- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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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 on 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.
There also is no denying that Weaver has put himself in an extremely tight spot by waiting until April 23 to make a decision that many suspected would come on March 23. It's not impossible to lure a new head coach right now, but it is surely not going to be easy -- not at Virginia Tech, where the job is good but not without serious challenges.
This decision looks reasonable right now. It could look disastrous if a new coach isn't hired soon.
Still, what Weaver said and, perhaps more, what he said between the lines, made sense.
He said he wasn't firing Greenberg for his lack of NCAA tournament berths (just one in his tenure there) or for the lack of winning (170-123 in nine seasons). He was firing him because he didn't see the point in having a dead-coach-walking, having already decided there would be no extension coming in the foreseeable future.
The decision, Weaver admitted, was hastened by the departure of three assistants, forcing the AD to realize that hiring a new staff around a lame-duck head coach was fruitless if not downright foolish.
How many times have ADs gone the other way, keeping a guy around, waiting for him to fail just enough so he could pull the plug?
And Weaver said he was firing Greenberg because he thought the basketball staff lacked continuity. Associate head coach James Johnson announced last week that he was leaving Virginia Tech for Clemson, this after assistant Rob Ehsan and director of operations Jeff Wulbrun jumped ship for UAB, bringing the roster to six assistants under Greenberg gone in the past four years.
"We were constantly replenishing the staff," Weaver said. "I understand some people leaving, but when we have as many as we've had, that didn't sit right with me."
Here's what Weaver didn't say but implied: Why are these guys leaving? Why are UAB and Clemson more attractive than Virginia Tech?
Why would Johnson, just recently promoted to associate head coach, want to take what most would construe as a lateral move within the ACC -- especially after Weaver got permission to offer him the exact same financial package as Clemson?
"I didn't like the way it unfolded with coaches leaving an ACC program that has the promise on the court that this program has for the next four years," Weaver said, alluding to Virginia Tech's 12th-ranked recruiting class of a year ago. " Coach Johnson said it had nothing to do with money."
Riding the high road, Johnson told the Daily Press (Va.) that he and Clemson head coach Brad Brownell were longtime friends from their days back in the CAA. Yes, Brownell did coach at UNC Wilmington at the same time Johnson was an assistant at Old Dominion and George Mason, but it's not like they were ever on the same staff.
No, the difference is most agree that Brownell has the Tigers on the uptick as yet another ACC program rising -- like NC State, Virginia and Florida State -- while Virginia Tech remains mired in quicksand. The arrival of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East in two years will make survival in the ACC all the more difficult.
There have been reasons for the Hokies' underachievement, of course. Greenberg's teams have been saddled by injuries, and until Weaver forced the administration to pry open their pocketbooks, albeit too late, the assistants were grossly underpaid compared to some of their ACC brethren.
Still, there remained a constant, nagging sense that Virginia Tech could be better; that, in fact, it should be better.
In making this decision, especially at this dangerous 11th hour, there is no doubt Weaver is rolling the dice that whatever is out there now is better than what he might get in March, when the carousel only begins to spin.
For too long, though, Virginia Tech has been risk averse, contentedly dancing along the line of mediocrity. The Hokies have been more than patient in standing by Greenberg, a guy who seemed fire retardant after spending so much time on the hot seat.
But when the bus starts rolling, taking passengers from your staff to new destinations, someone is going to get trampled.
This time it was Greenberg.