Virginia Tech has hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry as the program's next coach, the school announced Tuesday. Pry, 51, has been with the Nittany Lions for the past eight seasons and worked as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech in the 1990s under legendary former coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He will replace Justin Fuente, who was fired in mid-November with a 43-31 record over six seasons on the job.
"Coach Pry owns a winning track record on the football field, as well as a history of developing young men into leaders off the field and in the classroom," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said. "He's earned his way up the coaching ranks, and we believe he is the right person to lead Virginia Tech Football and to achieve the goals that we all aspire to attaining. He and his staff will aggressively recruit our region to keep in-state recruits home and attract the talent necessary to win championships in Blacksburg."
This will be Pry's first head coaching gig, but he's long been regarded as one of the sport's better defensive minds. He will have his work cut out for him at Virginia Tech, which finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and ranked No. 73 nationally in total defense after finishing 103rd in total defense last season. By contrast, Penn State has finished in the top-40 nationally in total defense during each of Pry's six seasons as defensive coordinator.
"Working for Coach Beamer and Coach Foster as a graduate assistant in the 1990s, I was privileged to have been a part of this program as the Hokies established themselves as a national power, consistently proving they could beat anyone in the nation," Pry said. "Even after I departed Blacksburg, I always continued to appreciate Virginia Tech, its great players, its championship teams, and its wonderful traditions from afar. The resources, facilities, university backing of Athletics, and phenomenal fan support that Virginia Tech enjoys made this a very desirable situation. But just as importantly, the opportunity to raise our children in a community like Blacksburg also has great appeal."
Pry has worked under Penn State coach James Franklin for the past 11 seasons in total after spending 14 seasons at the FCS and Group of Five levels in various assistant coaching roles. He was an integral part of Vanderbilt's back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2012 and 2013 under Franklin.
The Altoona, Pennsylvania, native played at Buffalo before beginning his coaching career there as a student assistant. After a stint on staff at Division II East Stroudsburg, he worked from 1995 to 1997 as a graduate assistant under Beamer with the Hokies. The program had two 10-win seasons during that span and went 27-9 overall.
Here are the key takeaways on Virginia Tech's hiring of Pry:
Offensive staff will be crucial
Pry's track record suggests he should be able to improve a defense that has slipped drastically in recent seasons from the greatness it enjoyed under Foster and Beamer. But Virginia Tech needs a total reboot on both sides of the ball, not just defense, in order to escape a rut of mediocrity that has seen it go just 25-24 over the last four seasons.
The Hokies rank 109th in passing offense this season after ranking 89th in passing offense last season. The offense is in need of a makeover, too, which puts the spotlight on Pry's offensive staff hires. It's unlikely that he would raid Penn State's staff after more than a decade under Franklin, so where will Pry turn to fill out his staff? It's perhaps the most important question of the early days of his tenure.
Recruiting ties in Virginia
Penn State has consistently recruited well in Virginia under Franklin, and Pry has been a major part of that success. He was, for example, the lead recruiter on five-star linebacker Brandon Smith out of Mineral, Virginia, from the 2018 class. In total, he's been the primary or secondary recruiter on seven Penn State commitments from the state during his tenure, according to 247Sports.
The relationships built and time spent in rural outposts such as Mineral should serve Pry well as he tries to correct some of the Hokies' recent struggles at retaining in-state talent. Five of the state's top six prospects in the 2022 class are committed to North Carolina, and two of the state's top four players in the 2023 class are committed to Penn State. If Virginia Tech is going to operate at its maximum potential, it needs to be a destination for the state's top in-state talent. Pry looks capable of making the Hokies competitive in that regard, and Babcock made the importance of regional recruiting clear in Tuesday's announcement.
Ramifications for Penn State
Just a week after receiving a 10-year, $75 million extension, Franklin must make a critical decision about how to replace Pry. The two have been together for over a decade, with Pry serving as either co-defensive coordinator or defensive coordinator for that entire time. How the Nittany Lions replace him will have a major impact on the program's trajectory.
The offensive coordinator job has been a revolving door at Penn State under Franklin, whereas the defensive coordinator spot has been steady by comparison. That could make promotion from within an attractive option, especially if there's a worthy candidate on the Penn State staff who is considering leaving for Virginia Tech with Pry.