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The Wheels On The Hokie Bus Are Going Round and Round....

Back in my corporate days, there was an expression about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus that was used repeatedly when an organizational problem needed to be fixed.

It never really worked because the people who needed to be moved out of their seats on the bus were the very people making the decisions and leading the meetings. As a result we would end up spending a lot of time in meetings to essentially rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If you look at Virginia Tech’s resurgent football season, however, I strongly suspect that plan was successfully executed a month or so ago.

Or, to be precise, about the time Jerry Kill joined the staff.

I don’t know for a fact if he is the impetus for the change. But something clearly has changed in Blacksburg, and the Hokies have managed to turn the ship around without burning down the house and starting all over again. This generally comes about when someone with an outside eye comes into a situation, points out the tools are there to accomplish the goals set, but that the talent may not be being used optimally.

In other words, getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.

Virginia Tech’s 45-0 thrashing of Georgia Tech Saturday seemed to be one more data point in Blacksburg that the bus is now correctly organized and heading down the right road. Yes, Georgia Tech is not a very good football team, so the win in and of itself is not a great surprise.

But the Hokies have played other teams not considered good football teams this season – Old Dominion and Rhode Island come to mind – and they struggled. Over the last two years, I can’t really recall a game where Virginia Tech came out, executed well, and dominated a team they were supposed to beat. There have been times the Hokies have looked like they would have struggled even if you put a high school team out on the grass of Lane Stadium.

They have in the past been a collection of football players. But not necessarily a team.

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This Was An Evening To Enjoy An Ice Cold Bud....

On a freezing evening in Blacksburg, long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster was being mobbed by some players, while others maneuvered to be in position to douse him with a cooler of ice and even colder liquid, all to celebrate a huge upset win over Wake Forest on a day set aside to honor his legendary career.

Because everyone enjoys an ice cold Bud, right?

Now that I’ve managed to work in that absolutely awful pun, man, what a game. If you had to write a script for today, you’d have it so the defense would return to the aggressive days of old and toss that 98-pound weakling of a 3-man rush in the round file; they’d hold Wake Forest to its lowest output in yards and points for the season, and the offense would come up with several big plays so Bud could ride off into the Montgomery County sunset a winner.

Which is what happened.

Despite Wake being the favorite, Virginia Tech won 36-17 and beat a ranked team at home for the first time in 10 years (Miami and Nebraska were ranked in 2009 and the Hokies won both). Much like the Washington Nationals were declared dead after a 19-31 start, the Hokies were embalmed and buried after losing a Friday night game to Duke by 35 points, prompting many fans to change their favorite two-word cheer from “Go Hokies” to “Fire Fuente.”

Things were looking pretty dark for both.

But the Nats came back and won the World Series. This Hokies team isn’t shooting that high, but they’re now coming back to life too. With three games left, Virginia Tech is 6-3 and still controls its own destiny in the Coastal. They’ve won four of their last 5 since the Duke debacle, and had it not been for the insane clown posse that also goes by the name “ACC Football Officials,” could easily have won 5 in a row and the Hokies would be ranked next week.

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The Mike Young Era Certainly Opened With A Nice Surprise

It is quite common to overreact to the first game of a sports season (the court turns your attention to the Virginia Tech-Florida State football game last year as a prime piece of evidence). But with that warning issued, you can’t help but be impressed with Game 1 of the Mike Young era.

He clearly knows how to make an entrance.

The Hokies stunned Clemson 67-60 on the road in an Atlantic Coast Conference game last night, and I doubt even those wearing the darkest shades of orange and maroon glasses thought that was possible.

The Hokies just don’t win in basketball at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum. Last year’s team came to Littlejohn ranked No. 9 in the country and left with a 59-51 loss. In the last 10 years, they’ve only beaten Clemson on the road once – an 82-81 win on Jan. 22, 2017, and that game was moved to Greenville because of renovations being made to Littlejohn.

For the Hokies, they have consistently put the “L” in Littlejohn.

Then there was the matter of Young as the new coach. Many have been optimistic while silently thinking “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Gone is last year’s carpetbagger coach, and at one point most of the team seemed gone too, as several starters last night occupied at one time during the year both the dorms on campus and a little place called the “transfer protocol.”

So in a best-case scenario, the team would play hard, perhaps one player would emerge as a centerpiece and go-to guy the Hokies could build on, and hopefully the game would be close.

What happened even exceeded that.

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Sometimes, Lightning Does Strike Twice If You Wait Long Enough

It is wonderfully fitting for me this weekend that Virginia Tech travels to Notre Dame only a few days after the Washington Nationals won the World Series.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become less and less a fan of watching sporting events live. Part of it may be I was a sportswriter for a decade when I got out of college, so those hundreds and hundreds of days/nights in a press box or on a sideline may have fulfilled my lifetime quota. The other is the advancement of big screen HD televisions – of which I own far too many – that make it so much easier to see the action.

My wife would say the overriding factor is that I’m also cheap. At home, the food and beverage are far more reasonable.

She does have a point.

But back in college, I was ready to go anywhere at any time to see a live game. Promises were made to friends that if a certain event ever happened way out in the future, we’d go no matter how old we were. One involved the World Series with my friend Tim, which I mentioned yesterday.

The other was made when I was a freshman at Virginia Tech in 1974 and involved Notre Dame. The Hokies were in their first year under Jimmy Sharpe, and football at Virginia Tech was about as far away from the big time as the Nats were from the World Series when they were 19-31. Notre Dame dominated the airways of pre-cable television, and after one particularly festive and ambitious moment, my friends Rick and Doug and I proclaimed if the Hokies ever played Notre Dame, we were going to South Bend.

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This May Be The Game That Turns Things Around For The Hokies

If you’re a long-time watcher of Hokie athletics, there’s one premise you eventually learn: you will have good times and bad, but in the end, the Hokies will always break your heart.

This particularly applies to the historically tight games that go back and forth, where either team could make a play and win. Hokie history is filled with tales of sorrow in losing these narrow games when there were at least 2 or 3 moments where victory could be rescued from the jaws of defeat.

Such was Saturday’s game at Lane Stadium with North Carolina. Five times I prepared myself for the fact VT was going to lose. Six times I got my hopes up that instead, the Hokies would win.

Seven times I just thought they were trying to kill me.

When the dust cleared, Virginia Tech pulled it out and won 43-41 in SIX – count ‘em – SIX overtimes.

The game could end up being the proverbial fork in the road for Fuente and this team. It had all the things the great teams of the past had, with players battling through injuries and making big plays; the crowd turning electric, shouting until they were hoarse; the defense coming up with a big stop at just the moment it was desperately needed, and when all looked lost, the Hokies somehow found a way to win.

The whispers that Fuente may not be the guy to lead the Hokies hasn’t been subtle the last few weeks. People were suggesting he’s lost the team, doesn’t relate all that well to his players, and doesn’t put the right guy in the right seat on the bus, particularly at the quarterback position.

Yesterday’s game would be considered Exhibit A that such talk is pure, 100 percent, Grade A hogwash.

The group I saw on the sidelines and on the field yesterday was alive, full of fight and full of emotion. They rallied around their coach and each other. Players moved to other positions to help fill holes created by injury. Tight end Dalton Keene moved to running back and contributed; freshman Norrell Pollard got his chance at DT and made two sacks. Defensive back Khalil Ladler came off the bench and saved the game with an open field tackle at the two in the fifth overtime.

Then there was the matter of who played quarterback.

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Happy Birthday Frank Beamer!

Seems like just yesterday my daughter and I were driving down to Blacksburg to see the Hokies play North Carolina for Frank's last home game. Happy Birthday Frank, and may there be many, many more!

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Can't Help But Be Impressed With How Fuente Handled This

Justin Fuente isn’t the most popular guy in Blacksburg these days, and some of it is of his own doing. The main part is obviously a losing record last year and getting beat this season by Duke like a pack of rented mules.

The other is his reserved, introverted personality, which has led some to question his ability to relate to recruits, thus causing issues in getting the region’s best players to want to come play for him at Virginia Tech.

Mike Niziolek of the Roanoke Times had this interesting feature on starting quarterback Hendon Hooker today, and I walked away impressed with how Fuente handled the situation with Hooker and his family when Hooker decided to enter the transfer portal for a brief time earlier in the year.

Fuente doesn’t want to talk about the situation and tends to brush off any questions about that time in the transfer portal. His father Alan, however, is more than glad to speak of it, saying this of Fuente:

"… He’s held up to be the guy he said he was when he recruited Hendon,” Alan Hooker told Niziolek. “He’s always going to tell us the information whether it’s good or bad. He’s never given us information to tickle our senses. He’s always said what it is, this is what Hendon needs to work on and this is where he’s at. He’s always believed in Hendon’s talent.”

So he didn’t blow smoke at the athlete, give him a sales pitch on all the blue sky that was just around the corner and make promises that might not be kept. I really like the line about Fuente being the same he was when he recruited Hendon. Too many people act one way before signing, and an entirely different way when you’re just one of the many on the roster. Fuente was consistent from start to finish, something I’d take note of as a potential recruit.

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Now That We've Seen Hooker Play, What Was Fuente Thinking?

It’s been two weeks since Virginia Tech decided to make a quarterback change on its starting offense.

Having watched the last two games, I have questions.

Not about Hendon Hooker. He’s been a pleasant surprise.

My question is about what the heck Justin Fuente has been thinking not playing him earlier.

Quarterback changes are always emotionally charged discussions, as the most popular QB in just about every town is the backup. Fans think since he’s not playing, he must be better than the guy who is, and they keep thinking that right up until the moment the backup plays.

Then they understand why he’s the backup.

In Hooker’s case, the suspicion has been that it’s been more than lack of experience that has kept him from consideration in being a starter. He’s rarely been used, and when he’s gotten in for the occasional play due to injury or mop-up duty, he’s been a run-only quarterback. In one situation last season, he showed his speed and running ability were pretty good too, scoring on a 69-yard run late in the 4th quarter against William & Mary.

But since he never got a serious look at QB after Josh Jackson went down with an injury against Old Dominion last season, the presumption was he was a one-dimensional QB. That was further fueled by Fuente’s decision to go with 5th-year senior Ryan Willis at the start of this season, because most coaches would only go with a guy that old because they felt they had no other option or that the other QBs weren’t ready.

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Colleges Need To Pay Attention Or Risk Having A Kodak Moment

This morning, I was working on the details of a focus group I will be involved in later today, where I will work with an organization to help determine what their brand really is, what they believe differentiates themselves in the market, and what they think people really value them for.

As is usually the case, I jotted down a few stories to illustrate what we will try to accomplish, and for most marketing people, the story of Kodak usually makes an appearance. That iconic company was known by everyone because of their success in the area of film and cameras, and they actually invented the first digital camera in 1975. Thanks to that invention, we now carry and capture all of our favorite memories on something as small as our phones.

But Kodak eventually went bankrupt in 2012. They thought their unique ability in the marketplace was making film and cameras instead of capturing all those memories. Others (like people who build phones) did see that, and developed products that made most of what Kodak was selling obsolete.

The story immediately reminded me of what’s going on in sports these days. Turn on a television and you will see more and more fans dressed up as empty seats. Whether it’s college football, pro football, auto racing, etc., Athletic Directors and Team owners – to use a bad pun – are not getting the picture.

Just one month ago, I returned to my alma mater at Virginia Tech to see a football game between the Hokies and Notre Dame, the first time I've done that in three years. Even though the Hokies lost, it was a fantastic time. It was a chance to see dozens of old friends, experience the electricity of "Enter Sandman" as the team made its way into the stadium, tailgate with some great people, etc. The experience - and the related memories - were what made it great.

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42.6°F

Ashburn

Overcast Clouds

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Wind: 0.29 m/h

Mon

light rain

38/42°F

Tue

few clouds

37/51°F

Wed

sky is clear

37/48°F

They Finally Did It...

They Did It

After a long and bumpy road, The Washington Nationals finally won the World Series. And made an old man in Ashburn cry...

Never Grow Old...

Never Grow Old

A trip to Spring Training reminded me we're all still kids at heart, and no matter how old, you keep playing until they get you out.

Gone But Never Forgotten...

Doodle

My faithful dogs probably rode shotgun on hundreds of stories I've written since 2003. This one is for you, Doodle & Schnoodle.

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