From the sidelines
By Marty Gordon
J.C. Price took over a Virginia Tech program for the final two games and a trip to a bowl with no real expectations. As a matter of fact, he was put in an awkward situation after the firing of his boss, Justin Fuente.
But he accepted the tag of “interim head coach” with dignity and a sense of pride as a former Virginia Tech player, which brought a perfect underlying message to players and fans. As a “Hokie,” Price understood what this speed bump was all about, moving on and looking to the future.
Incoming new head coach Brent Pry also understood that last definition and asked Price to stay on in the new coaching era.
While Price could not pull off a win in the Pinstripe Bowl this past week, he was rather upbeat after the contest.
“Obviously, disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “Not disappointed in these players. Love them. Proud of them. They got more things thrown at them in one year’s time, year and a half, than any other team in history, and they continue to fight. One game does not define who those guys are in that locker room. I think it’s a situation where it’s like plowing a snow hill. You are plowing snow uphill. Eventually everything just caught up to us, and we didn’t have enough tonight,” he said.
Price took time to hug every Tech player on the field at the end of the game.
“I think I’m proud to be their coach,” he said. “I’m proud of those guys. Maryland was a better team today, obviously. They were better coached. They played better. That doesn’t stop a person from caring about somebody because you lost a football game, and I care about those guys. They care about this program, and the guys that are moving on should always feel welcome to come back here any time they want. As for the guys that are coming back, obviously, we need to go to work and be better than we were today.”
He is looking to the future for the program. “We’ve got a lot of good kids coming back,” Price said. “There’s a couple of guys who have another year that may be on the fence, and I’m going to go to work recruiting them and trying to get them to return to school. The guys who are leaving, that’s what’s best for them, and good luck to them in the NFL, but the nucleus is here. You don’t understand all the things these kids went through. I think eventually it just caught up to us. It caught up to us tonight, and I was hoping it wouldn’t, but eventually when you go through so many adverse things … Yeah, it’s been difficult.”
Price has the pedigree as he was a team captain and a third-team All-America selection
for the Hokies as a senior in 1995. He returned to Blacksburg in 2021 as co-defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator after spending the past nine seasons as Marshall’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
He was named the Conference USA Recruiter of the Year in 2015 and was part of seven Marshall squads that earned bowl berths, the 2014 Conference USA championship, as well three C-USA East Division titles. Marshall led the nation in scoring defense (13.0 points per game)
in 2020, while ranking second in total defense (279.4 yards per game), fourth in rushing defense (95.5 yards per game) and 11th in pass defense (183.9 yards per game) en route to a berth in the Conference USA Championship Game.
Price was named The Conference USA Recruiter of the Year by Scout.com for his contribution to the Thundering Herd’s 2016 recruiting class.
Prior to Marshall, Price spent eight seasons at James Madison University during which the team won the 2004 FCS National Championship. Also, just like incoming coach Brent Pry, Price serves as a graduate assistant on the Tech staff (2002-2003).
But the experience dates further back when Price proved he is a player with the “Lunch Pail” mentality. He was a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 NFL Draft and spent time with the Arizona Cardinals in 1996-97 where his defensive line coach was Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Joe Greene before a back injury curtailed his playing career.
He was a four-year starter who captained Tech’s 1995 BIG EAST championship team. He earned third-team All-America honors from AP following the 1995 season and first-team All-BIG EAST honors after recording 104 tackles and a team-high 15. tackles for loss and eight sacks.
He finished his career with 256 tackles (125 solo), 30 tackles for loss and 17 sacks(-118.0 yards).
He is married to Jenny Root, who was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. A standout for the women’s basketball program, her 1,582 career points still rank as the fifth-highest total in Hokies’ history.
Price will get his chance somewhere down the road to be a head coach. He has proven his leadership skills in the past month. But for now, he is just happy to be a Hokie.