Categorized | 2013-14 Season, Home

James Johnson is edging closer to the hot seat

In less than 24 months, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson has gone from a player’s coach and celebrated hire, to a man on the verge of leading a program into a state of forlornness witnessed only once before.

The Hokies are currently 8-10 in Johnson’s second season as head coach. They have lost five straight games and seven of their last eight. There are 12 regular season games remaining and it is quite possible, likely even, that they could lose every single one.

Here is the remaining schedule:

@ virginia
@ boston college
vs. maryland
@ fsu
@ pittsburgh
vs. miami
vs. virginia
vs. n.c. state
@ duke
vs. unc
@ maryland
@ georgia tech

Sure, anything can happen on any given day, and the Hokies have certainly pulled some big upsets in recent years. But they had better players then. Based on what we’ve seen from Virginia Tech this season, it’s hard to see any sure-bet wins on that schedule.

As Niemo pointed out, the Hokies hit rock bottom when they lost at home to wake forest, the worst road team in the ACC. That was as sure a win as the Hokies had left on their schedule.

It’s safe to say that Tech will likely lose both games to virginia. Go ahead and pencil in L’s to No. 18 duke and north carolina. That’s four losses. Having already lost to boston college (the second-worst team in the ACC) at home doesn’t say much for a road game against the eagles in Chestnut Hill, where the Hokies haven’t won since 2006. Five.

The canes have to be scratching their heads and wondering how they lost to the Hokies earlier this season. Don’t expect miami to get swept. Six. The 20th-ranked pitt panthers and florida state seminoles are far superior teams. Eight. That leaves four games; home and away against maryland, at home to the wolfpack, and on the road against georgia tech. Maybe the Hokies eek out a win or two, but unless this team comes together and starts to play at a level we’ve not seen, it’s conceivable that Tech could finish the season on a 17-game losing streak and DFL in the ACC.

If that happens, which I don’t think it will because I have to believe the Hokies can steal a couple of wins in those 12 games, but if it does happen and the Hokies don’t win another game, they’ll finish with an 8-22 record. That level of futility would equal the program’s all-time record for fewest wins in a season.

Only once in the history of Virginia Tech basketball have the Hokies failed to reach double digit victories in a season. The year: 2000-2001. That’s right, ricky “program bomb” stokes. The team went 8-19 that year, which also set a record for most losses in a single season. That season also marks the only time in the 50+ years of Cassell Coliseum that Tech had a losing home record, which this year’s team will equal if it doesn’t win at least two of its five remaining home games, which seems like a stretch given the losses to bc and wake.

Should the Hokies lose out, or even go 2-10, they’ll set a new record for losses in a season. The current record, 19, was set in 2000-2001 and matched last year.

ricky “program bomb” stokes is not a name you want to be associated with if you’re coaching basketball at Virginia Tech.

However, a dismal record alone isn’t enough to get you fired at Virginia Tech. stokes, after all, went on to coach two more seasons after that historically bad year.

And there’s Johnson’s contract to consider. He’s in the second year of a five-year deal that pays him a base salary of $245,000, but with incentives and other deals, his annual salary is about $680,000 per season.

With a new athletics director coming in, will that person want to keep Johnson, who seems to have alienated his players with vague doghouse guidelines? Will the new AD (and donors) be willing to buy out the final three years? Is basketball a priority or an afterthought at Virginia Tech?

With most new coaches you can make the argument that they need a couple of seasons to bring in their recruits, but that argument is invalid with Johnson seeing as how he had a hand in recruiting just about every player on this team. Maybe year three is the year? Who knows. Can the program survive another season like it’s having this year?

Something has to be done. Attendance is way down. Ticket sales are anemic and the team is losing support with each and every game. Say what you will about fair-weather fans, but it is what it is. Play exciting basketball and beat some big boys from time to time and the people will come. Go scoreless for 10 minutes every game, fail to run the offense you promised, and bench your senior (and best) big man for no apparent reason, and you’ll be able to count the fans that show up on fingers and toes.

Seth Greenberg, for all his flaws, put a competitive team on the floor and consequently, butts in the seats and dollar-dollar-bills in the concession stand cash registers. Even in Tech’s 4-12 ACC season two years ago they were competitive in almost every game, including an overtime loss at duke.

Can JJ return the Hokies to respectability if given another season? If I knew that, I’d be the next AD. My gut says “no.” I don’t think JJ is the right coach for this program. And if I were the AD, I think I’d go in a new direction.

This post was written by:

- who has written 235 posts on Tech Hoops.

Cope is a Virginia Tech graduate and veteran sports journalist with a career spanning television, radio, and newspapers. He's the recipient of three Virginia Press Association awards for his writing and design, as well as a CASE Gold Award for his feature writing. Cope has covered the Hokies since 1993 for various local and national news organizations. He's been with TechHoops.com since 2007.

Contact the author | Visit the author's website | Follow Cope on Twitter

  • Chris

    Yeah, I’ve thought for a while now that JJ should get one more year beyond this one, but if we’re not already in Ricky Stokes territory, we’re quickly approaching it. I don’t see the team finishing any better than 2-10 the rest of the way and unless tangible progress is made over these last 12 games, I think JJ needs to go.

    As I’ve said, I’m sure JJ is a nice enough guy but I’m not sure if he’s cut out for being an ACC coach. He had no prior head coaching experience, and it’s extremely rare for head coaches to get their start in the ACC. Seems like he would have been better off getting his head coaching career started at a smaller school and gaining valuable experience before being thrown to the wolves immediately.

    I can’t blame the fans for not coming. The product on the court is embarrassing. As with any sport, start winning games and people will come. Plain and simple.

  • Drew

    One of the things that baffles me with JJ is just how dreadful a defensive coach he is. He was on Greenberg’s staff and defense was Greenberg’s calling card. How could you not learn anything being on his staff? JJ’s teams fail at even the most basic defensive principles. How does that even happen? You’d think even a small tidbit would carry over. Get him out of here. I was fine with letting Greenberg go but I never liked the JJ hire and it just keeps getting worse. Cut your losses now and do what Weaver should have done from the start, do a real search for a legit head coach.

    • Niemo

      Drew – My wife is a great chicken casserole maker and I’ve watched her do it for years. But by-golly, I just can’t figure it out. Not everyone picks up on something the same way. And keep in mind, as head coach/head recruiter/media face of the organization, he has a lot of other responsibilities. I coach on the HS level and I do a lot more “coaching” as an assistant than I do as a head coach.

    • Niemo

      Drew – Forgot to mention… The one thing JJ did seem to pick up on from Seth is horrible to have your guys stand around the perimeter on offense until the shot clock is down to single digits… kind of wish he hadn’t brought that back.

    • jford83

      Drew – I can not agree with you more. You literally took the exact words out of my mouth that I have been thinking since JJ took over.

    • Les

      He had the big men step out on the high screens more (as is the case at most defenses). Under Johnson, it’s entirely left up to the perimeter defender to navigate the screens.

  • wmchase65

    JJ is gone after this year…my suggestion: VT should seriously look at one of the (many) solid coaches in the A-10, who are not named Shaka Smart…UR’s coach, GWU, or Dayton’s would be a major coaching upgrade…

    • Niemo

      The GW coach seems like a good get based on what I’ve seen of that team and his personality (watch the video of him running around in their special “monumental” uniforms).

      • wmchase65

        Agree…might be hard to pull him out of the city for Bburg..but, for an extra $500grrr…anything is possible…

    • http://lemax-spookytown.com/ JoeD

      Good idea. How about George Mason’s Paul Hewitt? ;)

      • Niemo

        Joe – I know you were kidding, but honestly, if we hired Hewitt (who might just be available pretty soon given that he’s winless in the A-10 this year), I would quit writing about VT basketball altogether. I’d still watch (with my hands over my eyes), but I couldn’t take writing about it. I’m negative enough as it is now.

  • Benjamin Kemp

    Watch. JJ will get one more year. He’s gonna go into the new AD’s office and talk about how his team is so young and was hit with injuries all year. I mean think about it. How many games this year have Eddie, Emelogu, Smith, CJ, and Raines played together and played substantial minutes. It seems like Ben or Adam have not played a normal game together in about a month. I also fear the new AD is gonna want to get the lay of the land early on and not rock the boat too quickly.

    • Niemo

      Kemp – I tend to agree with you that that is how it will play out. I would be surprised if the new AD comes in and shakes things up that quickly (though maybe that’s the type of AD we need — needs to knock Beamer down a few pegs, too).

      • Slam Dunk

        I too think JJ will get one more year. I mean think about it, where were we picked to finish in the ACC… 14th. Well it looks like we’re pretty close to it! The major change I’d like to see… is to see the team play more up-tempo, pressing, fast breaking style of basketball. That’s what JJ said he was going to do. There’s a time and place for half-court basketball, but not the rest of this year! Run and gun! What have we got to lose? At least bring some excitement back!

    • Kevin Kent

      It looks like Babcock has a solid history of firing long tenured coaches. I don’t think he’ll have any problem terminating an unpopular and short-tenured basketball coach.

  • Ryan

    Any chance the new A.D. would bring Greenberg back?

    • Niemo

      No.

      • Ryan

        yes… if things don’t work out with JJ I think a young coach with head coaching experience from a lesser conference (albeit a successful tenure at a lesser conference)…. then again, I’m all for giving people a legitimate chance… three years would be that for JJ… you would need to see results in terms of more wins next year… I see some good things from this young team, many a successful coach had a rough go at it in their nascent years… Doesn’t mean the story will turn out great for JJ but we all knew things were going to get ugly at first….

        • hooleyhoopty

          I would be all for him getting more time if I saw some method to his madness. Unfortunately, I don’t. Every game I’m left scratching my head.

    • Niemo

      Personally, I wouldn’t want Seth back. He did some great things for VT but only got us to 1 NCAA in 9 years. I know people think I’m crazy, but I expect a coach to get us there every 4 years (once per “class”). I bet if you look at clemson, who we for some reason are trying to emulate, they make it about that often. (just checked – from 99-07 they never made it, then made it 4 years in a row from 08-11). To me, a 5 year NCAA drought would be where you cut ties. Just my expectation, and given we are in the ACC and should have the means to hire a pretty good coach, that’s what I expect. [FYI: I realize this means by this logic we should give JJ 3 more years so I should shut up but to me that hiring never should have happened since he had no experience and should be fixed as soon as possible]

      • hooleyhoopty

        I know it’s old and tired news but we all know that Tech should have had at the VERY least 1 additional NCAA bid in Greenberg’s tenure.

        All I know is winter is a depressing time and even more depressing without a competitive VT team to root for. I sure do miss Greenberg. I never was happy about his dismissal.

    • http://www.thegarycope.com Cope

      No.

  • Kevin Kent

    Phenomenal article. Thank you, Tech Hoops. I was part of the loud minority of naysayers against Johnson’s hire from the very beginning. I was really, REALLY hoping to be proven wrong because I love our basketball program.

  • King
  • John

    Ben Howland is available. He would be a great fit!

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2014-2015 Schedule/Results

November

11/14 - Hokies 71, md. eastern shore 46
11/19 - vs. liberty | 7pm, ESPN3
11/22 - vs. appalachian state | 1pm, ESPN3
**********
Cancun Classic
11/25 - vs. n. iowa | 7pm, CBSSN
11/26 - championship/consolation game | TBA, CBSSN
**********
11/30 - morgan state | 3pm, ESPN3

December

12/03 - @ penn state | 7:15pm, ESPNU
12/07 - vs. radford | 3pm, ESPN3
12/14 - vs. alabama a&m | 3pm, ESPN3
12/20 - vs. the citadel | 1pm, ESPN3
12/22 - vs. vmi | 7pm, ESPN3
12/27 - vs. presbyterian | 7pm, ESPN3
12/30 - @ west virginia | 2pm, ESPNU

January

01/03 - vs. syracuse | Noon, RSN
01/06 - @ fsu | 7pm, RSN
01/13 - @ louisville | 7pm, RSN
01/18 - @ unc | 6:30pm, ESPNU
01/22 - vs. notre dame | 7pm, RSN
01/25 - vs. uva | 1pm, ACCN
01/27 - vs. pittsburgh | 7pm, ESPNU
01/31 - @ wake forest | 2pm, RSN

February

02/03 - @ syracuse | 9pm, ESPNU
02/07 - vs. fsu | 3pm, ACCN
02/09 - vs. georgia tech | 9pm, ESPNU
02/14 - @ clemson | Noon, RSN
02/18 - @ miami | 7pm, RSN
02/21 - @ nc state | 6pm, ESPN2
02/25 - vs. duke | 9pm, ESPN2
02/28 - @ uva | 4pm, ACCN

March

03/02 - vs. boston college | 9pm, ESPNU
03/07 - vs. miami | Noon, RSN
**********
ACC Tournament
03/10 - 1st rd.
03/11 - 2nd rd.
03/12 - quarterfinals
03/13 - semifinals
03/14 - championship

Photos on flickr