By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Weaver has it backwards, somehow.
When Weaver, Virginia Tech's longtime athletic director, called a news conference on Monday to announce the firing of men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg, it was hardly a shocker in terms of sound decision-making. The timing was a little strange, true, but Greenberg had to know he was coaching on borrowed time following another disappointing season leading the Hokies.
A 16-17 record this past season and missing the postseason for the first time in six years does little to enamor alumni and deep-pocketed boosters, in turn making any coach -- even a two-time ACC Coach of the Year -- that much less endearing to their school.
Had Weaver said that, or something like it, Monday's announcement might have merited a raised eyebrow, a quick shrug and then speculation as to the Hokies' new direction as the coaching search commences in earnest.
Weaver, who said he came to the decision to fire Greenberg last week in consultation with basketball administrator Tom Gabbard, instead stated the decision "had nothing to do with losing. It had nothing to do with NCAA appearances."
Then what, do tell, is this about? Why send packing a nine-year employee, who by all accounts ran a clean if not particularly compelling program, in late April?
Apparently, it's about continuity. That's the theme of Weaver's postmortem presser, as he described the constant drain of assistant coaches from the program over the past few seasons. Weaver seemed particularly irked by associate head coach James Johnson's decision to leave for ACC rival Clemson to take an assistant coaching job, despite receiving a matching contract offer from Virginia Tech.
That move, combined with Rob Ehsan bolting to UAB along with director of basketball operations Jeff Wulbrun, left only John Richardson on Greenberg's current staff. Strike that ... a couple hours after the news conference, Old Dominion announced that Richardson has joined the staff there.
What better time to clean house, Weaver reasoned, than with the house nearly empty? After all, he and Gabbard had already decided not to extend Greenberg's contract after this season, or at all, leaving him in effect a lame-duck coach.
Still, it's not exactly standard procedure for a head coach's fate to be determined by his assistants. While the ex-Hokie staffers did secure future employment, it's not as if Virginia Tech lost out on any hot commodities or prospective "coaches in waiting" by hanging onto Greenberg too long. Those coaching vacancies would soon fill with much less of a ripple then canning the head coach, if we're talking about continuity.
Weaver also mentioned Greenberg's absence from an employee workshop attended by 182 Virginia Tech athletic department staffers as an indicator of Greenberg's disconnect of Weaver's desired "family atmosphere" in Blacksburg.
These are stated reasons, but perhaps Weaver has been paying attention to some neighboring programs in the Commonwealth over the past few seasons. As the Hokies have managed just one NCAA appearance in nine seasons (2007) under Greenberg, so-called mid-majors have largely surpassed the school on the hard court.
Shaka Smart has built Virginia Commonwealth into something akin to the Gonzaga of the East, including a dazzling run to the NCAA Final Four last year. Jim Larranaga did the same thing at George Mason a few years back before eventually moving on to ACC rival Miami. Chris Mooney has built Richmond into an Atlantic 10 powerhouse. Anthony Evans pulled off the shocker of this past NCAA tournament when he coached No. 15 seed Norfolk State to an upset of No. 2 Missouri.
Perhaps most damning, though, was Virginia's rise under Tony Bennett. True, the Cavaliers' stay in the NCAA tournament was painfully short (a 71-45 loss to Florida in the second round), but nonetheless galling for Hokies' fans who couldn't even take solace in yet another NIT invite this past season.
So Greenberg pales in comparison to his in-state colleagues, no question there. His 170-123 record at Virginia Tech looks fine, and even includes the occasional upset of programs like Duke. But that 4-12 ACC mark this past season is more indicative of where the Hokies stand in the conference pecking order.
Now Weaver gets his wish as he seeks "change the direction and leadership of the program," all for the bargain price of $1.2 million (Greenberg's buyout).
Best of luck with that, but remember -- hire the head coach first, and the assistants will follow.