Barber: Virginia Tech interim coach J.C.Price the 'true essence' of a Hokie – Richmond.com

Virginia Tech co-defensive line recruiting coordinator J.C. Price has been named interim head coach following the departure of former Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente.
For 123 Virginia Tech football players, the 2021 season isn’t finished, even if their coach’s time with the Hokies has come to an end.
Taking the reins of the program at a time like this is a task that’s equally daunting and uncomfortable. But that’s the job former Hokies’ All-America defensive lineman J.C. Price accepted Tuesday morning, when he agreed to serve as his alma mater’s interim coach.
“Bittersweet” is how one source close to Price described Price’s emotions about being charged with leading his old team for the rest of the month.
Tech, which parted ways with coach Justin Fuente on Tuesday morning after six years, is 5-5 and plays at Miami on Saturday, then at rival Virginia to close the regular season. The timing of the move has everything to do with the business of college football and shows little regard for this year’s team. Such is the nature of the sport these days.
But Tech’s season must go on, and every team needs a leader.
Price, who joined the staff this year, is a loyal soldier of Virginia Tech, a proud Hokies alumnus and — according to a former teammate — the perfect man for the job.
“When you talk about a guy like J.C. Price, it was that lunch pail attitude and that hard work ethic,” said former Tech defensive end Hank Coleman. “He really embraced the true essence of what a Hokie is about. I can’t think of a better person right now to take on these next two weeks.”
Price’s elevation allows the team’s coordinators — Brad Cornelsen with the offense, Justin Hamilton with the defense and James Shibest with the special teams — to remain focused on the game-plans for the final two games.
Price’s primary role will be to lead the team, to keep his players motivated and focused, to stay connected to Tech’s incoming and future recruits, and to bring stability to his beloved program at a time of massive change.
“J.C. is an energy guy,” said Richmond offensive coordinator Jeff Durden, who coached with Price at James Madison. “If you were to cut him open, he’d bleed maroon and orange. … A lot of times, in that situation, you might end up looking for your next job instead of coaching. I don’t think they have to worry about that with that guy.”
Wednesday, athletics director Whit Babcock, Price and the rest of the Hokies recruiting staff scheduled a Zoom call with the program’s 2022 commitments. Holding on to that class could help Price land a spot on the next coach’s staff.
There’s a symmetry, Coleman noted, in Price’s first game as the big whistle coming at Miami. In 1995, Price and Coleman were teammates on the team that ended their 0-2 slide to start the year with the program’s first win over the Hurricanes.
Teammate Dwight Vick recalled Price and Jim Baron calling a players-only meeting after losing to Cincinnati, seeking to refocus the team going into the Miami game.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Vick said of Price. “I remember J.C., with tears in his eyes, he told everybody just to stay together and not to quit on each other. J.C. Price to me is the best leader I’ve ever been around or played with.”
Coleman and Price combined on the play that crushed Miami’s final drive, with Coleman flushing Miami quarterback Ryan Clement into the arms of Price for a sack that helped preserve Tech’s 13-7 win.
Virginia Tech did not lose again that season, winning 10 straight, claiming the school’s first Big East title and upsetting Texas in the Sugar Bowl. That year was the Hokies’ first of 13 seasons with 10 wins over the next 17 years.
Being there at the start of that, Coleman said, gives Price a firm grasp on fans’ expectations for the program.
“He knows and understands the pressure,” Coleman said. “Because he helped establish that pressure.”
Price also understands how to reach and connect with players. Coleman saw him do that as a teammate, and he’s done it throughout his coaching career, starting at James Madison in 2004 and continuing through his nine seasons at Marshall.
“J.C. is very demanding, but at the same time, he’ll scratch you behind the ears,” Durden said. “I think he’s always had a way about him. Figure out what makes you tick and then get your best.”
Price loves his players and there’s no denying he loves his school. When he was hired at Tech, he talked about his eagerness to eat meals at two Blacksburg staples — P.K.’s and Macado’s — and about how he met his wife, former Tech women’s basketball star Jenny Root.
“Blacksburg is part of his DNA,” Vick said.
Price’s time as the Hokies head coach will likely end whenever this season ends, whether that’s Thanksgiving weekend after the UVA game or following a bowl, still a possibility if Tech can win one of these last two contests. With his lack of head coaching experience, Price is a long shot to get the full-time gig, though fellow alumni including Coleman advocated for that Wednesday.
More likely, Price could be a candidate to be retained by the next coach. Or he could be off to the next stop in his coaching career, perhaps seeking another path back to Blacksburg one day.
That’s the future. For now, Tech needed Price in this new, challenging and uncomfortable role.
To no one’s surprise, when his alma mater asked, Price said yes.
J.C. Price, Tech’s interim football coach, was a Hokies All-America defensive lineman.
mbarber@timesdispatch.com
Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber
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Virginia Tech co-defensive line recruiting coordinator J.C. Price has been named interim head coach following the departure of former Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente.
J.C. Price, Tech’s interim football coach, was a Hokies All-America defensive lineman.
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