After 33 years of coaching in Blacksburg, it’s hard to imagine Virginia Tech football coaching staff without defensive coordinator Bud Foster. When Foster announced his retirement in August, it came as a surprise to some, but to others, it was simply only a matter of time before Foster stepped away from his illustrious career.
The upcoming bowl game will serve as Foster’s final act at Virginia Tech. Now is the time to evaluate the potential candidates to replace him.
With rumors swirling, here are my takes on the two popular names getting tossed around and one darkhorse candidate to lead the Hokies’ defense in 2020
Torrian Gray – Defensive Backs Coach, University of Florida
Torrian Gray, the current defensive backs coach at the University of Florida, is a name that has been thrown around since Bud Foster announced his retirement back in August. Gray, who played for the Hokies in the early ‘90s under former head coach Frank Beamer, was known for his tenacious style of play and ball-hawking ability in the defensive backfield.
As a coach, Gray is currently in the middle of his 20th football season, all of which have been as a defensive backs coach. He’s currently in his second stint as the defensive backs coach at Florida, after being with the Gators for one season in 2016, and with the Washington Redskins in 2017 and 2018. Prior to the last few years of puddle jumping, Gray was the defensive backs coach at his alma mater under Beamer, a position he held from 2006-2015.
While Gray is a popular name popping up on message boards, twitter feeds and social media channels (especially with Hokies’ die-hard fans and even some former players), he has never held a defensive coordinator position in his nearly 20 years of collegiate coaching.
Is Justin Fuente ready to replace Foster, one of the brightest defensive minds the college game has ever seen, with a first-time defensive coordinator?
It may not be popular, but it’s hard to imagine Gray being Hokies’ Athletic Director Whit Babcock’s first choice.
Barry Odom – Former Head Coach of the University of Missouri
After taking over for Gary Pinkel at Missouri, Barry Odom inherited a program that was building off of one of the most successful tenures in school history, Pinkel is considered a legend around Mizzou, and replacing a legend following an unexpected retirement is a tough spot to be in for your first head coaching gig.
Odom was fired as Missouri’s head coach last week after a 25-25 record across four seasons. In addition, Missouri is facing sanctions for a student-athlete compliance issue that will keep the Tigers out of a bowl game this winter.
Although his first head coaching job didn’t go as planned, Odom is a well-respected defensive mind who has previous ties with Fuente. Odom was the defensive coordinator for Memphis, Fuente’s previous head coaching stop, from 2012-2014. When the defensive mastermind joined the staff in 2012 at Memphis, the Tigers were coming off a season in which they ranked 117th-nationally in total defense. In Odom’s final season with Memphis in 2014, the Tigers jumped all the way up to 28th in the nation in total defense. Impressive leap to say the least.
At Missouri, Odom has authored multiple Top-30 defenses, highlighted by a 2015 defense that was a Top-10 unit on that side of the football.
With ties to Fuente and a proven track record of thriving as a defensive coordinator at multiple FBS stops (and in the SEC) Odom appears to be a natural fit to fill the massive shoes of Foster.
Chris Ash – Former Head Coach of Rutgers University
There is no question that Ash, much like Odom, struggled in his first head coaching gig. In Ash’s defense, Rutgers is a borderline impossible job for people not named Greg Schiano.
Ash was fired after five games in 2019, compiling a 1-4 record to start the season, which culminated a little over three-year stint at Rutgers. He finished with a rough (8-32) record as the head coach, including a (3-26) record in the Big Ten.
It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Ash, who is a little over four years removed from being one of the most sought-after assistants in college football. He made his hay as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State under then-head coach Urban Meyer, authoring multiple Top-30 defenses for the Buckeyes in Columbus. As an assistant in 2014, Ash was a member of the staff that won Ohio State’s first national championship in a decade, leading a defense that was one of the most impressive units in the Big Ten.
It may not be the sexy name Hokie Nation is craving, but Ash is a darkhorse candidate who is more than capable of leading the charge in Blacksburg as part of the Fuente regime. One has to wonder, though, whether or not he is in line for bigger and better things at Texas where he has served as an analyst since his firing from Rutgers. Todd Orlando was ousted as the Longhorns’ DC last week and Ash has been rumored as one of the favorites to replace him.
Still, a name that may be under-the-radar in the search to replace Foster, but one that makes sense.