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If You Bring Whit, Will ‘It’ Come?

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.

Looking Back:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Looking Forward:

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)
  • 2015-16
    • 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)
  • 2016-17
    • 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.

This post was written by:

- who has written 1246 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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  • rickandbach

    Those goals are very reachable if the right guy is brought in. They are also a sign of how pathetic things are right now…that our most realistic year one goals include a few more wins and a grasp of basic fundamentals.

    This is an ACC program, right? I’m ready for it to feel that way again.

  • yakes14

    Neimo. Any word on who is on Whit’s list??

    • Niemo

      I have no inside sources so I’ll be chasing the rumors like the rest of us. My buddy is big on Donnie Tyndall of southern miss but I don’t have any idea if that’s just his guess or he has some inside info. I know Tyndall has been linked to auburn.

      • hooleyhoopty

        I’m sure many have seen but in case they had not, Bruce Pearl appears to be Auburn’s pick.

      • yakes14

        I would think getting either Cronin or Tyndall would be realistic gets for us. Wichita St’s coach isn’t coming here. I would like to see Amaker here. Would imagine that he wants to coach in the ACC.

    • Les

      Rival schools seem to think he’ll try to bring Cronin with him.

  • Drew

    For what it’s worth, Whit’s press conference today would make a lot of people here very happy. He said all the right things and spoke to just about every concern fans have about Hokie basketball. And while he did temper expectations on getting a “realistic” hire, he also said he has no problem “opening the checkbook” for the right guy. If you missed it, it’s worth finding online. The difference between him and Weaver is the same as comparing a Blacksburg Winter vs a San Diego Summer.

  • Hank_Ster

    C-mon those goals aren’t aggressive enough! A program should shoot for making the NCAA’s at least every year. That is difficult, but goals should be difficult. There are a number of programs that make the NCAA about every year. There is no reason not to find a coach who can put us at the level right below the big guys.

    • Niemo

      I would say once every 4-5 years is pretty aggressive considering we’ve made it once in 18 seasons. If you look at the non-big boy ACC programs, that’s about on par.

  • Les

    Babcock gave him “credit” for his five years here as an assistant.
    In the end, the defense that Johnson “inherited” a mess didn’t wash. He was the lead recruiter and brought recruits to Greenberg, some of whom are still on the team. He was involved in running practices as an assistant as well as a head coach. The same kind of problems cropped up with a frequent injuries and players ending up in the doghouse. If he was working under the assumption that the talent pool had been depleted when he took the job, he was a fool for trying to run an uptempo offense.

  • Chris_atl

    “While I hate to pile on the dead”- uh, no you don’t … You didn’t like the JJ hire to begin with. I know you didn’t want him to fail and you had a weak moment when we had a good stretch with a win and some good games against tough teams this year but piling on JJ seems to have been therapeutic for you this year. But I admit it’s better for you than WT.

    If JJ is as bad a coach as you think, then you must think a better coach will better him with the same players. So if you think we win 6 ACC games with JJ next year (I agree, 5 or 6), then the next better coach should add two to that or it’s hard to argue he’s any better. So, if we keep all the players the next guy should win 7 or 8. I think it’s that simple. If we win 4 or 5 I think the conclusion is we should have kept the coach we had another year. He didn’t even get to coach a decent recruiting class for 2 years. I think he deserved another. I realize I am in the minority. One thing is for sure. We better get this one right. The one we hire now we are stuck with for several years. If he has two bad years I don’t see how we can fire him or we will have trouble attracting anyone decent for a good while.

    • Niemo

      You can hate having to do something and still feel like you need to do it. I have to cut kids as part of coaching HS sports. Do I hate it? Absolutely. But I know I can’t keep 40 guys and have a productive season. I wish I had laid out why he should get fired before it happened, but I hadn’t, and as the curator of this web site, I felt like I needed to, even postmortem. Now, I will admit I did enjoy piling on Bzdelik. I think because he’s not our coach. JJ I feel bad for because he was our guy and was trying his best.

      To me, this isn’t about next season. It’s about ceilings. And I don’t think the last guy had a very high ceiling. Look at Donahue at bc — decent coach but the fact he was a horrible recruiter created a ceiling for him at bc. I think we have to go find a guy with a higher ceiling. We won’t reach that for a few years, but I think Whit saw it the same way (he talked about it). He’s looking for a guy that can get us to the middle of the pack of the ACC.

      Also, I would call my “expectations” I laid out the minimum, not the max. So treat it that way. As in if we aren’t hitting those (especially the ones a few years out, I’ll give the next guy a pass next year that I wouldn’t have given JJ because of the ceiling belief), then I’m worried.

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2014-2015 Schedule/Results

November

11/14 - Hokies 71, md. eastern shore 46
11/19 - Hokies 73, liberty 63
11/22 - appalachian state 65, Hokies 63
**********
Cancun Classic
11/25 - n. iowa 73, Hokies 54
11/26 - Hokies 78, miami ohio 63
**********
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

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