BLACKSBURG — When teams with head coaching vacancies approached Justin Fuente to gauge his interest this offseason, the Hokies’ coach told them no thanks.
Virginia Tech’s trying to make sure that’s his answer in the future too.
For the second time in two years, Virginia Tech beefed up Fuente’s contract, extending the deal by another year through 2024 and bumping his compensation to $4 million in 2018 and '19 when factoring in base pay and retention bonuses.
Virginia Tech also increased the compensation for all of its on-field football assistants and strength coach Ben Hilgart, with safeties coach Galen Scott adding a co-defensive coordinator title.
“We are very committed to coach Fuente and his staff on a long-term basis,” Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said in a release. “He has been very loyal and is a tremendous fit at Virginia Tech. We believe in further solidifying the upward trajectory of our football program by investing in him, as well as the wonderful coaches and staff surrounding him. We are pleased to provide additional support staff and resources to our football program.”
The retention bonuses are new for the 41-year-old Fuente, who has gone 19-8 in two seasons with Virginia Tech and was in high demand this offseason, reportedly on Florida State’s initial short list for a head coach after Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M, though Fuente declined any overtures.
Fuente earned $3.25 million in 2017, prior to performance bonuses. That figure made him the 33rd highest paid coach at public schools who responded to open-records requests in an annual report done by USA Today. That also put him fifth in the ACC among public school coaches.
Fuente’s new deal puts him in the top third of ACC coaches. The seven-year contract is now worth a total of $30.5 million, with $26.7 million of that in base pay and another $3.8 million in available retention bonuses over the life of the contract. He’ll earn $5 million in 2024 if he’s still at Virginia Tech.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney earned $8.53 million last year to top ACC coaches, according to the USA Today, and new Florida State coach Willie Taggart’s deal pays him on average $5 million over the next six years. Miami’s Mark Richt reportedly makes $4 million a season, though as a private school, Miami’s not subject to open-records requests, and Louisville paid Bobby Petrino $3.93 million last year. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall will make $3.55 million in 2018.
“Jenny and our three daughters are very fortunate to call Blacksburg and Virginia Tech our home,” Fuente said in a release. “Ensuring that we were able to retain and reward our very talented and dedicated assistant coaching staff was very important to me. The loyalty and dedication of our assistant coaches and support team is unwavering. I’m very appreciative of the additions and enhancements we are making to our facilities and support staff. I’m very proud to be a Hokie!"
All of the Hokies’ assistant coaches got a pay bump, with Scott being promoted to co-defensive coordinator, in addition to his previous duties as assistant head coach and safeties coach. The added title came after Scott had defensive coordinator offers this offseason, a source said. He’ll continue to assist long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster in putting together the Hokies’ defensive game plan, though Foster will still call the plays.
The largest pay bumps went to running backs coach Zohn Burden and strength coach Ben Hilgart, who are now in line with the other non-titled coaches on staff making $280,000, up from $250,000 and $205,000 respectively. Burden's base pay last year was $200,000, lowest on the staff, but he got a $50,000 retention bonus, tops of the assistants. Those figures are total compensation, including base salary and retention bonuses.
Foster will make $975,000 in 2018, up from $950,000 last year, as was negotiated in his last contract. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen went from $465,000 to $490,000 and special teams coordinator James Shibest went from $435,000 to $445,000.
Scott got a bump from $323,000 to $338,000, and cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell, defensive line coach Charley Wiles, offensive line coach Vance Vice and receivers coach Holmon Wiggins all went from $270,000 to $280,000.
New 10th assistant coach Adam Lechtenberg, who was announced as the executive director of player development on Tuesday, will make $175,000.
Tech’s $3.823 million assistant coach salary pool also ranks in the top third of the ACC, behind Clemson and Florida State and roughly on par with Louisville, though 2018 numbers are hard to pin down at this stage with offseason changes and an added position at every school.
Fuente’s new deal does not alter the buyout figures in his contract by much. Should Fuente want to terminate the deal prior to Dec. 15 in a given year, he’d owe $5 million in 2018, $3 million in 2019, $1 million in 2020, $750,000 in 2021, $500,000 in 2022 and 2023 and nothing in 2024.
Conversely, Virginia Tech would owe Fuente $15 million if it fired him without cause prior to Dec. 15 this year and next, with that figure dropping to $12.5 million 2020, $10 million in 2021, $7.5 million in 2022, $5 million in 2023 and $2 million in 2024.
That seems unlikely. It’s the second time in as many years that athletic director Whit Babcock has addressed Fuente’s contract, though it’s probably a preemptive strike to lock down a coach who has been and likely will be in high demand going forward.
Fuente is one six Football Bowl Subdivision coaches who have won at least nine games in each of the last four seasons, dating back to his time at Memphis. The others are Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Alabama’s Nick Saban, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, Swinney at Clemson and Richt at Georgia and Miami.
It’s why Fuente was a hot commodity this past offseason, during an especially active coaching carousel that involved many top-flight jobs, including Tennessee, Texas A&M, Florida, Nebraska, Florida State and others, though he wasn’t interested.
“For me, it’s been easy. I’ve declined to talk to anybody that’s come along,” Fuente said in December. “So it’s a pretty easy answer for me. I haven’t been interested in going down that road.
“I think everybody knows I’m incredibly happy at Virginia Tech. I think I’ve proved it in my short time here. I would never speculate on any other jobs, other than to say we’ve been approached and I’ve declined to talk to anybody. So it’s pretty much been nipped in the bud right from the start.”