The Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies both bring new head coaches into the ACC. While both were under differing circumstances, with Al Golden being fired at Miami and Frank Beamer resigning at Virginia Tech, they face similar scenarios in reinvigorating programs that have meandered around average success in recent years. What does Justin Fuente's hire at Virginia Tech have in store for the ACC and the Canes? State of the U sits down with Hokie Mark of ACCFootballRX to discuss the hiring of Fuente, Mark Richt and its influence on the Atlantic Coast Conference and our respective programs.
SOTU: Justin Fuente made the most out of 2- and 3-star talent at Memphis and the result was an offense averaging over 40 points and 500 yards a game in 2015. In 2014, his third year at Memphis, he led the Tigers to an American Athletics Conference Championship. What do you expect Justin Fuente to bring to the offense and how will his player development impact the program?
Hokie Mark: In its heyday, Virginia Tech was known for player development, so in that sense Fuente should fit right into Frank Beamer's shoes. The thing I expect him to bring to the Hokies that wasn't there before is a better passing attack. So much of modern offense is about passing. With rare exception, that's been lacking at Virginia Tech.
However, I think the real telling thing will be how well coach Fuente can recruit at the power five level. In my opinion, those 2- and 3-star Memphis players have to become 3- and 4-star Hokies (with an occasional 5-star) in order to compete in the new ACC.
SOTU: One knock on Justin Fuente during his time at Memphis has been the play of his defenses. Seeing that as an area of concern, how important was keeping Bud Foster on the staff for the Hokies?
Hokie Mark: Keeping Foster was huge, in my opinion. The hope is that VT can continue its reputation on defense while Fuente brings the offense into the 21st century...
SOTU: Virginia Tech's in-state rival, the Virginia Cavaliers, underwent a coaching change of their own. What do you think of Virginia's hire of former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall?
Hokie Mark: Mendenhall is obviously a proven winner, but it's impossible to know if that success will translate from BYU to UVa. First of all, he hasn't really coached east of the Rocky Mountains, so the recruiting territory is completely different. In addition to that, we should keep in mind that BYU has a built-in national if not international recruiting base - all high school football players who happen to be Mormons. Mendenhall won't have that advantage at Virginia.
Obviously, like Fuente, Mendenhall will also have to adjust to a tougher "P5 conference" schedule, too. That's not to say that he hasn't beaten plenty of P5 teams while coaching at BYU - including UVa - but can he do it week after week? (To be fair, the same question applies to Fuente). I will give him this - Mendenhall is a defense-minded coach who also seems to "get" offense.
SOTU: Last year, Justin Fuente's Memphis Tigers and Bronco Mendenhall's BYU Cougars met in the Miami Beach Bowl. The closely fought contest, a 55-48 win by Memphis, was marred by a bench-clearing brawl at the end of the game. There's obvious animosity between the players, but do you think any carried over to the coaches? We know Justin Fuente is a good-hearted coach and runs a clean program, but how great would the rivalry be if these guys really hate one another?
Hokie Mark: At this point I have no reason to think that the coaches hate each other, but I do think they are both "intense" guys, and that intensity could lead to some strong feelings. It's worth asking: if two teams with basically no rivalry at all are so intense that they get into a fight, what's going to happen when you put that same intensity into a rivalry game?
SOTU: Last offseason, Pittsburgh hired Pat Narduzzi as head coach and North Carolina brought aboard Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator. Both schools benefited from the hirings with the Tar Heels winning the Coastal Division and the Panthers reaching an 8-4 mark on the year. The ACC is bound to change in response to this year's inclusion of three different head coaches. How do you expect this new wave of coaches to alter the landscape of the Coastal Division and the ACC?
Hokie Mark: With all due respect to Frank Beamer, I think all of these coaching hires have the potential to result in improvements. I think we'll see better recruiting, modern offenses, and more enthusiasm in the games. However, so many teams are stepping up that they could all be improved and still only win one or two more games. In fact, it may not be fair to evaluate them on the conference records - though I would expect to see better non-conference records across the division.
SOTU: The hire of Mark Richt has every Hurricanes fan buzzing with excitement. As a Virginia Tech fan and ACC specialist, what do you think of Miami's hiring of Mark Richt?
Hokie Mark: Hirinig Richt at Miami is like answering the door and finding the Publishers Clearing House folks with a big check - it's the best thing that could've happened to Hurricanes football right now. Is he going to win a national championship at Miami? I have no idea (although I tend to doubt it since he never won one at Georgia). However, I feel like Richt will elevate the program from the 6-6 / 7-5 level where it has been for about a decade to a consistent 9-3 / 10-2 level. That gets the "U" back into the spotlight, which is huge for things like recruiting... and if the Canes can dominate the Miami area again, the sky's the limit in my opinion.
If you'd like to read more from Hokie Mark, head over to AccFootballRX for all things ACC.