Jim Weaver, who presided over the most successful era in Virginia Tech sports history, is retiring at year’s end because of ongoing health problems.
Sharon McCloskey, a long-time associate athletic director at the school, will serve as interim AD during a national search for Weaver’s replacement.
Weaver, 68, arrived at Tech in 1997 and is the second-longest serving athletic director in Hokies history. Frank Moseley held the position from 1951-78.
In 2004, Weaver was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs speech and coordination. In revealing his condition in 2006, Weaver said that his goal was to work through 2015.
But Weaver has since endured unrelated health problems, including multiple back surgeries. Doctors told him earlier this year that he needs both hips replaced.
“That really kicked my butt,” Weaver said of the news.
Beset by chronic pain, Weaver has kept limited office hours and has curtailed travels to meetings and games. The hip problems force him to use a walker.
“I can’t do my job if I can’t travel,” said Weaver, who missed recent football games at Boston College and Miami.
Weaver, who also served as AD at Nevada-Las Vegas and Western Michigan, is a former football player and assistant coach at Penn State and brings a lineman's toughness to his job and his health battles.
“He's been in a horrible amount of pain,” said associate athletic director Tom Gabbard, fighting back tears. “But he won't let you take care of him.”
Gabbard and Weaver have worked together for 21 years, the last 16 at Virginia Tech.
“It's been a hell of a run,” Gabbard said.
During that run the Hokies thrived athletically and academically, while constantly upgrading facilities — an expanded football stadium and new basketball practice complex are the centerpieces. They also moved from the Big East to the ACC in 2004, a milestone moment that has benefited the department in every way.
“Jim is a terrific administrator and friend who has led Virginia Tech with great success and accomplishment,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “He was instrumental in Virginia Tech’s transition into the ACC and is extremely well respected throughout the league, as well as intercollegiate athletics. Jim is a courageous person, and I have a lot of admiration for him.”
Tech played for a national football championship in January 2000 and fielded exponentially improved programs in sports such as track and field, softball, baseball, and men's and women's soccer.
“There’s not many places that you can sit here and all the facilities are right there together, and all of them are good,” Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer said. “When we get the indoor facility right over here, that’s going to give us everything we absolutely need. All of that’s in motion now. You look at our baseball, softball — everybody has benefited by Jim being here, all sports.”
Weaver also upgraded Tech's future football schedules with opponents such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, West Virginia and Tennessee, the latter at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016. He hired basketball coaches Ricky Stokes, Seth Greenberg and James Johnson, and fired Stokes and Greenberg.
“We have been fortunate to have Jim’s strong leadership for more than 16 years at the athletics helm,” Tech president Charles Steger said in a statement. “He has significantly expanded the program’s size and quality winning in competition and in the classroom. Financially, we are in very good condition. Jim is highly respected in the profession. I regret to see him leave this role. However, this is a demanding job. Jim’s health precludes him from maintaining the same commitment and devotion he has shown since arriving here in 1997. ...
“I am exceedingly pleased to see Jim’s emphasis on all-around excellence seeking competitive teams in non-revenue sports, in addition to our outstanding play in revenue sports. He has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to academic accomplishments. Indeed, just last month the NCAA release data showing the Virginia Tech has the highest graduation rates among public schools in the ACC.”
Steger accompanied Weaver to an athletic department meeting Tuesday afternoon at which Weaver announced his exit to tearful colleagues and friends.
Beamer called it a sad day.
“Jim and I have had a wonderful relationship. He’s been a tremendous boss. ... He’s a guy that I think really has meant a lot to Virginia Tech, really done a great job here and made a lot of good decisions and been really good to me,” Beamer said. “I’m going to miss him, miss his leadership.”
Ray Smoot, former CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, will chair the search for Weaver's replacement. He also led the search in 1997.
During a media teleconference, Steger said he hopes to have an AD in place by Feb. 1. Steger is retiring after the current academic year but said his successor may be indentified before year's end and could be consulted on the search for Weaver's successor.
Steger marveled at how sharp Weaver remains mentally and said he will seek his advice during the search.
Possible candidates: James Madison athletic director Jeff Bourne, who earned his master's at Tech and is a former Hokies associate AD; John Ballein, Tech's associate AD for football operations, and Old Dominion AD Wood Selig.
National names include Arkansas' Jeff Long, the newly appointed chairman of college football's playoff selection committee and a former Tech administrator, and Kansas State's John Currie, a Wake Forest graduate.
Beamer says the list won’t include him.
“No,” Beamer said Tuesday when asked about being interested in the AD role. “I think there’s other people that’s better than me to do that.”
Weaver and his wife, Traci, have a 13-year-old son, Craig.
“He's got a chance now to have some surgeries and enjoy Craig's high-school years,” Gabbard said. “He just worships that kid, and they're so close.”
Craig and Traci usually accompany Weaver to games.
“You know the expression ‘lead, follow or get out of the way,’” Weaver said. “Well, I’m stepping aside.”
Norm Wood contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun