Virginia Tech has a basketball opening. But make no mistake, this is one person's hiring decision.
Whit Babcock, the Hokies' director of athletics, wants you to know that he made the decision to fire James Johnson as basketball coach. And while he'll lean on a number of resources, this is his coaching search, the first stamp he'll put on Virginia Tech since his hire in January.
Babcock addressed members of the media this morning and from the beginning, he made a few things clear: he didn't come into the job thinking he would hire a new coach, the men's basketball position is still a good one, he'll do whatever it takes to find and hire the right coach, and that this coaching search will be pretty tight to the vest.
It was only Sunday night when Babcock finally decided a change needed to be made. And though he said he slept on the decision, he informed Johnson of the change yesterday morning at 11.
"I didn't come into this job with making a change in mind and no one pressured me to do it," Babcock said. "Far from it. I certainly could debate the point of why Coach Johnson should get another year and I did so many times in my mind. But at the end of the day, I made the decision for the primary reason that I didn't feel that our staff was ultimately one that could lead our program successfully for the long term and to get us to our goal of the NCAA Tournament."
At the moment, that seems like a dream. The Hokies are coming off a 9-22 season, 22-41 overall in Johnson's two seasons as head coach. They've also been to just two NCAA Tournaments in the past 25 years, though they did win the NIT in 1995.
Still, Babcock reiterated how he believes leading Virginia Tech's men's basketball team is a good position to have. He cited the school's $21 million practice facility, as well as coaching in a competitive ACC, where at Babcock's estimation, landing somewhere in the middle of the 15-team league should lead to at least the discussion of an NCAA berth.
After watching just over the final month of the season for the Hokies, Babcock said he determined that while he believed Johnson could perform 'incrementally better," he didn't believe the current staff was the best thing long-term.
"I'm looking for somebody who's a grinder and a scrapper and that's not afraid to compete and get in here and go head to head with at least four hall of fame coaches in this league," Babcock said. "I think we have a lot to sell, but yeah, they'll have to recruit me, so to speak, but I'll be happy to recruit them."
It's tough to rule out too many coaches. After all, Babcock is known as the man who lured Tommy Tuberville from Texas Tech to be Cincinnati's football coach. And Babcock said he's also willing to be patient, even if that's hard to see with Johnson's two years as head coach. As Babcock pointed out, Johnson did spend five seasons under former coach Seth Greenberg as an assistant.
"We are prepared, within reason, to invest for a favorable return," Babcock said. "Sometimes you have to spend to acquire talent in this profession and we're prepared to do so if it's the right person and the right fit. We won't spend frivolously, but we must be aggressive if the opportunity presents itself."
This will be Babcock's first opportunity to put his stamp on the Virginia Tech athletic program. And in doing such, he's made it clear that the hire will be done his way.
Babcock will carefully evaluate all of his options. He's made clear that he already has an early list of candidates and he'll use every resource at his disposal, including talking to plenty of sources. He's also keeping a lid on the search itself as best as he can.
"I would caution our fan base with this: not to put too much merit in 'leaks or sources,'" Babcock said. "I've done this enough to at least warn them, or let them know that any time you have a leak, it's done with a motive. Sometimes, it's a blogger or reporter simply throwing names up on the wall to see what sticks and I guess the motive what be entertainment or see if they get lucky with that."
This has been, is and will be, Babcock's decision.
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