BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente called Jerry Kill up during fall camp and asked him to spend a few days in Blacksburg.
Kill, who had successful stints at Northern Illinois and Minnesota, was working as Southern Illinois athletic director after a series of medical setbacks forced him to step away from the field.
Fuente opened his doors for Kill — the longtime coach stayed at the Fuente’s house during the August visit — and wanted his honest feedback on the state of Virginia Tech's football team.
“I wanted to talk about everything from the minute details of what he noticed,” Fuente said. “I’ve done this before with other coaches — people you know that you can bring in that will tell you the truth. You don’t really want someone to come in and say, ‘yup, everything looks good’ and leave. You want somebody that has got the courage and knowledge base to give you good feedback.”
Fuente wouldn't share the specifics of those conversations, but they impressed him enough to see if Kill would consider a permanent position on staff and resulted in Monday's announcement of him as a special assistant to the head coach.
While the addition comes on the heels of near loss to Furman, the team's disappointing start has nothing to do with the timing of the hire. It also doesn't have anything to do with defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s impending departure.
Fuente made it clear he started talking to Kill about joining the staff during that August visit and those conversations continued as both sides worked to see if there was a fit.
The departure of director of football ops Danielle Bartelstein created some financial flexibility for Virginia Tech in the weeks that followed. The Hokies have no plans at this time to add another operations person with assistant director of football operations Matt Transue handling Bartelstein's former responsibilities.
Fuente thought the biggest hurdle was Kill's current position as Southern Illinois athletic director. Kill is most successful football coach in program history (he had a 55-32 record in seven seasons with five playoff appearances) and was inducted into the athletic department's hall of fame.
It's where Fuente first crossed paths with Kill as a then-assistant at rival Illinois State.
“I thought that the biggest thing was Southern Illinois and what Southern means to Coach Kill,” Fuente said. “What he did for that place as a coach, what he was now doing for it as an administrator, the relationships, the friends that he has in that community. I thought that was going to be really difficult, and I believe that it was really difficult."
Fuente thinks it came down to the simple fact that Kill is a football man “in his heart and soul.” Kill informed his staff on Monday and will get started with Virginia Tech sometime during the bye week. He signed a two-year letter of agreement that will pay $175,000 a year.
Kill’s job description when he gets back to Blacksburg will be pretty open-ended. He won’t be allowed to work with players — he can still travel to games — but everything else is fair game.
“This is an opportunity for coach Kill to come in and continue to give us good feedback involved in virtually every aspect of our program from drawing on his years of experience and knowledge,” Fuente said. “I’m excited to have that resource for our coaches and for myself.”