One week after Virginia Tech’s firing of basketball coach Seth Greenberg, we know little about the search for his successor. We’ve discovered some of the dozens of names recommended to athletic director Jim Weaver but have identified none interviewed.
We have learned that a major-conference job vacancy in the Twitter age creates more bad information than good and that coaches have no consensus on how attractive the Hokies’ program is or what the ideal candidate’s profile should be.
I spent much of the weekend at Hampton’s Boo Williams Sportsplex, where Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League attracted hundreds of college coaches. As Division I’s only high-profile opening, Tech was a frequent topic of conversation.
Head coaches and assistants, high-majors and mid-majors: All weighed in, and their opinions/observations were as varied as their backgrounds.
I spoke to coaches I know from the ACC, Big East, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, Mid-Eastern Athletic and Missouri Valley. None could name a logical heir apparent. Some believed head-coaching experience a must. Others, including a former national coach of the year, disagreed.
But when I asked that coach to name a qualified assistant, he was stuck.
Coaches also diverged on whether Weaver should insist on ACC-level recruiting experience. Some said such a void could be filled by staff; others countered that the maze of runners, AAU coaches, high school coaches and assorted hangers-on associated with many top prospects is too daunting to be navigated by a neophyte.
That’s a critical decision Weaver must make. Few doubt the strategic chops of coaches such as Wofford’s Mike Young, Murray State’s Steve Prohm and Akron Keith Dambrot – all have been recommended to Weaver -- but they are unaccustomed to evaluating and courting top-100 prospects.
If convinced a candidate was otherwise ideal and could assemble a top-flight staff, I’d probably overlook the high-major recruiting component. But such a hire would be unusual in the ACC.
Of the conference’s 24 vacancies in the last 20 years, five went to coaches who never had worked in the big time. Two were recent hires: Boston College’s Steve Donahue and Clemson’s Brad Brownell. The others were Clemson’s Cliff Ellis and North Carolina State’s Les Robinson and Sidney Lowe.
Two seasons is far too early to judge the Donahue and Brownell appointments. Ellis guided Clemson to consecutive Sweet 16s in 1989 and ’90 – the latter team won the only ACC regular-season title in program history -- and signed all-conference talents such as Dale Davis and Elden Campbell.
Robinson and Lowe lasted an 11 seasons combined with one NCAA tournament bid between them, that in 1991 with players Robinson inherited from Jim Valvano.
Similarly, ACC programs rarely hire coaches who lack big-whistle experience. The exceptions in the last 20 years: Bill Guthridge at North Carolina in 1997, a unique situation in which Hall of Famer Dean Smith retired in October and handed the reigns to his trusted lieutenant, and Frank Haith at Miami in 2004.
Guthridge led the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three seasons before retiring. Haith took the Hurricanes to one NCAA tournament and four NITs in seven years before heading to Missouri.
None of which sheds any light on Weaver’s thinking. From previous jobs at Florida and UNLV, he remains in touch with Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and Villanova’s Jay Wright, so bank on him seeking their counsel. Weaver calls Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips “a dear friend,” and since Phillips hired Brownell two years ago, he’s likely to have shared some prospective candidates.
As last week, the only information I can confirm is some of the coaches forwarded to Weaver for consideration by colleagues and coaches: In addition to those mentioned above, they include, but certainly are not limited to, Richmond’s Chris Mooney, American's Jeff Jones, Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos, Lehigh’s Brett Reed, Marshall’s Tom Herrion and Eastern Michigan’s Rob Murphy.
Among assistants: Clemson’s James Johnson, who spent the past five seasons working for Greenberg at Tech, Ohio State’s Dave Dickerson and Texas’ Russell Springmann.
Also, sources at VCU say Tech inquired of Rams coach Shaka Smart, who is not interested and recommended his top assistant, former Randolph-Macon head coach Mike Rhoades.
Part of me expects the unexpected, a Tony Bennett-like hiring that no one anticipated.
Coaches in Hampton last weekend agreed the Tech job is far more attractive than nine years ago for three reasons: ACC membership, the top-shelf practice complex and Greenberg having proven that the Hokies are not overmatched in the league.
Other upsides: a natural recruiting base – Baltimore to Charlotte – replete with elite talent and a considerable home-court advantage when fans are engaged.
Downsides include Tech’s remote location and limited tradition. There’s also the uncertainty surrounding Weaver.
He’s battling Parkinson’s Disease and back issues and plans to retire in December 2015. A new coach knows that if he struggles early and then gets a new boss, job security could get dicey in a hurry.
Finally, there’s ACC expansion. Basketball powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh expect to arrive in 2013-14, and coupled with Duke and North Carolina, they will make cracking the conference’s upper half even more difficult.
All of which makes this the most important hire of Weaver’s nearly 15 years at Virginia Tech.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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