Fauber: Va. Tech AD faces major decision
Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball team wrapped up another dreadful season on Wednesday, as the Hokies fell to Miami, 57-53, in the first round of the ACC tournament.
Tech finished the season with an overall record of 9-22 (2-16 in ACC) — the most losses for the program in 60 years — and finished last in the conference for the third straight season, the last two years under current head coach James Johnson.
Under Johnson, the Hokies have compiled an overall mark of 22-41 and are a miserable 6-32 against the ACC. That makes for an interesting situation for new Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, who will make his first major decision since being named AD in late January when he and Johnson meet in the coming week to discuss Johnson’s job status.
A quick glance at the numbers screams that Babcock needs to make a coaching change, but the decision may not be as simple as that.
I’ve never been a fan of head coaches being fired within their first year or two with a program based on team performance alone. It takes time to get a program acclimated to a new system, and it often takes coaches a few seasons to fully integrate their preferred style and to bring in players that fit their schemes. Quickly ousting a coach just for the sake of bringing in a new face generally feels counterproductive and often only extends the rebuilding process.
Johnson has had only one true season to work with the players that he personally recruited as head coach, and that freshman group saw a lot of action this winter. In his first season last year, Johnson was put in an unenviable position after Tech lost several players to transfers following the firing of former head coach Seth Greenberg, leaving him with little to work with outside of ACC Player of the Year Erick Green.
What further complicates things is that Johnson seems like a genuinely nice guy, and players love playing for him.
But then there are those numbers again — 22-41, 6-32 — and you have to question whether Johnson has what it takes to conduct a successful Division I college basketball program. Babcock will have to decide if two seasons is enough time to determine the answer.
If Babcock does decide that Johnson is not the guy to guide Tech to respectability in the ACC, then a legitimate coaching search to find a legitimate coaching candidate is a must.
For years under former AD Jim Weaver, the Hokies have settled for hiring in-house for most of the school’s athletic programs that aren’t football. Tech most recently did it with Johnson, who served as an assistant for five seasons under Greenberg, with current head baseball coach Patrick Mason and with women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff. Babcock needs to buck that trend if Tech has any hope of competing in a strong basketball conference like the ACC.
Coaching a basketball team at this level and in a conference like the ACC requires experience, and Babcock needs to feel confident that he can find someone who meets the requirements to handle the demands of such a task if he does indeed choose to let Johnson go. Failing to do so puts Tech back in this same predicament in two or three years.
Personally, I would understand the logic of Babcock’s decision no matter which way he decides to go in regards to Tech’s men’s basketball program. My only hope is that if Johnson is indeed relieved of his position, Babcock does so with the dignity that was lacking the last time the school made a men’s basketball coaching change. I think Johnson deserves at least that much.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD