Justin Fuente made some headlines last week with his comments on National Signing Day in regards to his team's transfer portal policy. Below is a transcription of the quote as done by The Key Play.
I transcribed the section of the press conference when Fuente was asked about the transfer portal. With context, it seems like a policy for these last transfers and he noted "We'll take all of 'em on a case-by-case basis, but we're moving forward." #Hokies pic.twitter.com/EaRnouDP9r— THE KEY PLAY (@thekeyplay) February 5, 2020
Unsurprisingly, many headlines immediately surrounded the "We're not doing that" first 4 words along with rapid response tweets that didn't provide the more detailed context.
In the aftermath with the audio and quotes out, some national outlets appeared still focused on Fuente's comments while lumping his comments in with Randy Edsall's comments despite the fact that the comments of the two coaches were vastly different.
After looking at the full quote and all of the details, here's what it appears is the actual reality of Justin Fuente's transfer portal policy is.
First, there is the overarching policy that in general, players who formally enter the transfer portal will not have a scholarship spot back.
In a modern era where coaches are trying to make sure they have full 85-man rosters with generally balanced recruiting classes, every college football program has to have this policy especially for players who are only depth. Combine that with the pressure to win and increase in grad transfers that can help teams win sooner and take pressure off coaches, and an overarching policy like this makes sense.
This isn't even a new policy for Virginia Tech. Just go back to Raymon Minor who decided to transfer early in his career, then returned as a walk-on before transferring again. Minor wouldn't have still returned to Virginia Tech if he didn't have some sort of understanding that he would not have a guarantee of a scholarship upon a decision to return.
What may be most important about this overarching portion of the policy is the fact that this Justin Fuente has made sure that his players have a clear understanding of what Virginia Tech's policy is. Whether you are a fan or not, Fuente does show plenty of responsibility and respect by making sure that this policy was already stated to his team and that his team had an understanding before stating it to the media.
When you set an expectation or policy as the head of an organization, a good organization makes sure that those under that leadership understand the policy. That's exactly what Fuente has done here.
Second, Fuente makes clear at the end that this is on a "case by case" basis as well.
We've seen this play out previously with Virginia Tech leaving the door open for players who have potential for valuable roles.
For example, Deshawn McClease was seen as the likely starting RB for next season. Virginia Tech would be crazy not to allow McClease to have a road back given the impact he could have as the projected starting running back for the Hokies. Hendon Hooker is the other example as a quality backup QB at a time when QB depth is as valuable as ever in case a starter get hurts or struggles, as we saw play out this past season.
Looking at the transfers this offseason, if Damon Hazelton would have told Virginia Tech that he wants to come back, the Hokies would have almost certainly welcomed him back. Why? Because like McClease and Hooker, Hazelton helps Virginia Tech win in 2020 like a quality grad transfer would.
Compare that to the aforementioned example of Raymon Minor who was struggling to break the two-deep and was mostly a special teams guy. If another older backup buried behind younger guys decided that they wanted to return, they would likely have to come back as a walk-on with the possibility that they could receive a scholarship if they don't fill the spot they have likely become active in trying to fill.
I also would bet good money that this is the exact same policy for most teams. Most just haven't said that publicly.
What has been consistently brought up also is the fact that Justin Fuente said this weeks after showing some interest in the Baylor opening. In this case, we see a harsh case of reality in two ways.
The value of Fuente, the coach who has led Virginia Tech to the best record over the past 4 years of an ACC program not named Clemson, is way greater than the value of a third-string player with no slightly realistic path to becoming a starter. Same thing goes for a starter like Deshawn McClease compared to a buried backup like Raymon Minor.
Also, there's a difference in having a conversation with another place of employment than outright stating you are going to be moving on.
To compare this to the business world, entering the transfer portal is like putting in your two weeks at work. If you're valuable like a Deshawn McClease, your business likely will do whatever they can to keep you and leave the door for a return open. If you're not as valuable like some backups who have transferred, they'll start their search for a replacement immediately with you not having a path back to that job.
It's a harsh reality but it's the reality of the world and every other program in America. At least Virginia Tech has made the overarching clear to every player and has a consistent record in regards to how they deal with portal entries from more and less valuable players.
Now the one issue with this quote is that it was well-stated by Justin Fuente and seemed to forget that this is 2020 and people will overreact at the smallest of things without having full context.
There are two possible reasons for Fuente's poor phrasing of these comments. First, Fuente was somehow not prepared by his P.R. team to expect that the media would ask about the transfer portal. Given how Virginia Tech has been a program that has emerged as a face of the transfer portal, it would be crazy if the public and media relations team somehow thought Fuente wouldn't get asked about this or just didn't make sure Fuente had good preparation ahead of time.
Second, Fuente has always not been much for saying a lot in front of the media. Fuente is known for being more reserved on many things and hasn't made definitive statements like this often. Some have said that clarifying things would be worth it but at this point, any further public statement would keep this in the nation headlines when t isn't a big deal and is dying off. Pushing it back into the national debate when the focus has been on Michigan State's coaching search and Jordan Burch would be irresponsible.
Yes, Fuente's comments weren't well articulated but the transfer portal policy that was laid out makes common sense given the realities of college football. Most importantly, Fuente made sure his players understand what the policy is first unlike those suggesting this was a grand announcement to his program and the world that Fuente clearly stated it wasn't.