By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 29 -- Bob Lattinville has been Bud Foster's agent for years, and he hears the question now more than ever. When he chats with another coaching client, the conversation often ends with the coach asking, "When's Bud going to get a job?"
The question, which has lingered around the Virginia Tech football program for years, might soon be answered. Foster's comfort at Virginia Tech and his refusal to self-promote have kept him here for 21 seasons -- 12 as the defensive coordinator -- but with 11 head coaching jobs open and more turbulence soon to follow as those spots become filled, this could be the offseason he lands a top job.
Two coaching search firms have contacted Foster, and though his client in past years has chosen his current situation over opportunities elsewhere, Lattinville said Foster believes he will be a head coach "within the next two years. This year or next year."
"I've had some opportunities; it just hasn't worked out," Foster said. "That's a goal of mine. But at the same time, that's one of those deals I can't control. Hopefully I get an opportunity at one of these places to at least show who I am."
Aside from Coach Frank Beamer, for whom Foster played at Murray State, Foster has been as responsible as anyone for Virginia Tech's ascension from afterthought to national power. Under Foster, the Hokies have been one of the nation's top five defenses in eight of 12 years. This season, Virginia Tech finished fourth in total defense (285.3 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (15.4 points per game) despite allowing nearly 600 yards and 48 points against Louisiana State.
After last season, when the Hokies led the nation in total defense for the second consecutive year, Foster won the Broyles Award for best assistant coach in the nation; he had been nominated three times before. Foster has hosted radio shows, organized recruiting, raised funds and appeared in commercials.
"Certainly, there's no question about his qualifications," Beamer said.
Why, then, has Foster not been given control of his own program? Foster is not indifferent about landing a head job, but he is purposefully passive. When Foster hired Lattinville, he told him, "Your role is not to promote me." Foster instructs Lattinville not to make first contact with a school, to let his record speak for itself. The stance is rare in a climate where coaches clamor for openings before they officially exist.
"He could have had other jobs if he promoted himself more," Lattinville said. "It's shameless, in a sense, the way some people in the coaching business promote themselves. His stance has always been, 'What I'm going to do is if they come after me, then we'll talk.' Bud's hope is that the true cream-of-the-crop programs recognize that and respect that. He hopes that people take that into account. It's old school, for sure. But I think in the end it will pay off. Could he have had other head coaching jobs if he had been more proactive? Yeah."
Foster has had several dalliances -- for example, Virginia contacted him before hiring Al Groh in 2001 -- and he has turned away offers from low-profile programs. One reason: He likes it at Virginia Tech.
The money is good. Foster loves driving his boat around Claytor Lake, trying to hook the biggest fish that will bite. He raised his three children, two daughters and a son, in Blacksburg. Some of his best friends are other Virginia Tech assistants -- Billy Hite, Bryan Stinespring, Jim Cavanaugh and Charley Wiles have all been at the school for at least 12 years.
"We've created something here that's really special," Foster said. "You don't want to see somebody else come in and reap the rewards of what you've worked hard for."
And yet? "I'm ready," Foster said. In the past, Foster, 48, has said he would leave Virginia Tech only to coach at a school in a conference whose champion automatically qualifies for the Bowl Championship Series. He has seemingly relaxed those standards, if only slightly.
"There's some non-BCS schools that would be intriguing," Foster said. "At the same time, I like what we do. I like playing on national TV. I like playing at the highest level. I like competing for championships. I like that part of it. And I feel like we've proven it."
One of the "intriguing" schools, Foster said, is Southern Mississippi of Conference USA. Another possibility is Northern Illinois, whose campus is roughly 200 miles from where Foster went to high school in Nokomis, Ill.
Even as Foster has resisted change, he has prepared for it. He keeps a comprehensive plan for how he would run his own program, so detailed it includes how he would respond to a medical emergency during practice and what food he would serve in the team cafeteria. He has also outlined what assistant coaches he would hire and what his academic policy would entail.
For now, no schools have inquired about Foster, Beamer said. (The search firms seek candidates independently of schools, then relay names to them.) So the question -- When's Bud going to get a job?-- remains. Even his players notice.
"Me and [defensive end] Chris Ellis talked about it a couple weeks ago," senior safety D.J. Parker said. "We see all these coaching jobs vacant now. We think Coach Foster would be a good coach. I don't want him to go. But he really deserves it."
Said Foster: "Hopefully, somebody will think I'm qualified enough to take a look. And if not, I've got a good job."