New Virginia Tech Director of Athletics Whit Babcock took a bold, but necessary move in just his 2nd month in Blacksburg – he fired Head Basketball Coach James Johnson after just two seasons.
So what is ‘it’ for us? ‘It’ right now is hiring a coach that excites the fan base and helps sell some season tickets next year. And that coach, in my book, will get a pass for next season and maybe even the season after that if I believe in him. But ultimately, starting with the 2016-17 season, ‘it’ must be wins. Wins are what will draw Hokies back to the turnstiles and pack the Cassell.
I think this was the right move for many reasons. While I hate to pile on the dead, there are a few points I’d like to make as to why I agree with the decision:
- JJ had no head coaching experience when he took the job, and you can’t learn on the job in the ACC. Not his fault, but the facts.
- In two years, JJ has shown 0.0 of his alleged system (up-tempo with pressing). Obviously he’d tell you it is because of all the injuries, departures, etc, but that’s still the fact. And so even if he did start playing up-tempo next year, there would be a learning curve as he figured things out. I’d rather we go with a coach now has a proven system and will implement it from day 1 without having to figure it out.
- JJ never appeared to be a Head Coach to me. He always seemed a bit like Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers when Gene Hackman gets ejected. Sure, he had the whistle, but JJ just never seemed in control of the situation (probably largely due to #1 along with personality). Speaking of getting ejected, how do you go through a 1-17 2014 and not get a single technical called on you? Believe me, some coaches are babies. Seth was one. Coach K is one. And Boeheim’s tantrum may have cost his team the game at duke, but at some point you have to snap on a bad call and get T’ed up when you lose 17 of 18. It shows the team you are still fighting and in it. JJ — nothing. Also, head coaches shouldn’t throw current players under the bus — twice.
- JJ’s recruiting classes seem solid, but they weren’t up to ACC standards. Not a single 4-star made it to campus and there wasn’t one in next year’s class. So while I’d love to keep all 3 guys in the Class of 2014, I won’t lose any sleep if we lose one or two. And JJ is rumored to have burned some bridges in VA and the Carolinas in recruiting, which would have only made things tougher for us.
- Attendance was going to drop even further next year, and it was already at its lowest since 2002-03 in Tech’s next to last year in the Big East – Attendance Figures
- JJ’s ceiling, I fear, wasn’t very high. In other words, would we have improved next year? How could we not after going 2-16? With our current roster and recruits, I think 6 wins is a realistic goal for next year. Let’s say we get there… then what? Maybe we get up around 8 wins the year after that but with nothing but 3-star recruits, I never saw us getting over the hump of 8 wins and even making it to .500 in conference play with JJ as our coach/head recruiter. Is that what we are aspiring to? I don’t think so. You saw the same thing with Bzdelik at wake. 1 ACC win his first year, 4 the 2nd, 6 the 3rd (going up, right?!), but then 6 again this year. His ceiling was clearly 6 wins. I’d rather pull the plug now than wait 2-3 years to figure out what JJ’s ceiling was given that my guess is, as a first time head coach, it wouldn’t be much if any better than Bzdelik’s.
- JJ’s buyout isn’t $2 million (he had 3 years left with $680,000 per year). It is around $800,000 and could be less if he gets another job. That’s peanuts. Yes, we owe Seth money still. And yes, we owe Weaver $900,000 over the next two years, but the Weaver thing shouldn’t be all on basketball to shoulder. Like Whit said, you have to spend money to make money, and JJ would not have brought in money next year.
That said, JJ is a good man and I wish him the best.
It is time to move forward with our program. I’d rather take it on the chin next year with a new guy that can build things up quickly (with some growing pains) that has a higher ceiling than JJ. We won’t get to .500 in ACC play next year, but hopefully we can in our overall record (or at least be close). Here are the things I’d like to see:
- Next Year
- Finish close to .500 overall and 6-12 in the ACC (I’ll take 5-13, though… maybe even 4-14 if we show progress)
- Have a winning record at home
- Install a system and stick with it, win or lose
- Sign at least one 4-star recruit (for the class of 2015)
- Make me feel he’s a head coach (demonstrative on the sideline, personable with the media, good at in-game adjustments, see basic fundamentals like help defense and an efficient offense)
- Have shown the ability to make inroads in VA and NC in recruiting and sign at least one more 4-star
- Definitely be at .500 overall and 6-12 in the ACC
- Have made it to Thursday of the ACC Tournament at least once
- Attendance be noticeably up at home
- Have beaten uva at least once (preferably at home)
- Have made the NIT at least once
- Be close to 8-10 in the ACC or better
- Sign at least one more 4-star and have 3+ on the roster (accounting for possible attrition)
- After season 4 or 5:
- Definitely have made at least one NCAA and finished .500 or above in the ACC at least once
- Average one 4-star on the roster per year at VT
- Long Term:
- I see us as a school that should make the NCAA Tournament every 4th or 5th year. While I’d like to make the Dance every year, that’s just not realistic for our program. As long as any coach is making it approximately once per “class”, I’m fine with him (for the most part). Seth made it in his 4th year, but then missed it the next 5. So I did feel it was his time to go.
- We should make the NIT approximately two of those ‘other’ years, so about 3 postseason bids per 5 years is where I think we should be to allow for some rebuilding years.
- Maybe this is setting the bar low, but compared to where we’ve been (1 NCAA Tournament appearance in 18 seasons), it’s a heck of a lot better.
I will have a lot more patience with the next guy as long as I trust him and the direction. I never had that feeling with JJ. I didn’t want a guy learning on the job. To Weaver’s credit, he basically got us a rent-a-coach with a low buyout until the new AD came in place (whether that was his intended purpose or not, we’ll never know).
Kudos for Whit for pulling the trigger on dismissing JJ. He basically showed he wasn’t going to be Weaver’s puppet for the next two years. Whit may have taken over as AD last month, but he officially became our AD today and showed Weaver isn’t a consultant, he’s a man on a severance package for the next two years, as it should be.
Now Whit’s next task is to find the man that will make Virginia Tech basketball relevant again. The honeymoon was short lived for Mr. Babcock. But then again, that’s why we hired an AD with prior AD experience. He’s now on the clock to make a splash with this hire and get the Teddy Bridgewater (whoops – scratch that after his pro day yesterday)/Khalil Mack/Jadaveon Clowney of available coaches.