When rumors swirled about his job status amid reports of a meeting with athletic director Whit Babcock immediately after the season, it seemed like the Justin Fuente era at Virginia Tech was on the brink, only for the Hokies to announce he’d be back for 2021

“It’s just overreaction,” Fuente said on his radio show about the negative rumors. “We’re rolling.”

Hokies fans might dispute that. It’s inarguably a pivotal season for Fuente in Year 6. An athletic director doesn’t hold a news conference to explain why he didn’t fire the coach unless things are nearing a breaking point. And coming off a 5-6 season — a strange one given the pandemic, but still one that ended with Tech’s second losing record in the past three years, a rarity in Blacksburg — there’s no question that it’s now or never for a coach once lauded as the perfect successor to Frank Beamer.

Those feelings have changed in many Hokies circles. With longtime Beamer right-hand man and defensive coordinator Bud Foster squarely in retirement, the roster comprised entirely of Fuente’s recruits, the coaching staff all of Fuente’s choosing and the athletic department recently launching a $400 million fundraising campaign — $30 million of which is earmarked for direct improvements to the football program — the time is now to see progress made on the field.

Just what Fuente needs to do to keep his job this fall is vague, intentionally so. Babcock smartly didn’t put a specific number of wins as a barometer, instead wanting to see general improvement. What exactly that means is up for interpretation, though it almost certainly involves a bowl game, challenging for the ACC Coastal division title and, for the love of God, no more embarrassing losses along the lines of Old Dominion in 2018, Duke in 2019 and, in a bit of coaching malpractice during the final seconds, Liberty last fall.