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Virginia Tech dismisses football coach Justin Fuente, names J.C. Price interim
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Virginia Tech dismisses football coach Justin Fuente, names J.C. Price interim

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Duke Virginia Tech football

Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente at the start of the Duke Virginia Tech football game in Blacksburg Va. Saturday November 13 2021. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Virginia Tech dismissed football coach Justin Fuente on Tuesday, ending a six-year tenure that began with an ACC Coastal Division title but spiraled into mediocrity.

Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock informed the team during a 7:30 a.m., meeting Tuesday, sources said, and appointed first-year co-defensive line coach J.C. Price as interim head coach. Price is a former Tech defensive tackle and captained the Hokies’ 1995 Sugar Bowl championship team.

Babcock will meet with reporters at 10:45 a.m., Tuesday.

"We sincerely appreciate the contributions that Coach Fuente made to our football program and the positive impact he made on our student-athletes during his time at Virginia Tech," Babcock said in a statement. "While it is never easy to make a change, I believe in order for our football program to attain the type of sustained success that is expected at Virginia Tech, the time was right for new leadership of our football program.

"Virginia Tech is one of the most attractive football jobs in America, competing in one of the nation's premier conferences, the ACC. "I'm extremely confident that we'll be able to identify and hire a new head coach who can build on our rich history and winning tradition."

Virginia Tech joins fellow Power Five programs LSU, Southern California, Washington, Washington State and Texas Christian in searching for a coach.  

Fuente issued a statement thanking his players, assistant coaches and family.

"We leave Blacksburg with many great memories," Fuente said, "but above all else, our family cherishes the many relationships that have been established and that will always endure. To all of those players, coaches and staff who are still fighting on, know that the Fuente family is always cheering for you."

Fuente exits with a 43-31 record, 28-20 in the ACC. Succeeding College Football Hall of Famer Frank Beamer, he steered Virginia Tech to a 10-4 finish and division championship in his first season to earn ACC Coach of the Year honors.

But in the last four years, the Hokies are 24-23, 17-15 in the conference. They went 6-7 in 2018, the program's first losing season since 1992, and 5-6 last year.

Babcock took the unusual step of holding a news conference last December explain why he was retaining Fuente for a sixth year and made clear that improvement in 2021 was mandatory.

That didn't happen. Indeed, this season has mirrored Fuente’s overall time in Blacksburg: early promise followed by repeated disappointments.

The Hokies opened with a home victory over division rival and preseason favorite North Carolina that vaulted them to No. 19 in the Associated Press poll. But entering Saturday’s game at Miami, they are 5-5, 3-3 in the ACC.

Three of those defeats, to West Virginia, Notre Dame and Syracuse, were decided in the final minute. The losses to Pitt and Boston College were not competitive.

Moreover, neither Syracuse nor BC had won an ACC game this season before playing Tech.

According to the terms of his contract, Fuente is due a $10 million buyout.

Prior to Virginia Tech, Fuente coached Memphis to a 26-23 record in four seasons. Led by quarterback Paxton Lynch, the Tigers went 10-3 in 2014 and 9-4 the following year.

A protege of former Texas Christian coach Gary Patterson, Fuente served as a Horned Frogs assistant for five seasons. He was the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in 2010, when quarterback Andy Dalton led TCU to a 13-0 season and Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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