Originally written April 30, 2012 on Fox Sports South:
The hiring of James Johnson as the new basketball coach at Virginia Tech may be as much about the 2012-13 season as any down the road. The Hokies were close to essentially having no team before various newspapers in Virginia reported the news Monday. Hiring Johnson means the program has some footing and the players threatening to leave will now matriculate in Blacksburg for next season. Seth Greenberg was fired a week ago after two assistants and a basketball operations staffer had left for other jobs. Johnson, who began working for Greenberg in 2007, was one of those assistants. He left two weeks ago for a job at Clemson, turning down Techs offer at matching his new salary of 190,000. Johnson told athletic director Jim Weaver it wasnt about money. As we learned last week, exit comments from the coaches didn't shine a positive light on Greenberg, and Weaver decided a head coach with no assistants a third assistant took a job at Old Dominion the day Greenberg was fired needed to go. Players, including star guard Erik Green, suggested they might leave the program, and the top two recruits reportedly requested that the school release them from their letters-of-intent. The bottom was about to cave in, so the job looked less enticing to prospective coaches, though its uncertain how many coaches interviewed for the job. N.C. State assistant Bobby Lutz met with Tech officials in Greensboro last Friday, but he wouldnt have been much of an upgrade from Greenberg from a basketball perspective. But many of the names rumored as candidates were never contacted. Maybe Weaver wanted Johnson all along. Hes quite different from Greenberg. At 40, Johnson has a youthful approach to dealing with players. Many went to Virginia Tech because of him. He will employ a different brand of basketball than Greenberg, in which the emphasis on pushing more will be evident the first time anyone watches the Hokies next season. And hiring Johnson means next season is essentially saved. Its hard to tell if bringing in another coach, even an established head coach, would have installed harmony in the program as quickly as Johnson will. Because of that, this is a sensible hire. Thats where it ends. The ACC is hardly a training ground for those with no head coaching experience. Most assistants that have taken over ACC programs have done so from within, like Johnson basically is. But those have usually been successful situations, such as Bill Guthridge replacing Dean Smith at North Carolina in 1997 or Jeff Jones replacing Terry Holland at Virginia in 1990. More puzzling is that Johnson has little experience in a power conference. He played at Ferrum College, a Division III program in Virginia. He has also coached at Elon, Old Dominion, College of Charleston, Longwood, George Mason and had a stint at Penn State. His only ACC experience in any capacity is working for Greenberg. Coaching in the ACC is difficult enough. Many promising coaches have gone into the league after establishing themselves as hot commodities only to leave on an athletic directors term, not their own. The conference is that unforgiving. The Hokies program now must navigate through the ACC with a head coach who left them two weeks ago and two years ago was passed over by Gardner-Webb. Perhaps if Weaver had pulled the trigger on Greenberg a month ago, the result would have been a successful national search and hire. Maybe Johnson was his guy all along, nobody will really know. But it's Johnsons job now. Only time will tell if this hire was the right move.
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