Teel: J.C. Price pinching himself as he leads Hokies into Pinstripe Bowl – Richmond.com

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Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price celebrates at the conclusion of the Virginia Tech-Virginia football game in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price celebrated the Hokies’ victory over Virginia in late November. An All-American defensive tackle at Tech, Price spent eight years coaching at James Madison and nine at Marshall before returning to Blacksburg.
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J.C. Price aspired to coach high school football, and he shared that goal in his senior yearbook superlatives more than 30 years ago at Northern High in Calvert County, Md.
Washington Post All-Met accolades and scholarship offers from Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia Tech aside, Price never envisioned becoming an All-America Hokies defensive tackle and third-round NFL draft choice. And he certainly couldn’t have imagined coaching his alma mater in a bowl, albeit as an interim with a return to assistant status on the horizon.
“Everybody has dreams,” Price said Tuesday as Tech concluded preparations for Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl against — serendipity strikes again — Maryland, “but I never thought the NFL was going to be an option for me until late in my career at Tech. The coaching bug is something that’s always been there.
“I always loved being around young people, love strategizing, whether it’s basketball or football, sports in general. I think it’s always been in the back of [my] mind [that] it’s something I would want to do. I tell people all the time, ‘I haven’t worked a day in my life. I coach ball. I don’t have a job, I’m a ball coach.’”
Price’s calling took on complexity Nov. 16, when Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock dismissed head coach Justin Fuente and asked Price, in his first year as Tech’s defensive recruiting coordinator and co-defensive line coach, to lead the program for the regular season’s final two games and, if the Hokies earned eligibility, a bowl.
Price and the entire Tech staff have subsequently distinguished themselves, before and after Babcock hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry to succeed Fuente.
The Hokies lost at Miami in their first test under Price, but a week later as touchdown underdogs, they defeated Virginia on the road to become postseason-eligible. All the while, Price and his co-workers attempted to plan their futures, juggling job interviews elsewhere with preparing Tech for three games.
Price learned quickly that Pry would retain him, but longtime Fuente associates such as offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen, offensive line coach Vance Vice and special teams coordinator James Shibest knew their time in Blacksburg was set to end.
Even former Tech players such as defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton and linebackers coach Jack Tyler, Hokies to the core, understood they would be moving on, severing daily relationships with players and friends.
“He really taught me the game at this level,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said of Tyler, “so it’s a little emotional, this last game with him.”
But if the emotions swirling through the program have affected job performance, Price hasn’t noticed.
“Those guys have gone about their business,” he said. “They’ve been professionals. We’ve had a guy or two miss a practice for interviews, and that’s certainly OK and a good thing. … The amount of detail and focus those guys have continued to work with for these kids that they care about, to get to the finish line, has been absolutely amazing.”
Price knows first-hand how quickly a coach’s job can turn.
Last season was his ninth as a Marshall assistant, a position he accepted after eight years at James Madison. The Thundering Herd opened 2020 with seven consecutive victories and rose to No. 15 in the national polls, only to lose their final three games, after which the school fired head coach Doc Holliday.
Price suddenly was unemployed, and when fellow Tech alum Darryl Tapp unexpectedly left Fuente’s staff for a job with the San Francisco 49ers, Price found a lifeline.
“I had enough feelers out there where I thought I would land a job,” he said. “And when this one came available, I threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. I probably attacked trying to secure this job more than anything I’ve ever tried to do in my life.
“And I was lucky that Coach Fuente decided to hire me. And Justin and Darryl Tapp, I know both of those guys were instrumental in me being here. I would not be here if it was not for those two guys standing on the table for me, and I will be forever grateful to them.”
Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Price is scheduled to lead the Hokies onto the field for the final time, closing a chapter he’ll always treasure.
“It’s never felt like a burden,” he said. “Some days have been harder than others. Some responsibilities have been easier than others. It’s been a guilty pleasure. Once again, I was humbled to be given this chance to run the team and be the face of Virginia Tech for a few weeks. Didn’t like the way it was handed to me, but I really have enjoyed it. …
“There’s always going to be tough times, and that makes you appreciate the great times. Just sports in general and football, it mirrors life with the ups and downs and things that come out of nowhere. Like I’ve said before, this time last year, I was looking for a job. And here I am leading the Virginia Tech Hokies into the Pinstripe Bowl.
“I mean, pinch me.”
J.C. Price said he doesn’t expect the next few weeks to be an audition for Tech’s head coaching position.
Twitter: @ByDavidTeel
Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price celebrates at the conclusion of the Virginia Tech-Virginia football game in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Virginia Tech interim head coach J.C. Price celebrated the Hokies’ victory over Virginia in late November. An All-American defensive tackle at Tech, Price spent eight years coaching at James Madison and nine at Marshall before returning to Blacksburg.
J.C. Price said he doesn’t expect the next few weeks to be an audition for Tech’s head coaching position.
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