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Justin Fuente and the art of not making friends

If I were a college football coach, I would simply make good decisions and win games.

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

On one hand, being a beloved college football coach is a very tricky proposition. You need to represent your school well in the media, make connections with boosters and high school coaches, win over recruits, and give fans reasons to be confident in your leadership.

On the other hand, all of those tasks are much easier if you win games and don’t do dumb shit. And against Liberty, Justin Fuente – who is not a particularly beloved coach in his fifth year at Virginia Tech – did some dumb shit and lost. With the game tied, the Flames lined up for a fairly desperate 59-yard field goal attempt. The ACC Network broadcast had noted earlier that kicker Alex Barbir’s longest made field goal in his college career was 42 yards.

Briefly, Virginia Tech seized one of the most improbable game-winning scores of the season:

But that play never officially happened. Sure, Hokie fans watched it, felt a surge of pride as Jermaine Waller sprinted untouched into the end zone, and maybe hooted and jumped as the announcer bellowed “THAT IS BEAMERBALL!”

And then they learned Fuente had called timeout just before the snap, taking a play that pulled at every Hokie fan’s memory of better and more successful days and erasing it entirely.

Still, that left the game tied and Liberty facing an impossible kick that had just been blocked or 4th and 6. They decided to learn from experience and try for the latter, and I really do mean they, because Virginia Tech’s participation in this play was entirely ceremonial.

That gave Barbir a shorter chance at a new career long. You don’t need me to tell you that he crushed the 51-yarder to win the game. Your heart already knows.

Fuente took the blame afterwards, because, well, timeouts don’t just fly down from the sky and land on the referee’s shoulder. He had a reason to call timeout, you see. He just wanted to get the field goal block team on.

Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to remind you that Virginia Tech didn’t even have to play Liberty at all. The ACC reset every team’s non-conference slate when they redid the 2020 schedule, and the Hokies could have kept MTSU or North Alabama (who, like Liberty, were originally on their non-conference list) or found a new opponent entirely.

Best I can tell, the Virginia Tech fan reaction to this choice ranged from “beating Liberty does nothing for us and there’s some chance we’ll lose and look like idiots” to “please don’t schedule the school that gave Hugh Freeze and Baylor’s former AD a second chance, you assholes.” Instead, the Hokies got to lose to that school at home.

That they did so because Fuente somehow managed to butcher the end of the game in the exact way that simultaneously ripped out the heart of every Virginia Tech fan and screamed I AM NOT FRANK BEAMER AND I NEVER WILL BE is almost impressive! This loss checked every box on the unpopular list: dumb, painful, and with no possible benefit.

So yeah, don’t do those things if you want to be a beloved football coach.