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Where does Virginia Tech go from here?

4/24/2012

First things first. I thought my colleague (slash-friend-slash-life coach) Dana O'Neil nailed it in her reaction to the Seth Greenberg Virginia Tech story Monday evening. Her read on Greenberg's firing makes perfect sense to me. It wasn't pretty, but breakups never are. And that's what this was: a poorly-handled, messy, ill-timed, unfortunate but ultimately understandable parting of ways. As someone who has had his at least a couple of awkward breakups, I'd like to think I can relate.

The questions going forward are these: Does the way Virginia Tech handled this makes the program a less-than-desirable suitor now that athletic director Jim Weaver is (proverbially) single again? Will Virginia Tech finish this coaching search thinking it might have been better off trying to work things out?

After all, it's not like Greenberg was an abject failure in Blacksburg, Va. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi -- who watched Virginia Tech as closely as any team in the past five seasons, what with the Hokies seemingly always on the bubble -- made the case that the team wasn't in the dire straights you'd assume given Weaver's dramatic and surprising Monday news conference. From LunardiInsider :

Virginia Tech joined the ACC in Greenberg's second season (2004-05). After reaching the NCAA tournament in 2006-07, the Hokies hardly wavered from that level until this past year, when a staggering number of injuries dropped them to 4-12 in the league. In five legitimately "measurable" seasons from 2007-11, Tech was 45-35 in the ACC and in the NCAA conversation pretty much all the time. In other words, Greenberg put the Hokies exactly where they should be.

...

Unless Greenberg has done something we don't know, or there is genuine reason to believe his program is in a permanent downward spiral, Virginia Tech doesn't need a new coach. It just needs a little better luck at the end of the season and some fewer injuries the rest of the time.

Lunardi's argument doesn't take into account the sudden exodus of assistant coaches from Blacksburg in recent seasons; Greenberg had seen four of his past six assistants, and three this season, flee for greener pastures. On Monday, Weaver cited the departure of James Johnson -- who was offered the same financial package to remain at Virginia Tech that he received to leave for Clemson -- as a sign that something was amiss in the program. But there's no question this is a dangerous move for Virginia Tech, not only because Greenberg had achieved a measure of proven success, but because it may be difficult, for a variety of reasons, to lure a coach of similar quality.

The first is simple trust. Weaver said he made his decision last week, but Greenberg wasn't informed of his firing until after Weaver had announced the news conference Monday. (He even had a recruit on campus. Awkward.) Given that unceremonious treatment, why would other coaches be eager to jump on board? It's a fair question.

The second is the calendar. By this point, it's late in the coaching carousel game. Things have largely settled down; coaches have been offered positions and either accepted them or returned to their current jobs. Can Virginia Tech work outside of the norm -- wherein most coaching searches are conducted en masse in late March and early April -- and still land a quality candidate?

The third reason is the legitimate question of whether Virginia Tech can actually do better. Clearly, Weaver believes as much. But judging by the early consensus candidates -- Washington Post Hokies beat reporter Mark Giannotto put together a working list Tuesday morning -- it seems unlikely Weaver is going to land anyone that could remotely be described as a slam-dunk candidate. Among the nominees are local mid-major stars like VCU's Shaka Smart, Richmond's Chris Mooney and Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor. The former two have turned down much better offers in recent years (Smart just turned down Illinois); all three have had much more success at their programs than Tech during their tenures. Why jump?

Wichita State's Gregg Marshall isn't local, but he fits this mold, too. Murray State's Steve Prohm is a hot name but still relatively unproven after one (very, very good) season. Marshall's Tom Herrion is a good coach with a solid record with the Thundering Herd, but hardly one that will have Virginia Tech fans feeling like they just made a major upgrade. Giannotto's last candidate? Davidson coach Bob McKillop, all of 61 years old.

Even if you throw in former Georgia Tech and now George Mason coach Paul Hewitt -- and there is no reason to other than Hewitt is now "local" thanks to one season with the Patriots -- that list of candidates can be divided along two rough lines. Candidates are either a) unrealistic, or b) unexciting.

Of course, that is not a definitive list. Other candidates could emerge in the next week as he eluded to during his announcement. Weaver may already have a few in line. Perhaps Weaver will go outside the usual name restrictions and take a risk on the next big thing, one that will make him look like a genius in four years' time. It's all still possible.

You can argue that Greenberg deserved to be fired. The dearth of tournament success mixed with assistant coach defections is arguable enough, that's for sure. But even if you believe that, it's not clear why a better coach, or even an exciting hire, would now be interested in Virginia Tech.

Weaver surprised everyone, including his own head coach. Tech fans ought to hope he has at least one more trick up his sleeve. If not, they'll regret not only the way this breakup was handled, they may just regret the breakup itself.

Because that's where the metaphor breaks down: In real life, you can be single until someone else comes along. Virginia Tech doesn't have that option.