There has been a good deal of reflection going on in Blacksburg as Virginia Tech football prepares to start Coach Frank Beamer’s 25th season at the helm of the program. It’s certainly an historic milestone, but one that many forget is shared by another assistant coach.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is also about to begin his 25th year in Blacksburg after coming along with Beamer from Murray State way back in 1987. Foster began his tenure at Virginia Tech as an inside linebackers coach, but is now considered one of the most respected defensive minds in college football.
Recently, though, any conversation about Foster almost always involves a debate over whether the 52-year-old will ever become a head coach at a major conference school, or as he calls it “the ultimate dream.” Just after last year’s Orange Bowl, Foster interviewed for the Pittsburgh head coach opening, and at Virginia Tech’s media day Saturday, he spoke about how his outlook on the coaching landscape has changed after a few failed pursuits of late.
“I do [want to be a head coach], but I’m also not naïve enough to know my window is closing quicker and quicker every year as I’m getting older,” said Foster, who was also approached about the Vanderbilt opening a year ago, and took an interview at Clemson back in 2008. “It looks like to me they’re hiring more younger, hot-shot guys as opposed to guys that now may be getting in their low to mid 50s. I don’t know. I’m hoping they’re looking at 50 as being the new 35 because I still have a lot of energy.”
“But my goal right now is just to see us get better each day and each week and let’s go win an ACC championship and hopefully one day a national championship here,” Foster added. “That’s all that motivates me. If that job comes, great. But I don’t lose sleep over that and that’s something I’m not gonna throw my name in every hat, every job. That’s just not me. I’ve got a great job here.”
It’s unlikely at this point, or at least while Beamer is head coach, that Foster would ever leave Virginia Tech for another defensive coordinator job. On top of his base salary of more than $430,000, Foster is due a deferred compensation package of $800,000 if he’s still leading the Hokies’defense in 2014.
Foster spoke glowingly of Beamer on Saturday, calling him “a mentor, a father figure and someone I can confide in.” But when Beamer brought in his son, Shane, as a new assistant coach this past winter and promptly gave him the title of associate head coach, some wondered if it was a snub of Foster.
“I’ve got enough on my plate, let alone some other things,” said Foster, when asked whether he wanted to be associate head coach. “When that was even mentioned to me, that didn’t mean anything. I’m happy for Shane and I’m happy he’s here. … I was beginning to wonder if he still worked at South Carolina and Mississippi State because every open date he’s back here. He’s in my meeting room or he’s on the sideline with us. I like that because obviously he’s a Virginia Tech alum and he’s got a lot of great pride in this place, but he loves his father and his Dad has made a big impact on him and he’s made a big impact on me.”
As for this coming season, it will be entirely different than any other for Foster, if only because for a change, his defense is coming off a fairly disappointing campaign in 2010. After six-straight years finishing within the top-12 nationally in total defense, Virginia Tech allowed more than 155 rushing yards per game (the most ever given up by a Foster-led defense) and finished 52nd overall in total defense.
With six new starters, Foster admits “we’ve got a lot of growing up to do and we’ve got to do it quickly.” But he’s also intrigued by the fact that the starting unit will feature just one senior (safety Eddie Whitley), meaning the majority of this group can be molded into something special over the next two or three seasons.
“I think in order for us to be one of those elite teams that we want to be, we’ve got to be a dominating defense,” Foster said. “We had a stretch run of that, but I think I like the athletic ability of these kids and I like their demeanor. As we grow and develop, we can push to be one of those units. Will that be this year? I don’t know. How that computes into wins and losses, I don’t know.”
Along with returning stalwarts like cornerback Jayron Hosley and linebacker Bruce Taylor, Foster is particularly excited about his starting defensive line featuring sophomores James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins. The coach has also been complimentary of the progress whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (Stone Bridge HS) has made this offseason, showing more comfort in the defensive scheme while adding 10 pounds to his frame.
Finding quality depth along the defensive line and at the safety positions remain concerns that need to be addressed during training camp.
In the meantime, though, it seems Foster is taking the same approach with his defense as he is with his own career. There’s no need to dwell on what could lie ahead when there’s still quite a bit left to do in the present.
“For the future, I’m excited,” he said. “But for us, the future is now.”