BLACKSBURG, VA (WTKR)- Eleven months after deciding to not to fire Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech's Whit Babcock stood before the media discussing why the move had backfired.
The Hokies' athletic director and Fuente "mutually agreed" to part ways on Tuesday, ending the head coach's up and down tenure in Blacksburg. He will receive a buyout of $8.75 million.
"We made this change in leadership most simply because we did not have the level of consistency nor the full development of a true team identity," Babcock said during a press conference on Tuesday morning. "I want to empathize with our fans, donors and alumni. You guys show up and show out and we want to match your level of excellence on the field."
Fuente replaced Frank Beamer following the 2015 season and things looked to be off and running during his first two years at the head of the Hokies. Virginia Tech went 19-8 during the course of those two campaigns, including a comeback win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. That gave Tech a 10-win season in 2016.
However, Fuente has struggled to find consistent success since those first two years. His last four seasons have seen the Hokies limp to a 24-23 record, failing to come up with a bowl victory during that time span. Virginia Tech saw its 15-game winning streak against UVA come to an end in 2019 and the program suffered losing seasons in 2018 and 2020.
"Justin didn't fail, our team didn't fail, we all did," Babcock said. "Look out there, there's not many AD's that maybe haven't missed on one. It's kind of like a five star recruit. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. You just do the best you can and I thought we got off to a great start with Justin and then it just didn't go where we wanted it to go."
Fuente was given the option to finish out the season, but informed Babcock that if the decision had been made that the school wanted to go in a different direction, it would be better for him to depart.
"Certainly would have liked for that to happen, but I also understand Justin's point," noted the Hokies' athletic director. "'Hey, if I'm not the guy and you don't believe in me, then we need to do this.' I don't want to paint Justin in a poor corner, I don't think he quit on anybody."
Babcock also said he does not believe Virginia Tech will utilize a search firm to find its next head football coach.
The Hokies' 48-17 win over Duke on Saturday pulled them back to .500 with a 5-5 record. They have two games remaining, facing Miami and Virginia, both on the road. Assistant coach J.C. Price will assume the role of interim head coach for the remainder of the season.
Babcock says he will seek a coach with a proven track record of success that fits the values of Virginia Tech and what it stands for, one that will engage with the community, a competent leader with character, somebody committed to the student-athlete experience and somebody with a plan who will recruit the region successfully. He also would like somebody who can relate to the new era of college athletics and athletes and be comfortable pushing to the top of the ACC.