Virginia Tech’s defense did not need a new direction. It didn’t need a new identity or culture. It didn’t need somebody to bring in a Turnover Taco or a Sack Jacket or a Pick Pumpkin to serve as the symbol of a changing philosophy.
The lunch pail still works more than fine. And the Hokies hope to keep that tradition going.
Sunday’s announcement that current safeties coach Justin Hamilton will succeed Bud Foster as Tech’s defensive coordinator comes with some inherent risks. Hamilton is young (only 37) and has not had anything close to this kind of responsibility at this level. His only history as a defensive coordinator came at UVa-Wise.
Less than two years ago, he was hired as Tech’s director of player development. He’s been a safeties coach for all of 10 months.
Hamilton didn’t climb the organizational ladder; he strapped on a jet pack and exploded up it.
That said, Hamilton’s always been an impressive figure at Tech. As a Hokies player from 2002-05, he was a selfless contributor who moved wherever the team needed him — running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Regardless of position, media members sought him out before and after games, because even back then, he was eloquent and insightful in his descriptions of what was happening on the field.
Foster’s endorsement of Hamilton played no small part in his getting this job.
“He’s fought and competed for every opportunity he’s earned in the coaching profession, and I respect the way he’s approached it from day one,” Foster said. “When we brought Justin back to Virginia Tech, in the back of my head, I was hoping that I could help groom him to someday become a defensive coordinator. While I didn’t know when or where that opportunity might come, I’m thrilled that it’s happened for him at Virginia Tech.”
Hamilton’s first task will be to convince recruits to want to play for him. In addition to his schematic excellence, Foster had that allure that came through reputation and personality.
Former four-star recruit and current linebacker Dax Hollifield didn’t choose to play at Tech as much as he chose to play for Foster. Hamilton will hope to build a similar appeal, and that will take time.
Schematically, Hamilton can feel comfortable following Foster’s lead in putting a lot of responsibility on Tech’s defensive backs, which accommodates a pressure-based system. Not only has Hamilton coached defensive backs, but he’s been one.
There is sure to be an adjustment phase here, as there would have been with any coach replacing a man who’s been here as long as Foster.
More than anything, though, this move serves as an endorsement of the way Tech has been playing defense for decades. The message: While the face of that defense will change, the culture doesn’t have to.
Sun comes up
The sting of Saturday’s 62-17 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game was eased considerably on Sunday for UVa. As expected, the Cavaliers were invited to the Orange Bowl, where they will face No. 6 Florida.
It’s the first appearance in a New Year’s Six game for the Cavaliers.
“We’re looking, again, to continue to learn, grow and advance,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Saturday’s game. “So each year the bowl game quality and tier seems to be escalating, the stage that it’s on seems to be escalating. So my job is to advance our program and have it match those stages at a really high level.”
What a rush
Not only will the Belk Bowl between Virginia Tech and Kentucky have a noon kickoff, but it might go by pretty quickly.
The Wildcats are fourth nationally in average rushing yards per game (274.4), trailing only the three service academies. That included a school-record 517-yard rushing performance in a 45-13 win over rival Louisville in the season finale.
Like the Hokies, Kentucky played its best football in the second half of the season. The Wildcats covered the Vegas point spread in six of their final seven games.