BLACKSBURG — Bud Foster is an emotional man. His players will tell you that.
They’ve seen him excited. They’ve seen him angry. They’ve seen him fire his headset in the air in exultation after a big victory.
Public tears, though, are rare for him. That makes two instances when they’ve happened stand out.
The first was on Dec. 26, 2015 — the night Virginia Tech beat Tulsa in the Independence Bowl in Frank Beamer’s head coaching finale. Foster held nothing back as he reflected on how much his mentor meant.
The second came Thursday.
The tears did not come right away. Foster got through the first few sentences of his retirement announcement just fine, and his closing comments were spoken with his typical clear-eyed confidence.
But he struggled with one portion. Any guess which one?
“I want to thank Coach Beamer,” Foster said, pausing to collect himself, “for giving me an opportunity to do some really special things and giving me an opportunity to experience the dream of a lifetime. That’s what makes this thing really, really hard. It’s about the relationships.”
Frank and Bud. Bud and Frank. Around here, where Virginia Tech football matters so much, those two names are inexorably linked. Both men will tell you that they wouldn’t be half the coaches they’ve been without the other.
Not only will the Hokies lose a world-class defensive coordinator when Foster steps down at the end of this season, but they’ll also lose that final connection to the best years of Beamer. Foster’s decision to stay on staff during the transition to Justin Fuente ensured a continued devotion to great defenses upon which this program built so much of its success. It hooked up the past and present like a pair of trusty jumper cables.
“He could have left Virginia Tech so many times,” athletic director Whit Babcock said of Foster. “You just don’t run into that loyalty and humility.
“His loyalty, this sense of place, this Hokie land — he personifies that. He’s the fabric of this place. He’s the brand. He’s the icon. There’s not enough words to thank him appropriately.”
Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen knew plenty about Foster’s national reputation before he arrived in Blacksburg. It didn’t take him long to ascertain the caliber of local legend he was, how synonymous Foster is with this program.
“Instantly,” Cornelsen said. “As soon as you get to this area and you start recruiting, it’s everyone from high school coaches in this area to the alumni you run into to the former players to the guy at the gas station — it just doesn’t matter.
“The thing I always think about with him is just the dominance. It’s not just that he’s been at this school for that long and been the coordinator for that long. It’s how dominant he’s been, year in and year out.”
There are plenty of days when Foster’s greatness has been obvious. Take Sept. 6, 2014, for example. That was the night the Hokies upset heavily favored Ohio State at the Horseshoe. Afterwards, Buckeye players and coaches alike raved about how they’d been outschemed by a master.
But to Cornelsen’s point, there’s a more subtle impact that Foster’s made daily for 33 years. He’s turned raw linebackers into ravenous leaders and tested Tech’s own offense with his dedication to practice.
“Fall camp and spring ball, it makes you better,” Cornelsen said. “You can’t just roll out there to practice and think you’re going to put in a couple plays and run some base stuff. You won’t make a yard.
“Some guys don’t like giving up first downs and touchdowns. He doesn’t like giving up yards — period.”
He still doesn’t. That’s important to remember. Foster has at least 12 more games on the Tech sideline to do his thing. There will be celebrations of his career mixed in — all richly deserved.
Then one day, a few months from now, Foster will coach his final game for Virginia Tech. The link between past and present will snap, and he’ll be far from the only one who gets a little emotional.