KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There’s a new head coach at Virginia Tech, 40-year old Justin Fuente, a former Arena Football League QB and Gary Patterson protege at TCU.
Fuente, who played two years at Oklahoma before losing his job and transferring to Murray State, came to coaching prominence at Memphis the past two seasons.
The Tigers went 10-3 and 9-3 the past two seasons, including a 37-24 win over Ole Miss in 2015.
Fuente is in the process of trying to transition the Hokies into a hurry-up, spread attack after taking over the program from likely first-ballot College Football Hall of Famer Frank Beamer.
Beamer guided Virginia Tech for 29 years (238-121-2), leaving the Hokies with the longest bowl streak (23) in the FBS ranks.
Virginia Tech peaked in 1999 when Michael Vick was the quarterback and the team lost to Florida State in the BCS national championship game in the Sugar Bowl.
After winning 10-plus games for eight straight seasons from 2004-11, Beamer’s teams failed to win more than eight games in any of his final four seasons at the helm, going 16-16 in the ACC over that span.
Why Tennessee avoided Virginia Tech
The Hokies wanted badly to play Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway around the turn of the century, and track owner Bruton Smith did what he could to convince then-Vols athletics director Doug Dickey.
Dickey, however, pointed out that Tennessee already had a home-and-home series scheduled with a then-Big East team — Miami — that the Vols and networks found more attractive.
Dickey also didn’t like the idea of giving up a home game and playing at a neutral site. At the time, it didn’t make sense financially.
Virginia Tech fans took that as a snub at the time, and the program has been itching for a chance to play the Vols, as the schools are only 235 miles apart.
The Hokies made Tennessee pay for dodging them when the teams met in 2009, scoring a dominating 37-14 victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. The teams haven’t played a regular season game since 1937.
About Virginia Tech
Location: Blacksburg, Va.
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Famous alumni: Bruce Arians (coach of NFL’s Arizona Cardinals), Darian Grubb (former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion crew chief for Tony Stewart), Bruce Smith (Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman), Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills QB), Angela Tincher (2008 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year), Bruce Vorhauer (creator of contraceptive sponge), Robert Richardson (Physics Nobel Prize winner),
By the numbers
1896 — O.M. Stull, Class of 1896, wrote the “Old Hokie” spirit yell, leading to the origination of the “Hokies” name.
1913 — Floyd Meade, a local resident, trained a large turkey to gobble on command, and the “Gobblers” nickname began to be used regularly. Ultimately, the “Hokies” name prevailed with the turkey bird remaining the mascot.
90 — The Hokies have one of the most-experienced offensive lines in the nation, opening this season with 90 career starts between their returning offensive linemen.
70 — Virginia Tech is ranked No. 70 by U.S. News & World Report among national universities (UT is No. 103). That said, the name of former President Ronald Reagan was misspelled on the school’s pregame notes for Liberty.
23 — The Hokies own the nation’s longest active bowl streak at 23. Georgia is second (19), followed by Oklahoma (17) and LSU (16).
21— Bud Foster is in his 21st year as the Hokies defensive coordinator. Over the past 20 years, Virginia Tech is tied for the nation’s best third-down defense (31.6 percent). The Hokies entered this season with more sacks since Foster took over (749) and interceptions (337) than any other FBS program.
17 — Career rushing TDs in two seasons at Virginia Tech for former Hokies QB Michael Vick (1999-2000). Vick rushed for 682 yards and nine TDs in 1999 and 617 yards and eight TDs in 2000. By comparison, UT’s Josh Dobbs rushed for 469 yards and eight TDs in 2014 and 671 yards and 11 TDs in 2015.
11 — Kicker Joey Slye has made 11 straight field goals inside of 40 yards.
10 — The Hokies opened as a 9-point underdog, but the line quickly climbed to 10 on Sunday night.
4- Tennessee faces three first-year head coaches at Power 5 schools, and Fuente is the first of them (Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Missouri’s Barry Odom).
1 — Player on the Virginia Tech roster who lists Tennessee as his home state: defensive tackle Woody Baron from Nashville.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.