Four ACC teams will feature new head coaches when the 2016 season opens. Who are they? Where did they come from? Consider this a primer on what you need to know about the new guys in the conference, as you can brush up on your knowledge during this brief down time between the end of the season and the start of spring practice.
We’ll start today with new Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente.
How he got here: News of Fuente’s hiring at Virginia Tech actually broke Nov. 28, during the final Saturday of the regular season, as Fuente’s Memphis team was busy throttling SMU 63-0 while Virginia Tech was extending its season by beating rival Virginia. The coaching search got underway earlier than most, as Hokies coach Frank Beamer graciously announced his intentions Nov. 1 to retire after the season. From there, athletic director Whit Babcock went after -- and got -- his man.
Where was he? Fuente, 39, was the head coach at Memphis for four seasons, going 26-23 overall. Most impressive of all, Fuente went 19-6 with the Tigers during his final two seasons, including a 10-3 mark in 2014 that featured a share of the American Athletic Conference title, the school’s first league title in 43 years. The 10 victories were the program’s most since 1938, and Memphis finished 25th in both polls. Before Memphis, Fuente was an assistant at TCU for five years (2007-11) and at Illinois State for six years (2001-06).
What does he bring? “Beamerball” might be getting a makeover in Blacksburg. Fuente’s expertise comes on the offensive side of the ball -- particularly at quarterback. A former college QB himself at Oklahoma and Murray State, Fuente was instrumental in the development of future Pro Bowler Andy Dalton at TCU, which capped a perfect 2010 season with a Rose Bowl win. At Memphis, Fuente turned the under-recruited, 6-foot-7 Paxton Lynch into one of the nation’s elite passers, as Lynch threw for 3,776 yards with 28 touchdowns and just four picks this season. Fittingly, Fuente’s finale was Lynch’s best work: Lynch threw seven TD passes in the first half against SMU, tying an FBS record for a half. Hokies fans need not worry about straying too far from their roots, however: Fuente has kept three of Beamer’s defensive assistants on his staff.
Who’s he replacing? As if you need to ask. Beamer was perhaps the most respected figure in the game. The 69-year-old built the Virginia Tech program from the ground up, arriving as head coach in 1987 and amassing 238 wins and one BCS title-game appearance while taking the Hokies from independence to the Big East and, eventually, to the ACC. Virginia Tech won 10 or more games 13 different times under Beamer, who put the school on the map nationally in winning seven league crowns. All the while, there was never a sniff of NCAA misbehavior under his watch. His retirement announcement was one final act of class, as he stepped aside for the good of the program, which had dipped the past four seasons. Still, the Hokies’ 23-year bowl streak remains alive.
Quotable: “We all know you don’t replace a legend in coaching. You hope to build on what he’s done. You hope to continue to operate in the same manner with the same principles and same integrity that he’s done for so very many years here.” -- Fuente on Beamer, during Fuente’s Nov. 30 introduction.