Will Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente Leave for Baylor? Three Reasons Why It Could Happen Very Soon

Michael McDaniel

Virginia Tech head football coach Justin Fuente has emerged as a top candidate to replace former Baylor coach Matt Rhule, per multiple reports. This doesn't feel like a rumor and while the news will stun Hokie nation, it appears there could be major shakeups coming quickly. 

As Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports notes,  Fuente is expected to meet with Baylor officials today about the opening.

When Fuente hired former JMU assistant Ryan Smith as his defensive backs coach yesterday to round out his staff, it appeared that the Hokies had positioned themselves to be a strong contender in the Coastal Division in 2020 and beyond. Smith was the final piece of a puzzle rounding out a wave of coaching upgrades for Fuente's staff ahead of a season filled with promise. 

Suddenly, in the worst imaginable time with no real indication the Hokies' front man would make a move, the narrative has drastically changed. 

There's only one real question the VT faithful will ask as they start their day with the stunning development. 

Why?

It's not as far-fetched and random as many may first believe. Here's why: 

1. Location

As they say in real estate, "location, location, location."

If Fuente takes the Baylor job, he will be just over four hours from his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fuente's familiarity with that area of the country both on a personal and professional level can't be overstated.

Not only did the current Hokies head coach grow up a stone's throw from Baylor,  he also came up through the coaching ranks in that area of the country, serving as running backs coach, and later the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for TCU from 2007-2011.

He's a proven recruiter in the Lonestar state and carried his prowess in the hot bed of talent to Blacksburg. We are all familiar with the "#TX2VT" recruiting movement  blasted on the official VT social platforms. That's all because of Fuente. 

If Fuente does make the move to Waco, he will be able to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail without missing a beat. This is significant, and is not a luxury afforded to many head coaches when taking new positions.

By all indications, Fuente is happy at Virginia Tech and with life in Blacksburg. But this is one of the few jobs that provides an opportunity to be close to home, while coaching big time football in the Big 12. If Fuente were to leave Virginia Tech, this is one job that makes a ton of sense on a personal level.

2. Money

If you're not going to a blue-blood, go to a Texas school.

Baylor is not the cream of the crop in terms of college football destinations, but the job will certainly pay well given the booster support and the amount of money shelled out by donors to football programs in the state of Texas.

Texas oil money will go a long way if needed, and if the athletic department and boosters of Baylor want Justin Fuente, he could be in for a pay day that Virginia Tech may be unwilling to match.

Fuente signed a contract extension with Virginia Tech back in 2017, and by doing so, he made $3.4 million in 2018, $3.5 million this past season, and was set to make $3.65 million in the upcoming campaign.

For comparison, Matt Rhule made just over $4.2 million to coach Baylor this past season. Any contract for Fuente with the Bears would at least meet that salary, but would likely exceed it, especially when considering that Baylor has to pry Fuente away from Virginia Tech. 

As for the buyout for Fuente in Blacksburg? It will only cost Baylor $1 million to buy him out of his contract at Virginia Tech.

If Fuente is chasing a pay day (and why wouldn't he, by the way), Baylor seems to be a good landing spot for a raise.

3. Timing

Let's be clear, the timing for Virginia Tech could not be worse.

Fuente literally just finished rounding out his coaching staff -- laden with upgrades across the board --  in Blacksburg, and the Hokies are just a month removed from wrapping up the early signing period.

With all of this taking place in mid-January, many of the qualified potential replacements for Fuente have already landed elsewhere. Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock has made a name for himself with his coaching hires since arriving in Blacksburg, but even for him, this will be a tough, tough ask given the timing of the opening.

However, for Justin Fuente, the timing is moot. Baylor seems like a dream job due to the reasons listed above, and given how warm his seat was about three months ago in Blacksburg, who could blame him for leaving?

Fuente authored a 10-win season, and a 9-win season, in his first two years in Blacksburg. In 2018, he also oversaw Tech's first losing season since 1992, as the Hokies finished with a 6-7 record.

The start of 2019 was not great. In the first six weeks of the season, the Hokies lost the ACC opener to Boston College, got blown out at home by Duke, and won three uninspiring, close games against two FCS schools (Furman and Rhode Island) and a bad FBS school (Old Dominion).

However, Virginia Tech won four out of its last six games, nearly reaching the ACC Championship game in the process. While Hendon Hooker proved to be the right guy for the starting quarterback job, which sparked the turnaround for Tech, the losses to Virginia and in the bowl game to Kentucky certainly leave a bitter taste in the mouth when recapping an 8-5 season.

Perhaps Fuente wants to get out of dodge before his seat warms up once again. Virginia Tech returns a majority of its starters in 2020, and is expected to be a favorite to win the Coastal. 

But what if they don't?

Another 8-5 season won't cut it for Fuente, especially considering what he is bringing back in Blacksburg. While many think Fuente would be crazy to leave given the team that is returning, he may just be hedging his bets after a tumultuous last year and a half as the head coach of the Hokies.

Time will certainly tell, but with rumors swirling, it is clear that there are plenty of reasons for Fuente to be interested in leaving Virginia Tech. But will he pull the trigger?

We'll know the answer sooner, rather than later.

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