Bud Foster stunned the college football world this past week when he announced that he would be retiring from coaching after the 2019 season. Foster has become the greatest defensive coordinator in the history of college football since becoming the Hokies' defensive coordinator in 1995 after coming with Frank Beamer to Blacksburg in 1987.
Virginia Tech's job should have plenty of appeal and the Hokies should also have the money having paid Foster around $1 million per year with more revenue coming from the ACC Network to help offset potentially paying a new defensive coordinator north of that number.
The Hokies' defensive coordinator could also have a lot of appeal given the fact that next year's defense could be loaded with junior and senior defensive talent that has the potential to be one of the best defensive talent pools in the country. Of course, a disappointing season from Virginia Tech that raises speculation about Justin Fuente's future would make it harder while a strong season, especially an ACC Coastal title, would have many believing that Fuente has the type of long-term stability that could land a big name, even a Power 5 defensive coordinator.
Don't be surprised if the Hokies look to the Bud Foster coaching tree to try to find their next defensive coordinator with that tree including multiple Power 5 defensive coordinators and former VT stars who have developed into quality coaches. If the Hokies don't go that route, expect them to look for someone who has built a strong reputation who may have East Coast roots.
With that said, here are 5 potential names to watch as candidates to be the heir to Bud Foster in Blacksburg.
Florida Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham
On first impression, Todd Grantham feels like a long shot as one of the nation's best defensive coordinators making $1.4 million last year with Florida having all ability to outpay the Hokies to keep Grantham. However, there's no doubt that Whit Babcock's first call should go to one of the best defensive coordinators in college football who is poised to fill the void that Bud Foster will be leaving at the top of the college football defensive coordinator industry.
Virginia Tech has the deep-rooted connections to Grantham that make the chance at getting him actually not a far-fetched idea while his reputation would immune some of the criticism that a less proven or new defensive coordinator would receive if things didn't go right at the beginning.
Grantham's roots in football are in Southwest Virginia having been born in Pulaski, Virginia and played for the Hokies from 1984-88 including during the first 2 seasons of the Frank Beamer, the second of which Grantham earned Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American honors at tackle.
His coaching career also launched in Blacksburg as he was a defensive line assistant coaching alongside Bud Foster from 1990 through 1995, Foster's first year as the Hokies' defensive coordinator. Even though his tenure only overlapped a year of Foster being at the helm of the defense, it's safe to argue that Grantham is the most successful coach to come out of the Foster defensive coaching tree to date.
Now, how fitting would it for the top member of the Foster defensive coaching tree to be the one to come home to Southwest Virginia and take the Hokies' job. That appeal combined with the potential to have a junior and senior laden defense in 2020 that could be one of the best defenses in the country should give the Hokies a strong angle even if a bidding war will almost certainly favor Florida.
Of course, Grantham, or some of these other names, will likely be impossible to get if the Hokies fail to meet expectations and have another season around the 6-win mark However, if they meet expectations and win at least 9 games for the third time in 4 years under Justin Fuente, this job will have a lot of appeal given the current talent pool with Grantham being the coach who should receive the first call for the job.
Florida CBs Coach Torrian Gray
If Grantham says no, the next call should also be towards another Florida assistant, former Virginia Tech DBs coach Torrian Gray.
For years, there's been speculation about there being some issues between Justin Fuente and Torrian Gray after Fuente's arrival in part due to the slight pay cut Gray took when Fuente first arrived before leaving weeks later for Florida. However, if there's one thing that might be able to change things and bring Fuente and Gray back together on the same staff, it's the chance for Gray to follow Foster as the Hokies' defensive coordinator.
There is probably know one outside of Blacksburg that knows Foster's defense as well as Gray after spending a decade coaching defensive backs for the Hokies (2006-2015). Gray, along with Lorenzo Ward, was a big reason why Virginia Tech built up the DBU reputation having spent a year with at least every great Virginia Tech defensive back of the past 15 years from Brandon Flowers and Aaron Rouse to Kendall Fuller and Terrell Edmunds.
Torrian Gray built up a strong reputation because of his defensive backs and would instantly take away most worries that Hokies' fans would have regardless of the hire given that Gray feels like an extension of the Foster era.
There's no doubt that Gray has a future as a Power 5 defensive coordinator potentially as soon as this offseason whether that be in Blacksburg or elsewhere. The big challenge for the Hokies will be the question about whether Fuente and Gray and bury some of the rumored issues they have and bring back the man who looked like the heir to the job not too long ago. If they can bury the hatchet, there's definitely plenty of potential for Gray to be the heir to Foster in Blacksburg.
Houston Texans DBs Coach Anthony Midget
The Bud Foster alum coaching tree goes beyond Torrian Gray with Houston Texans DBs coach Anthony Midget being a potential option. Midget is heading into his sixth season with the Texans including his second as the DBs coach after four as the assistant DBs coach. While it may be surprising to see an NFL guy on the list, Midget has proven to be a quality defensive coach with Virginia Tech connections and college experience that should make a transition from the pros to college not as difficult as it could be for others who lack that college experience.
Midget's NFL experience could prove valuable as the Texans have been known for having some strong defensive back units since Midget has been in Houston. Additionally, having a coach who knows what it takes to get to the NFL should only help on the recruiting trail even if Midget may not have some of the same connections that others on this list have with high school coaches given his time spent at the professional level.
Of course, that's part of the challenge with Midget is would he want to leave the NFL to come back to college even for a defensive coordinator job. While that would be an upward move in terms of coaching staff position, there's something to be said about not having to constantly be on the recruiting trail and having a lifestyle that, in many ways, isn't as hectic as a coach in the NFL.
If the Hokies go get an NFL coach to replace Foster, Anthony Midget is the one guy that would be at the top of the list, but it remains to be seen if Midget ends up even considering going from the pros to college should he be on a short list.
Penn State Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry
Brent Pry may be the first coach on this list that didn't play at Virginia Tech but like the three coaches above, Pry has coached under Bud Foster having been a grad assistant from 1995-1997, Foster's first three years as the Hokies' defensive coordinator. The Foster connection should help along with the fact that Pry's salary isn't crazy at $600k in 2018 with Virginia Tech having the resources to pay Pry well given how Foster was making around $1 million and with VT set to have a new revenue stream from the ACC Network.
Pry has worked his way up the ranks having spent time as a defensive coordinator at the Group of 5 level from 2002-2005 at Louisiana-Lafayette, at Georgia Southern in 2010 when they were in FCS, and with James Franklin as a co-DC and lone DC from 2011 till now at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Through it all, Pry has started to build a solid reputation on the coaching side while he also should have the recruiting connections on the East Coast to make a difference immediately.
However, the biggest under-the-radar connection with Pry is the fact that though he was born in Pennsylvania, he graduated high school in Lexington, Virginia, not too far up I-81 from Blacksburg. Those Bud Foster and Commonwealth connections are two big ins that the Hokies may have in pursuing Pry should they make him a top target.
Of course, Pry could be one strong year away from looking for a head coaching opportunity at the Group of 5 level and may see leaving Penn State for Virginia Tech as a lateral move. Additionally, there's no doubt that the Nittany Lions could match what Virginia Tech has to offer financially, but the current salary suggests that the Hokies could also match Penn State's counters should this become a bidding war.
Pry may not have played at Virginia Tech, but he's another one of the most successful defensive coaches off the Bud Foster tree that would make a lot of sense to target.
Mississippi State Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
Bob Shoop may be the only coach on this list without a Virginia Tech connection, but Shoop has become one of the most respected defensive coaches in the business and has built the type of reputation that would make him a popular hire nationally similar to VT basketball's hiring of Mike Young.
Shoop isn't paid too much and is at a Mississippi State program that doesn't have as high of a ceiling as Virginia Tech given the Hokies' greater prestige and the ACC Coastal not having the same depth as the SEC West. Additionally, Shoop has lots of roots on the East Coast and in Virginia having spent time as a Virginia grad assistant in 1990, the Boston College DBs coach from 1999-2002, and his first defensive coordinator job coming at William & Mary from 2007 to 2010 before taking the job at Vanderbilt, his first job at a school away from the East Coast.
Shoop has built a strong reputation from his time at Vanderbilt and Penn State with James Franklin before spending two years at Tennessee followed by a year at Mississippi State. Shoop reminded the college football landscape how talented a coach he is with the Bulldogs finishing second nationally in scoring defense last season, a testament to Shoop's coaching acumen.
Bob Shoop knows how to build great defenses and has the East Coast connections that should help him be effective on the trail from day one. He may not be the flashiest or biggest name, but he would be a Mike Young-like hire as a coach with a great reputation except unlike Young, Shoop has built that reputation even more over the past decade in the SEC and Big 10.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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