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January 29, 2014

COLUMN: Babcock's Task

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New Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock already knows about big-time coaching hires. Just last year, he made one as the University of Cincinnati's director of athletics, when he surprised many by signing Tommy Tuberville to a contract that pays him over $3.1 million annually.

Even in Babcock's first few days on the job, the subject of coaching changes is already among the most talked about. And it's a fair topic, with football coach Frank Beamer nearing the end of his career and the struggles of coach James Johnson and the basketball team.

But Babcock has more on his plate. He has to get enthusiasm up with both football and basketball, where ticket sales have lagged and increase the athletic department's fund-raising, with big projects set like an indoor practice facility and any other athletic ventures.

Babcock said he isn't going into his new position without taking a full look at the entire athletic department and the landscape of Hokies athletics. He does have an approach to how he'll go about his job.

At his press conference today, Babcock gave three key objectives: hire and retain quality people, build facilities to train in and
scholarship help.

"If we come forward with the single-minded proposition of creating memorable experiences, if we can achieve that, the rest takes care of itself," Babcock said. "More specifically from a fundraising standpoint and a fan standpoint, I believe it's about relationship-building. You have to show people a need, you have to build a sincere relationship and your customer experience and experience in customer service must be darn good, because you can build a relationship for 20 years and screw it up in 20 seconds."

But coaching changes are what get the most attention. And though they will inevitably happen, with questions in Virginia Tech's biggest money sports, football and basketball, will Babcock reel in another Tuberville?

"I learned that relationships matter, I believe that's an asset, working at four BCS conference schools, because Coach Tuberville and I had a relationship while working together at Auburn, so that certainly helped. Every coach search is different," Babcock said. "Some can go really fast like that one and some take longer. As long as you get it right, I don't know that the timetable is there, but I believe you've got to have succession planning in mind. That shouldn't make any of our coaches paranoid by me saying that. But if you're prepared for a coach search, you should have a list close by or at least some people you can call on to do it. Hiring coaches is part of the job. Living in the household of one helped and hiring a few along the way have helped. But they're all different and they're all a pressure-cooker when you get into them. But right now, I'm a lot more interested in supporting our coaches than I am replacing them."

Make no mistake, any lags in the prominent sport programs doesn't take away from the overall position. As the number of applicants (50) showed, as well as the buzz potential candidates generated last week, the athletics director position at Virginia Tech is still a prominent one.

And now that the Hokies have their head man, they need him to follow through and bring the sports back to national prominence, as well as maintain academic success and keep the department humming financially with the fund-raising that Babcock has become known for.

"I'd like to think if I wasn't prepared, these guys wouldn't have selected me," he said. "But ultimately, time will tell. I think the proof will be in the pudding and at the end of the day, as a leader, you've gotta provide direction, you have to earn the trust of your people, you have to give them hope for something bigger than they already have and at the end of the day, you have to produce results."

The bar is set high, but Babcock has to set it even higher.

Virginia Tech NEWS


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