what pressure behind closed doors Beamer felt to retire at age 69 — to tarnish his legacy.
Virginia Tech senior fullback Sam Rogers, speaking at one of the breakout sessions with players at the ACC Kickoff media days at the Westin Charlotte, said Fuente gained instant credibility with the players at the first team meeting.
“One of the things he told us at a team meeting was, ‘Look, I don’t have to start from scratch. I get to build on a foundation Coach Beamer has already set,’ ” Rogers said. “That showed us what kind of guy he is. The transition has been very smooth, and he’s handled it in a great way. It’s been nice to have played for a legend like Coach Beamer and now to be playing for Coach Fuente.”
Senior defensive end Ken Ekanem said Fuente reiterated the message once he had individually met with his new players.
“He emphasized what he’s going to implement at Virginia Tech, how he’s going to continue Coach Beamer’s legacy,” said the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder. “That got me very excited.”
Fuente arrived from Memphis following back-to-back seasons of 10-3 and 9-3, including developing quarterback Paxton Lynch into an NFL first-round draft pick as the 26th choice by the Denver Broncos.
But Fuente nevertheless does bring a new identity to the Hokies.
Under Beamer, the Hokies were a physical team that beat opponents with a running game, defense and special teams play. Fuente favors a spread offense that, if operated as expected, will be more explosive than past Virginia Tech teams.
Rogers, a 5-10, 228-pounder, said the transition to Fuente’s up-tempo offense has been more about conditioning than scheme. Virginia Tech went to a no-huddle at times under Beamer, but Fuente’s offense requires more snaps of up-tempo play.
He seems with his versatility ideal for an expanded role of misdirection plays under Fuente. Rogers has been used as blocker, runner and a receiver catching the ball out of the backfield, in the slot and split wide.
Last year he carried 98 times for 409 yards (4.2 per carry) and two touchdowns. He caught 16 balls for 193 yards and two touchdowns with a long of reception of 51 yards.
“I know I’ll be blocking some, running some and catching some,” Rogers said. “I know it’s a cliché answer, but I’ll play wherever he wants me. If he wants me at left tackle, I’ll play it. I’ll be a little short for the position, but I’ll do my best.”
The key offensive question for Fuente is identifying a starting quarterback.
Senior Brenden Motley played 10 games and started six in a backup role last year, but junior college transfer Jerod Evans is believed to have the edge coming out of spring ball for the season opener on Sept. 3 against Liberty, a Football Championship Subdivision member. The Hokies face Tennessee in their second game at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be converted to a 160,000-seat football venue.
“There’s not one guy over another right now,” Fuente said. “It’s up in the air. But I like the way they’re going about it and the way they’re working.”