Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente took time this week to discuss fatherhood, what he’s learned about being a coach, and his three most passionate fans — daughters Cecilia, Caroline and Charlotte.
Question: Your wife, Jenny, and three daughters are at every game. Which of the three girls is most into the games?
Answer: My oldest one by far [Cecilia]. She’s 11 and she’s into it. She’s a pretty well-educated fan. She’s really fun to watch games with and asks a lot of questions and understands the games and the rules. She lives and dies with everything that happens out there so she’s all in.
My youngest [Charlotte] is too young to pay attention right now. She’s got Barbie dolls and that sort of stuff right now.
My middle one [Caroline] is just coming around. She’s 7 and she’s just now starting to get really involved in the results.
Question: Who takes the losses harder: Your daughter or Dad?
Answer: Well, I try to leave it at work. I try my best because I don’t get a lot of time with them during the season so when I do come home I make it a point to give myself a little pep talk and try to make a concerted effort to leave that stuff behind and enjoy the time I do have when I’m with them.
But they are incredibly supportive and fun to be around after we win or lose. My oldest, particularly, has a little sense of when Dad may just need a hug and not need to say anything and then she gets excited, it’s certainly fun to see her happy when we win.
She takes it hard. We all take it hard. You know our families live and die with our players and our kids and how they perform and how they do. But we try, and I’m not always the best at it, we try to leave that at the door when we do get time together.
Question: What have you learned about being a coach from being a dad?
Answer: I just think you have a little better understanding and a little better perspective of where the kids are coming from. I think it’s really cool to see the relationship between the players and my children and other coach’s children. To see them interact, it’s a fun part of what we do here. One of my favorite days is around Halloween when we have all our players out at practice and all our coaches bring their kids up all dressed up in Halloween garb and they hand out candy to our players. Watching those two groups interact through the summer time and when our kids are around is really rewarding for me. You know coaches kids have to sacrifice a lot, but they get to do some cool things along the way. Hopefully, it all balances each other out.
Question: You mentioned some of the sacrifices your kids make. How so?
Answer: It’s a totally different experience than what I had.
You know we lived in one house, basically my whole life. I lived in one school district. We just didn’t move. I didn’t have different experiences, I had great experiences growing up but my kid’s experiences [for example] around the holidays have been different.
I think my wife [Jenny] deserves a tremendous amount of credit for making those events special and fun. It may be different than the traditional family way, but that’s pretty cool, too. Our kids don’t know any different. They’ve spent some Christmases in hotels and we’ve written letters to Santa that tells him where we’re going to be and sometimes Santa comes a little early for us, sometimes he comes a little late, and sometimes he finds us on the road. It all depends on the year and the age of the kids.
Question: Sometimes parents have hard decisions to make. You had some to make last season. You also said at the start of the postseason that you wanted open feedback from your players on how to improve things. What did you learn?
Answer: We did and I thought we really had a productive event and it’s something I’m going to continue to do for a long time.
I had a tremendous amount of feedback from our kids about things they’d like to change.
You know I told them we aren’t changing the off season program because I know you guys don’t like running, but let’s talk about what are the things we can have influence on?
We got great feedback and we’ve implemented a lot of them. Some are as simple as how we sit in our team meeting room and some of the involve small inexpensive changes we can make around our locker room and ways we can allocate our resources in another way like guys wanting an easier place to hang out together.
Some of it revolved around our [practice] schedule which we’re changing cause because I didn’t like it either. The players were right and so was I. We didn’t like it.
I think it’s important nowadays [to get player feedback]. The days of just telling young people and not explaining why or not getting to know them on another level, that’s over with. They’re not going to do it just because you said it.
Finding a way to continue to have some input and a little bit of voice so that we can figure out how to get it best done for everybody, I think is the way to go.
Question: What was the best advice your dad ever gave you about playing sports?
Answer: My dad really is a fantastic father. I was incredibly lucky. He lost his father when he was 16 years old and I believe sometimes things happen for a reason and we don’t understand why and I think part of it was what made him such a great dad.
He gave me tons of great advice and it was centered on realism. You know life isn’t always fair. But you know what you do the next day: You wake up, you go to work and you show up and you do your best.
And somebody always has it better than you and somebody’s always got it worse, but be thankful for what you’ve got and show up ready to do the best you can do every day.