When Hokies fans hear of the “Bud Foster Retirement,” they probably imagine the ol’ ball coach kicking back on a boat on Claytor Lake, fishing line cast, waiting for a large mouth bass to swallow his hook.
That’s not an inaccurate image. However, it is not the full reality, because truthfully, Bud Foster is not retired. He is still employed by Virginia Tech, serving as an ambassador to the school and its sports programs, giving back to the community that gave so much love and support to him for three decades.
While he is indeed working for the Virginia Tech athletic department, his schedule is nowhere near that of his coaching days. And that is perfectly fine with Bud Foster. I was fortunate enough to meet up with my Virginia Tech idol recently, and he was gracious enough to share a few stories and tell me a little about his new life as a former football coach who has found a nice little niche working for the University.
How it all Started
Bud Foster gives a lot of credit to Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock for the decisions that were made and the opportunities that were presented in regards to Foster’s retirement in 2019. Babcock was the one behind the Bud Foster Day celebration on November 9th, a day where Hokie Nation honored the famed coach in his final season, and his defense dominated 22nd ranked Wake Forest, 36-17.
Foster praises Babcock and is thankful for what he has done for the Coach. “Whit Babcock has been phenomenal,” Foster said. “He’s been incredible to me and my family. He’s given me the opportunity to stay here. He and Dr. Sands feel that I can still bring a little value to the University and the department and the program, which is cool.”
So when Babcock offered Foster an opportunity to keep working for Virginia Tech after his coaching tenure ended, the legend himself felt honored and humbled, and he took the job.
What the Bud Foster Retirement Looks Like
Bud Foster’s official job title is Special Assistant to the Athletic Director. Please understand this – his job is no George Costanza “Assistant to the Traveling Secretary” role. On the contrary, Foster is very busy in his post-coaching career, especially during football season where he could easily work seven days a week. He attends all of the home games, often shunning the comfort of an indoor box to sit outside with the fans. And he does a lot more than just attend football games!
He wears many hats in this position. Admittedly, Foster is mostly a public relations guy. He does a lot of speaking engagements, such as Hokie Club events and local groups like Kiwanis and Rotary. His appearances are mostly in the Southwest Virginia region, but Foster has traveled across the state to speak on behalf of the University.
Most recently, he was the keynote speaker at Virginia Tech’s Chalk Talk in March. Coaches from around the region came to Blacksburg to hear Foster and other football coaches share their wisdom.
One of the best college football coaches of all time Bud Foster, addressing high school football coaches at the Virginia Tech Chalk Talk Clinic.
Great leaders learn from great leaders. pic.twitter.com/6tMwSWsUo2
— Derek Jones (@CoachdjCheetah) March 24, 2023
One role that he particularly enjoys is that of Former Player Engagement. “It has been a lot of fun,” he says of his contacts with previous players. “It’s good to catch up with them. It’s a relationship for a lifetime.” And these relationships come in all forms, from guys calling for certain advice to others who just want to thank their former coach for his influence on them. This has been very rewarding for Foster.
Another aspect of Former Player Engagement is getting involved with individuals and groups when they return to campus. Foster is part of the committee who coordinates reunion weekends during football season, and he often is the one giving tours of the facilities to these returning players.
And the former players love having Foster as the one to give those tours. In 2021, Virginia Tech welcomed back the 1986 team that won the Peach Bowl, Virginia Tech’s first ever bowl victory. Will Gowin was a defensive back on that team, and he appreciated Foster’s presence during their tour. “It was great,” Gowin said. “Bud gave us the tour and we had an awesome day.”
Working Beyond the Football Program
Foster’s responsibilities extend beyond football. Another aspect of his new job is how he interacts with other teams in the Virginia Tech Athletic Department. He talks to other coaches about his own staff’s philosophies and what they did to be so successful. “Women’s tennis or soccer or wrestling or baseball, I’ve spoken to just about everybody,” Foster recalls. “Just speaking on encouragement or speaking on the Lunch Pail philosophy.”
Coach is happy to be involved with these other programs, and he is also grateful for how this has led to other independent opportunities to do some consulting work. He has met with other staffs outside Virginia Tech and he has enjoyed those experiences. “That was fun to be able to talk shop and talk ball and not have to worry about the results and have a stomach ache on Saturdays,” Foster said, half joking, half serious. The low stress work is indeed appreciated, but so is his opportunity to get his fix with football!
On top of all this, he has his own philanthropic organization, the Lunch Pail Defense Foundation. The Foundation funds academic scholarships for high school students in the New River or Roanoke Valley areas, as well as assists the families of those awaiting organ transplants. Foster does not run the Foundation, but he is heavily involved as the face of the organization, much like he is with his job in the Virginia Tech Athletic Department.
Ut Prosim – That I May Serve
Bud Foster is very much in tune with the school’s motto – “Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.” As he acknowledged, he is able to use his name and reputation to bring value to the University. His job is essentially a service role. But he also tries to remind his former players of that motto.
In his Former Player Engagement work, Foster also is involved with fundraising. He encourages those guys (his former players) to support their alma mater. “They were able to do what they did because of somebody else,” Foster says. “I’d like them to understand that and appreciate that, and then them give back or pay it forward so some other student-athlete has the same opportunity.”
The irony is not lost here. While Bud Foster is encouraging others to give back and to serve Virginia Tech in some way, he is serving that very same purpose on a daily basis. For over thirty years as a coach, he gave so much of himself to his players, his coaches, and of course the fans, who absolutely loved his dominant defenses.
And now, as a Special Assistant to the Athletic Director, Bud Foster is giving back to the school, the community, and the fan base through his work. It is indeed a very noble path the legendary coach is walking.
Reflecting on the Success of the Lunch Pail Defense
Bud Foster’s new job often results in him talking about the culture and success of his past teams. He is quick to credit others for laying the foundation of that success. For example, Foster admits that the ideas of the Lunch Pail Defense began with former Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian. “Elmo” often talked about coming to work every day, rolling up the sleeves, and putting in the time needed to be successful.
After Elmassian left, Foster continued with that philosophy, adding some of his own ideas, and the Lunch Pail Defense was born. In the early days, Foster’s defenses were built on players who were good enough to compete at Virginia Tech, but more importantly, they were “willing kids who wanted to please but also wanted to work.” This was the Lunch Pail mentality. “Success is a choice, but you gotta earn your success,” Foster explains. That was what he wanted to establish on a daily basis.
In addition to the daily blue-collar work ethic, Foster emphasized goal setting. He often asked his players what kind of teammate they want to play with. He also asked them what kind of teammate they wanted to be. Then, with those (and other) goals written and placed in the actual Lunch Pail, he could use them as motivation – a reminder of what the players said they wanted – and when they bought in, it was a powerful tool.
And thus, with those seemingly simply ideas, Foster built the famed Lunch Pail Defense that is and always will be associated with his name.
What He Misses Most From Coaching
Although Bud Foster is happy to be where he is now, enjoying time with his wife and their six children in a semblance of a Brady Bunch family, he certainly acknowledges that there are elements of his career that he does miss. And that is to be expected from someone who was so passionate about what he did for over half of his long life.
Having worked under Frank Beamer for so long, it is no surprise that Foster misses the relationships the most. He loved his defensive staff. He misses the relationships with the players, as well as those with the high schools on the recruiting trail. “I was there for so long I got to know administrators, guidance counselors, coaches,” he reflects. “I’d go sit with the coach, see a kid, then I’d go see the principal, or go see the AD or go see the guidance counselor, and the next thing you know I’d been there an hour and a half. I created those relationships, I miss those.”
However, the recruiting trail was grinding work, as opposed to the relatively less demanding spring season. “I miss spring practice. I loved spring practice,” Foster admits. “That was the time you really got to work with the kids and really develop them. In the weight room with them, evaluating them. Taking them out to eat, having them in our house, I really got to know them and they got to know the coaches.” That is where the relationships are really formed. “When I want a kid to run through a 230 pound running back, I want him to do that because he knows I care about him and have his best interest at heart.”
Foster also misses the professional relationships and competitions, particularly teams and people for whom he had a lot of respect and against whom he looked forward to competing. As much as Hokie fans loathed Paul Johnson, Foster appreciated the challenges that his Georgia Tech teams presented every year. “They were a pain in the ass, but I had the utmost respect for him.”
There were several others whom Foster admired and appreciated. Dana Bible at Boston College and then North Carolina State. George DeLeon at Syracuse. Mark Richt at Florida State. Foster has great respect for them. And then there was Florida State’s defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. He was an early role model for Foster. “If I’d ever wanted to be compared to somebody as a defensive coordinator, I’d want to be Mickey Andrews. That was the guy I looked up to.”
And isn’t that ironic? I can guarantee that Bud Foster is the guy that many other defensive coaches wanted to be compared over the last few decades!
Thoughts on the Current Coaching Staff
Those who know Brent Pry also know that he was a graduate assistant under Bud Foster in the mid 1990’s. Having that prior time together and still working with the football program in his new job, Foster knows the man behind the head whistle and they share a good relationship. Foster believes that Pry understands the culture of the program and he is invested in it. He sees Pry as “a good fit, a good person. He went to high school in Virginia, he is a coach’s son, and he loves this place.” Foster also knows that Pry is genuine and approachable, and all of these traits and experiences make him a good fit as Virginia Tech’s head coach.
And while Foster believes that Pry has earned this opportunity to lead the Virginia Tech football program, he also knows that Pry understands that we are all in this together. “There’s a passionate love affair with the alums and the fan base here that is as good as anywhere in the country,” Foster admits. “And he (Pry) identifies with that.”
In reflecting on how to be successful at Tech, Foster firmly believes that it comes down to how you treat people, and that is a lesson learned from Frank Beamer. “Develop relationships, develop trust. And the rest will fall into place.” Brent Pry is off to a good start here, and so is Bud Foster in his post-coaching career at Tech.
In many ways, Bud Foster’s career – both as a coach and now as an ambassador of the school – has mirrored that of the sign in the tunnel that the players all touch before every home football game: “For those who have passed, for those to come…reach for excellence.” For decades, Foster has shaped “those who have passed,” the many young men that played for him. And now, he himself is paying it forward “for those to come,” and using his gifts to continue to help the University.
It is all part of who this great man is. He will always be known as our fiery coach, a legendary defensive coordinator who helped bring Virginia Tech to national prominence. But that was how we remember him as a coach. He is so much more than that. He is kind, he is generous, and he believes in people. He loves the University and he loves the opportunity to help fellow Hokies.
I have been fortunate to see that other side. Yes, my relationship with Coach Foster spans a decade and a half and can be described as a little more than acquaintances (see this link for that story), but the grace and thoughtfulness he showed in meeting with me, an everyday fan, just reiterates how he feels about his fellow Hokies – it’s about relationships. Coach Beamer’s words aren’t just to inspire others, they are words that Foster lives by – treat people well.
As Hokies, we should be thrilled that Bud Foster is still working for Virginia Tech. In this day and age of frequent coach turnaround and a lack of longevity and loyalty to a university, it is refreshing to see Foster rewarded for all he has given to the school. Even moreso, it is exciting as a fan to see him not just as a public figure, but one who can be found at local events, someone that people can actually meet and talk to, an idol that people can see as a real person.
The Bud Foster retirement is a misnomer – he is retired from coaching, but he is still working for the school. As he said, he is bringing value to the university while still having more personal time for his family. And he is a bigger presence in the community. It is a win-win-win for Foster and the University and the fans.
Thank you Coach Foster for all you have done and all you continue to do for Virginia Tech!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
For More Great Football Content
Follow us on Twitter at @GridironHeroics for more great content. We appreciate you taking time to read our articles. To interact more with our community and keep up to date on the latest in Football news, JOIN OUR FREE FACEBOOK GROUP by CLICKING HERE