BLACKSBURG, Va. - For the first time since 1992, the Virginia Tech football team ended its regular season with a losing record (5-and-6). However, that's not the only reason 2020 is forgettable for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock painted a stark picture Tuesday of what the Hokies went through during the football season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Well over half of our team, maybe three-fourths, contacted COVID since March,” Babcock said in an hourlong Zoom call. “Eight of our 10 full-time coaches contacted it, including our defensive coordinator (Justin Hamilton) missing the first two games.”
The virus impacted Virginia Tech from the start of the season. The Hokies had to postpone their opener against Virginia because of an outbreak within the team
The Hokies continued to be without key players throughout the season, and were shorthanded for their regular season finale against Virginia. Though Virginia Tech won that one, 33-15.
The Hokies finished the regular season 5-6, and 5-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which Babcock noted “played the most games in college football this year, by far.” The AD added that Virginia Tech played 11 regular-season games, which not many teams in the country will do, adding “there is no road map or manual on how to do that.”
Babcock said he wanted to use the call with reporters to explain in depth his reasons for retaining Fuente. The athletic director said he did not view the high infection rate as a repudiation of Fuente’s leadership or that of others around the program.
Fuente is 38-and-26 in five seasons at Tech. Babcock said, after meeting with the Hokies bench boss for four hours Monday, he saw and heard everything he needed to in order to be convinced Fuente deserved a sixth season in Blacksburg.
“I believe in Justin," Babcock admitted. "It’s not always the fashionable thing to keep somebody when everybody is yelling, but he’s our guy and I believe he gives us the best chance to be successful.”
In his first season at Tech, Fuente was voted the 2016 ACC Coach of the Year after leading the Hokies to a 9-and-3 regular-season record and a trip to the ACC title game. However, he's been losing more games since - and also losing support.
Last week, Chesapeake's DeAngelo Hall, a member of the Virginia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame, told News 3's Megan Plain he didn't feel Fuente was ever the right fit and hoped his days were done in Blacksburg.
"Those guys were amazing players with what they did here," Babcock said of former Hokies who have publicly voiced their displeasure with Fuente. "I know how much pride they have. They care deeply, and they're entitled to their opinion. I don't think it serves me very well to say I disagree with this or that, but hopefully those guys don't have any hard feelings. They're always welcome back as long as I'm here."