College Basketball Nation: Tom Gabbard

Typically, this isn't an issue. A coach is fired, a new coach is hired, and if the players committed to the old coach don't want to play for him, they are usually released from their national letter of intent -- which they don't even need to sign in the first place -- and allowed to choose another school, no hard feelings.

That wasn't the case at Virginia Tech this week. On May 10, Montrezl Harrell, Virginia Tech's top recruit in the class of 2012 (and the No. 89-ranked player overall) decided that he wasn't interested in the Hokies after former coach Seth Greenberg's sudden firing. Tech hired James Johnson, a former Greenberg assistant, in a grasp at "continuity," but by losing Harrell and ACC All-Freshman Teamer Dorian Finney-Smith, that didn't really pan out.

Anyway, the situation should have been simple. Harrell should have been released from his NLI almost immediately. Instead, Virginia Tech dragged the process out for an entire week, offering little explanation as to why. On Thursday, the school relented, with associate athletic director Tom Gabbard telling the Hampton Roads Daily Press that although Johnson wanted to keep Harrell in the fold, he ultimately didn't want a player who was no longer excited about being a Hokie.
"We'd have loved to have kept him, but (Tech men's basketball coach James Johnson's) position is if the young man doesn't want to be here with us on his own part, then we won't keep him here," Gabbard said. "(Johnson) would like for him to be here, but you only get one chance in your lifetime to play college basketball. We released him yesterday." [...]

But why did it take a whole week? From Gabbard again:
"To be honest with you, (an institution) gets 30 days (from the time the release request is filed) if you want them," Gabbard said. "Not only that, it specifically says if you deny it, then he can appeal it. One of the grounds for appeal is not a change of coach. That's not recognized as a legitimate appeal.

"Having said all that, and (Johnson) feels the same way and so does (Tech athletic director Jim) Weaver, you get one shot in a lifetime to do this. If you're not happy, we don't want you to come some place you're not happy or you don't think you're going to be happy. I think if (Harrell) came here, he'd be great, but he's made a decision, and we're going to help him with it."

Gabbard's reasoning on this is remarkably similar to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan's, who came under fire for his heavy restrictions on freshman Jarrod Uthoff's transfer list this offseason. Among other concerns, Ryan maintained that he didn't make the rule, that he was only following protocol, and that nothing he was doing was outside the rules. Which was true. But just because a rule allows coaches to restrict transfers' permission-to-contact lists doesn't mean those coaches should take advantage of it. It's a bad rule. So is the 30-day digestion and appeals process Gabbard is referring to. Yes, a school can wait up to 30 days to allow a committed prospect out of his NLI, and yes, a school can hear an appeal on the matter. Just because a school can do these things doesn't mean it should.

Harrell wanted to play for Greenberg. Greenberg was fired. This is pretty simple calculus, and something that shouldn't take 48 hours, let alone a week, to process.

Harrell is back on the market, free to explore his various options (which will likely include Kentucky and Louisville, among others). All's well that ends well, I guess. But this rule, like the transfer rule, needs to be changed. Until it is, schools should do the right thing. This is pretty straightforward stuff.
The most telling statement of Virginia Tech's unexpected press conference on Monday was also the most disingenuous.

Asked what a new coach could do to better foster the family environment Seth Greenberg's staff apparently lacked, athletic director Jim Weaver said, "I'm not here to throw Coach Greenberg under the bus, bottom line, so I'm going to pass on that question."

Well, technically Weaver was throwing Greenberg under the bus, running him over and backing up for good measure, firing his head basketball coach, or, as he said repeatedly, "terminating" him from his contract.

But rather than offering the usual platitudes and vacant stares, Weaver pulled the curtain back on Oz a little bit and offered insightful and even reasonable rationale to explain his decision to drive the bus.

There is no arguing this could have been handled better -- a lot better. Weaver said he and associate athletic director Tom Gabbard made their decision a week ago. Yet, apparently they couldn't find a break in the schedule until 1:30 p.m. ET Monday afternoon to inform Greenberg -- long after rumors started flying around the Internet that Greenberg was being let go.

Say what you want about Greenberg, he is a good man who put in nine years at Virginia Tech. He deserved to be the first, not among the last, to know he no longer had a job and the university's almost giddy link to its live stream of the press conference was borderline bad taste.

To read Dana O'Neil's full column, click here.

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