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Is James Johnson the New Bryan Stinespring?

A look at the qualifications JJ and Stiney brought to their most recent job posts…

Let me take you all back to the end of the 2001 football season — Virginia Tech was finishing up another solid football season, albeit with a lackluster offense. Before the Gator Bowl against florida state (we were still in the Big East), it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Ricky Bustle would be leaving Tech to become the head coach at u-la-la, otherwise known as louisiana-lafayette. No one shed a tear.

For the Gator Bowl, even though Bustle was still around (as memory serves me), a young up-start named Bryan Stinespring was named the play-caller, and after the season would be named the new Offensive Coordinator for VT.

While every Hokie, me included, was glad to see Bustle gone, I instantly first-guessed this decision. Why? Here was Stinespring’s resume/coaching experience to that point:

  • 1986-88: Lexington HS
  • 1989: Patrick Henry HS
  • 1990-91: VT Grad Asst
  • 1992: VT Director of Sports Programs
  • 1993-97: VT TEs/Asst OL
  • 1998-2000: VT OL
  • 2001: VT Asst Head Coach/OL

In other words, he had ZERO college coaching experience outside of Blacksburg. And didn’t we just rejoice that we had ‘lost’ our OC? Yet Mr. Stinespring only knew the VT offense. He had no other on the job training other than the ‘hey, our fullback is our 3rd best weapon!’ offense of Ricky Bustle. No West Coast experience. No spread experience. No triple option experience. No pistol (which hadn’t even been invented) experience. But you get the point. 3 yards and a cloud of dust, or a 60-yard bomb (if you have a QB other than Grant Kneel who can throw that far) were the only plays he knew. Quite simply, he had to learn on the job. And with that comes ‘freshman’ mistakes.

Now, 11 years later, enter James Johnson. Before I get to my data, let me state something loud and clear. Coach Greenberg had his chance. Only making the NCAA Tournament once in nine seasons is inexcusable. You could rationalize firing him just over that fact. Sure we were close to .500 in ACC play, and we had come from the depths that ricky “program bomb” stokes had left us in, but this is a sport of results, and 1/9 isn’t cutting it.

That said, this selection process could not have been botched any more than it was. Not firing Seth until a month after the season was a botch as we’ve all documented. And while many of us have said JJ was the best of a bad situation, I’ll take another stance — it wasn’t. Quite simply, he wasn’t qualified. Let’s look at the other head coaches in the ACC. The last column shows the number of games each man had coached as a Head Coach BEFORE being named the Head Coach at their current ACC institution.

School Coach Games as a Head Coach Pre-ACC
boston college Donahue 284
clemson Brownell 252
duke Coach K 132
florida state Hamilton 410
georgia tech Gregory 266
maryland Turgeon 409
miami Larranaga 751
unc Williams 519
nc state Gottfried 433
uva Bennett 102
Virginia Tech Johnson 0
wake forest Bzdelik 214

Please note the average at the bottom excludes Mr. Johnson. But that shows you the other 11 ACC head coaches had an average of 343 games as a head coach BEFORE coming to the ACC. No one had less than 100 games as a head coach. That means they had 100+ (or 343 on average) game preparations, 100+ times dealing with the media, and 3+ (10 on average) full recruiting classes. I’m sorry, but this resume isn’t qualified to be an ACC head coach:

  • 2012 (4/19 to 4/30): clemson – Associate Head Coach
  • 2007-12: Virginia Tech – Assistant Coach and Associate Head Coach
  • 2005-07: george mason (under miami’s current head coach, Jim Larranaga) – Assistant Coach (2006 Final Four)
  • 2003-05: penn state – Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator
  • 2002-03: college of charleston – Assistant Coach
  • 2000-02: elon – Assistant Coach
  • 1997-2000: old dominion – Assistant Coach
  • 1996-97: Hargrave Military Academy Post-Grad Assistant Coach
  • 1995-96: longwood college – Assistant Coach
  • 1993-95: ferrum college – Assistant Coach

While at least he had experience outside of VT, he had never put on his pants as a head man. This is a tough league, even in a down year, and you can’t learn on the job in this league. This isn’t the Colonial. And did Weaver forget what happened the last time he hired a basketball coach with no head coaching experience? That was ricky stokes, if you are wondering.  Tech spent years cleaning up the mess stokes left, then Weaver fires the guy that cleaned it up and then repeats the same mistake!

So, what am I saying? Mr. Weaver — if you are going to make a horrendous mistake like firing a coach a month after the season ends, you have to put your money where your mouth is. And that means that when you had Shaka Smart or Jay Wright on campus, you had to get a deal done. And from what I’ve been told, if the $ had been right, Smart would be our head coach right now. Mr. Weaver — this is your mess, and you needed to clean it up. You didn’t, and the result is losses to a team that is 2-5 in the Southern Conference (georgia southern) and double digit losses at home to bc (who is 0-4 against the rest of the ACC) and our arch-rival uva (ranked #145 in the RPI coming into the game). Do us all a favor, including yourself due to your health concerns, and step down. We need a person at the top that can make better decisions and not potentially put us back in the stokes doldrums of hoops.

This post was written by:

- who has written 1284 posts on Tech Hoops.

Niemo is a member of the VT Class of '98. While not a professional journalist by any stretch, Niemo analyzes and breaks down every minute of Hokie hoop action. He also researches topics of interest such as Hokie recruits, program revenue, statistical data on the team, previews VT opponents, and discusses his favorite bourbons/Scotches. In addition to his passion for Hokie hoops, Niemo has attended 126 straight VT football home games (every game since '94), eclipsing the 100 mark in September of '09 and recently attended his 20th consecutive VT/uva game. During the final home basketball game of his senior year, he was brought onto the court and was awarded 2 passes to the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Philly during a timeout for being a "Super Fan" during his time at VT. The Hokie Bird made the award on behalf of Athletic Director Jim Weaver. Niemo was known to be in the front row of every home game with his familiar red afro hairdo.

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21 Responses to “Is James Johnson the New Bryan Stinespring?”

  1. Will Stewart says:

    I certainly wish JJ the best, but you are correct, he is being thrown straight into the frying pan, without a chance to learn somewhere else first. And you are correct to call out Mr. Weaver on this. He has zero vision for the basketball program, other than to build a practice facility, pinch pennies on coaching salaries, and then sit back and hope it works.

    So far, it hasn’t. Just once, I’d like to see an athletic director with a plan for the basketball programs (men and women), and the courage to carry it out.

  2. It’s really unlucky for JJ and it’s going to set our program back again, but after next season I think JJ is going to be fired. Without Green next year this team is going to be bad, I’m talking 0-18 in the ACC bad, and there’s no way we can keep a coach after that kind of a season even if it isn’t his fault. Weaver screwed us for at least 10 years with the way he botched the Greenberg firing.

  3. hokiegrad says:

    Johnson wasn’t an amazing hire, but I want to be a little more optimistic than this. Getting harder.

  4. rickandbach says:

    Niemo, do you think we had a legitimate shot at Shaka Smart? If that is true and we didn’t get him then I don’t know what the hell is going on! Maybe we can still scoop him up in the near future. It’s hard not to like JJ as a person, but we all know he had a 99% chance of not being able to handle this job at this time.

    • vt1fan says:

      Fact: Shaka Smart is not the current VT mens basketball coach because he wanted a deal almost exactly what Illinois offered him. Problem with that was he’d be making more money than Beamer with that deal. And for numerous reasons, that wasn’t happening. So it got nixed and we got JJ at the bargain basement price. That is the reason. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. Period.

      • Niemo says:

        And I agree we couldn’t pay a bball coach more than Beamer. Maybe we could have talked Shaka down a bit and given Beamer a raise. It is crazy to think Shaka wanted more than Beamer. Is FB underpaid. Or at least was he before this year?

  5. DuffHokie says:

    Couldn’t be anymore correct about Weaver, I do think he is the weak link and it has resulted in poor management decisions.

  6. HokieJC says:

    Wow… already? This is harsh and unfair. JJ is barely halfway through his first season. He lost two probable starters to transfer (Finney-Smith) and de-commit (Harrell), leaving him only 7 scholarship players, and only 3 have had significant playing experience before this year. (Imagine this team with Finney-Smith and Harrell… probably 3 more wins, meaning 14-4 and 4-1 in conference, and the above post would never happen.)

    Walk-ons are getting major minutes on this team. And, by the way, VT finished last in the ACC last year with more talent than this year’s team. 16 wins are still a possibility with this squad… which would be a great coaching job under the circumstances.

    Yes, Weaver handled the Greenberg firing badly… and, yes, he took an unprecedented chance with JJ… but JJ is here now. Can we at least give the man an adequate chance to show what he can do? Maybe the Iowa and OK State wins were a flash in the pan…. maybe JJ will crash and burn, and all of the smug “I told you so!” posts will follow…. Or, maybe 2012-13 will be the rock-bottom point… JJ becomes a better coach after a year in the ACC grind… the recruited talent for 2013-14 improves the team… and VT turns the corner. The evidence so far is inconclusive in either direction.

    Settle down, people…..

    • rickandbach says:

      Good points, but I also think you could argue that most if not all those guys you mentioned might not have left/decommitted if we brought in a guy with more pedigree. Have to think that almost all of the blame for that falls on Weaver, as many are saying here.

      • Les says:

        A lot of them probably didn’t play much because they had to bring their defensive skills up to par. It’s not uncommon with freshmen to sit for that reason. Now that they’re playing, we see the type of defense they play.

        I can see why Weaver is hanging on… so he can increase his pension benefit per the last 5 years of employment. He’s received very steep increases in pay the last several years.

    • I completely agree, JJ might be a very good coach, but from a realistic standpoint I think he’s going to be fired after next year. None of it is his fault in any way, I want that to be clear. But like I said below, we could go 0-18 in the ACC next year, there’s no way we can keep a coach after that.

    • Niemo says:

      HokieJC – not sure if your comment was to me or the follow up comments, but the main point of my article was that JJ never should have been hired in the first place, and I’d truly believe that even if we were 4-1 in the ACC right now. Learning on the job in the ACC simply doesn’t work. You need to cut your teeth at a mid major or lesser conference, get your rhythm, prove yourself, and then get hired. I don’t blame JJ for taking the job, I blame us for offering it. And part of that is the burn I still have from stokes.

      I listened to miami’s Coach Larranaga talk this morning – he talked about how much harder you have to work in the ACC compared to at g-mason. All that responsibility makes it that much harder than at a school where you don’t have as many demands.

  7. I agree with most of these comments. Not hard to like JJ and wish him the best, but we are not Towson or Middle Tennessee State, we can go get a person with a track record and credibility and bring them in. If we are going to love the ACC and tout the ACC then we need to act like we belong and spend the money to build an ACC level competive basketball program. I agree with posters that DFS and maybe Harrell wouldn’t have left if we had gotten Shaka or the Villanova coach. Heck, if Maryland can get Turgeon who is rebuilding that program in 2 years, why can’t we do the same since Maryland has ALL THESE money problems. We need to put on the big boy pants and act like we are in the sport to win-it. We need some Athletic Administration changes.

  8. Dave Woods says:

    I’d like to hear one person with credibility who actually knows why Seth was fired, when he was fired. I don’t believe anyone here knows. I don’t believe anyone here has any clue whether it was a “horrendous mistake”.

  9. Ryan W says:

    Okay i know it looks very gloom without Green next year but who expected this from Green after his freshman and even sophomore year? We will have some experience up front not to mention transfer Adam Smith and a lot more depth with the incoming freshman so they will be able to play more Johnsons style. You just dont know so ease up on this 0-18 talk…

  10. HipHop_Hokie says:

    My wallet is closed to Tech until Weaver (or, hopefully, his replacement) opens his up for a proven coach that is going to make us a factor. And that really also applies in football as well… I’m not optimistic about what I feel are bargain bin hires in Loeffler and Grimes. We’ll see.

  11. hooleyhoopty says:

    I like JJ and apparently so do the players. Nonetheless, I wasn’t thrilled with the hire. Maybe Coach Greenberg didn’t get us over the hump in 9 seasons but he got us to that hump. If nothing else we were competitive and could beat (or in some cases lose) to any team on any given night. A proven coach could have come in and picked up where Seth left off and perhaps provided that push to get us to where we wanted to be. However, now JJ is our guy and I’m willing to support him. He deserves a minimum of 3 seasons but the worse case scenario is indeed that he becomes overmatched and we delve back into a Stokes type era.


  1. […] Tech Hoops asks if James Johnson is the New Bryan Stinespring.  It is worth the read – and it’s well thought out (I don’t think I’m ready to refer […]

  2. […] Tech Hoops asks if James Johnson is the New Bryan Stinespring.  It is worth the read – and it’s well thought out (I don’t think I’m ready to refer […]

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