For Foster, the wait continues

BLACKSBURG, Va. — For 21 seasons, Virginia Tech has benefited from the wisdom and toughness not just of coach Frank Beamer but also of defensive coordinator Bud Foster.

Foster is the fiery architect of one of college football’s best defenses on an annual basis. This season is typical for the quick-witted coach. The Hokies, who play Kansas tomorrow night in the Orange Bowl in Miami, are second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 15.46 points a game, and fifth out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision programs with 293 yards allowed a game.

“I am probably not as hard-headed as I used to be,” said Foster, whose unit features second-team All-American cornerback Brandon Flowers and third-team All-American linebacker Xavier Adibi. “We used to blitz all the time and use a lot of man-pressure blitzing where offenses did not keep as many blockers in. We still pressure a lot, but it’s more zone blitz. We want to pressure without as much risk and not give up the big play.”

Foster may tweak strategy in his third decade with the Hokies. One thing that has not changed, however, is his location.

The 48-year-old career assistant was the 2006 winner of the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. He enjoys living in southwestern Virginia and constructing top-notch defenses for the Hokies, who are ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series.

However, as much as he enjoys being at Virginia Tech, he would rather be elsewhere.

“I tried to get into a couple head coaching jobs, but it just didn’t work out,” said Foster, who recently was mentioned for the West Virginia opening. “I threw my name in at Georgia Tech and Arkansas.”

It is an annual rite of application for Foster, who is actually finishing his 29th season together with Beamer after playing for him as a safety and linebacker at Murray State and coaching under him there before they moved to Virginia Tech.

“Probably the closest job was the Virginia job a few years ago,” said Foster, a finalist for the Cavaliers’ opening before Al Groh took over in 2001. “I still remember [then athletic director] Terry Holland saying, ‘You know Bud, we would have a hard time hiring a Hokie.’ I said, ‘Coach, I am a Hokie by association. I didn’t go to school here.’ That is probably the closest one I had recently.”

But he remains a hot commodity. Foster met with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier earlier this month and was offered a job, a move that likely would have made him the nation’s highest-paid defensive coordinator.

After meeting with Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver and Beamer, Foster decided to stick around after getting a reported raise to $350,000 a year, which could reach $400,000 with incentives.

“We’re happy Bud is staying,” Beamer said.

Beamer earns some $2 million a season, and most coaches in charge of big-time programs earn well over $1 million. Foster would not mind reaching that economic stratosphere.

“I think it’s fair to get paid your fair market value,” Foster said. “I feel in today’s day and age the head coaches are getting paid. And the assistants’ salaries are better than they have ever been, but there is still a big discrepancy between the head coaches and the assistants. …

“You better get it now because it may not be there down the road. I am not getting any younger. I don’t want to be an old, crusty ball coach coaching. I don’t want to be cussing and dragging my [butt] out of bed and all that. I want to throw a line out in the water when I get a little older.”

And Foster is particular about where he might coach. He is not interested in taking over a mid-major program and is selective about major conference BCS jobs, such as the recent ACC vacancy at Duke.

“I didn’t throw my name in that mess right there,” he said in his straightforward fashion. “I don’t need to be head coach to be a head coach. Ted Roof did as good a job as anybody can do down there.”

He also has ruled out taking a top job in a lesser conference.

“I like competing at the highest level,” Foster said. “That is what I want to do. I think I have got the ability to lead a program at that level. I feel like I don’t need to take a step back to take a step forward. That’s my personal opinion. I have been doing it too long. I feel like I am ready whenever that opportunity comes.”

There are numerous examples of coaches getting their first top job well into their careers. Ralph Friedgen spent 31 seasons as an assistant before getting his break at Maryland at age 54. Bo Pelini recently took over at Nebraska after spending 15 seasons as an assistant, including the last three as defensive coordinator at LSU.

Meanwhile, Foster will continue to be Beamer’s top sidekick while awaiting his chance.

“He deserves to be a head coach, but I don’t want to see him go — at least while I’m here,” said Cam Martin, a sophomore linebacker. “Each and every week, I am just amazed. It is a big change from week to week. We have to learn a new defense every week almost. He has us in the right spots and allows us to make plays.”

And there is a chance Foster eventually could lead a team without leaving Blacksburg. The 61-year-old Beamer has given no indication of when he might step down. However, Foster would be the logical successor.

Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher already has been named Bobby Bowden’s heir. Fisher got a bump in salary to $625,000 a season and will get a $2.5 million buyout if he does not take over as the Seminoles’ coach by 2011.

Foster said he has had no discussions about a coach-in-waiting role.

The longtime assistant insists it would not be a travesty if he never runs his own program. Foster is one of top defensive masterminds in college football, building powerful groups season after season. He said that if that is his legacy, it is enough for him.

“I am not going to cry myself to sleep,” Foster said. “I am doing things. I am going to my fifth BCS game. There are Hall of Fame coaches that have never done that. I am proud of what we accomplished here. I am proud of what we are going to accomplish. If that door opens, I am going to step in it. If not, so be it.”

FOSTER‘S FILE

Born: July 28, 1959, in Somerset, Ky.

Coaching experience

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator 1995-present*

Virginia Tech linebackers coach 1987-94

Murray State assistant 1981-86

Playing career

Murray State linebacker/safety 1977-80

* Won Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant in 2006

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