Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Virginia Tech, lock up defensive coordinator Bud Foster

BLACKSBURG -- Give him the deal. Dig deep into those pockets. Put the Will Muschamp offer -- or at least the promise of it -- on the table right now, today, this instant, and pray that Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster takes it.

There is no doubt he's the man to lead this program when Frank Beamer retires. Foster proved it again this week, slicing through a slew of potential distractions to save the Hokies' season again.

There would be out clauses, of course. If Clemson administrators decide they want Foster as their head coach for next year, by all means, wish him well as he heads through the door.

That's a great opportunity that he must take.

This isn't about denying a deserving man a job. It's about preserving the strength of this program.

Is there a coordinator anywhere in this country more valuable than Foster is to this Tech team? Simply witness Saturday night's game -- an unsightly 14-3 Tech victory over Duke that kept the Hokies on track for an ACC Coastal Division title -- and it would be hard to argue there is.

Offensively, the Hokies committed turnovers on five of their first six possessions. They punted on the other. And yet Duke managed just three points. Foster's defense wound up outscoring the Blue Devils on its own after Macho Harris intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown.

Tech's defense allowed a season-low 136 yards. Sure, it's Duke, and the Blue Devils were playing with their back-up quarterback.

But Tech easily could have lost this game without a stellar effort from its defense. And Foster has consistently produced nothing less, despite breaking in seven new starters this season.

Earlier this week, the University of Texas announced that Muschamp, the team's 37-year-old defensive coordinator, would be the successor to head coach Mack Brown. The Longhorns doubled his salary. They said there would be no timetable for the change.

Tech athletic director Jim Weaver immediately started making calls and asking the right questions. How does such an arrangement work? What are the potential hang-ups? That's a good start. But the process needs to move as quickly as possible, because Foster's stock is only going up.

Brown is 57. Beamer is 62. And Foster, 49, has made it clear that he loves it in Blacksburg.

Any questions that may have lingered about the breadth of Foster's leadership are dissolving. After interviewing for the Clemson job the day after the Miami loss, he made the right moves with his current team this week.

"He came out and made it clear he's still committed to us," Harris said. "Ain't nothing changed. He's focusing on playing Duke and basically he's here with us. His mind is nowhere else. His heart is nowhere else. His body's nowhere else but with us.

"For a coach to come out and show respect like that to our players and let us know what his situation was, why not lay it on the line for him? That's what we did."

And they've been doing it better and better as the season's gone on. Saturday marked the fifth time in the past six games that the Hokies have held a team under 300 total yards.

This week was particularly tricky, with all the questions swirling about his future. But the players said he did not alter his focus or approach at all.

"Coach Foster's going to be the same guy," cornerback Stephan Virgil said.

"He's not going to change. He's still going to kick our butts if we're not doing something right. He's going to motivate us at all times.

"To see him get up and cheer on the sidelines when we make those big plays, that's motivation to me. We like to see Coach Foster happy."

Weaver should make him happier. Foster's doing his job -- and he's done it well for years. Time to reward him with a promise, even if his promise right now is that he's not thinking about anybody else.

"He's very loyal to this program," linebacker Purnell Sturdivant said. "He's not a guy that if another job's on the line, he would forget about this program and start thinking about another program.

"He'll keep us on our toes. He wants to win the rest of these games, and hopefully we'll win a championship for him here this year. And we'll see what happens after that."

Tech's fortunes have been good this year. There's no denying that. The close wins, the help from other teams, the chance at a division title despite three losses in the conference --all of it has featured an element of luck to it.

But if the Hokies are really lucky, Clemson will look elsewhere for its next head coach.

And then Tech will do the wise thing, locking up Foster for good.

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