Brian Kelly

Seeds of Fuente's hiring planted in 2013

Seeds of Fuente's hiring planted in 2013

BLACKSBURG — Whit Babcock first encountered Justin Fuente in the summer of 2013. Babcock was the athletic director at Cincinnati, Fuente the football coach at Memphis, and their paths crossed at American Athletic Conference meetings in Newport, R.I.

Babcock was impressed by the fledgling, his demeanor, his pedigree, his cowboy-boot sensibilities. But, Babcock thought, that guy sure has a difficult job.

Indeed, Memphis was 5-31 in the three seasons before Fuente's 2012 hiring. Moreover, as part of the administrative team that had evaluated the Tigers for AAC membership, Babcock understood the program's limited resources. He also knew Fuente's then-defensive coordinator...