Friday, May 4, 2012

Greenberg Out, JJ In

Well, it finally happened.  For the past couple of years there have been offseason rumblings about the possibility of Seth Greenberg being fired at Virginia Tech.  It finally happened.  I think at this time everybody knows how it happened and why it happened.  Athletic Director Jim Weaver got a little PO'd about the fact that assistant coaches kept leaving Seth Greenberg's staff, and this time with 3 assistant coaches leaving for equivalent jobs and a director of basketball operations also bolting for a new home, Greenberg would have to replace his entire staff in one offseason.  Any traction that had been gained in recruiting was likely lost as the guys primarily responsible for doing the recruiting were no longer at VT.  Jim Weaver probably crapped a brick and after he was done doing that, he called a press conference together without informing Seth Greenberg of his firing.

Let's get something straight; you do not announce a press conference to the media and then put up a link to it on your website before you tell a guy that he's fired.  That's low class, and a poor decision by Jim Weaver and his staff.  Weaver gave some excuse about scheduling, but shoot... even a text would have been better than having reporters calling Greenberg to see if he was getting fired before he had any clue it was coming.  That was a really bad move and the national media got it right by calling out our athletic department on that one.

With that said, and it did need to be said, the local and national media also got the pulse of the situation right (except for ESPN who I think is grooming Greensberg for a full-time analyst position).  It was time.  It was not an ideal time, but it was time.  I've been hearing for a while from people in the know that Greenberg was a tough guy to work with and could be pretty abrasive.  We saw that with the way he treated the media.  After a win, he's talkative and enthusiastic and a really great interview.  After a loss, he's sullen and condescending and could snap at someone at a moment's notice.  That's his personality, for better or for worse, and this time it seemed the worse of it was too much for 4 staff members to be around.  I believe Jim Weaver when he said that 1 trip to the NCAA tournament in 9 years was not the reason that Seth Greenberg was let go.  VT football has had similar post-season failure, but Frank Beamer is not going anywhere as long as Weaver is AD.  For him, it's enough to be one of the best teams in the conference, and Beamer and Greenberg both certainly showed that Virginia Tech was and is one of the best team's in the ACC for both sports.

My opinion about Greenberg is a mixed bag, which I'm sure you find utterly shocking.  Sure, changing conferences from the A-10 to the Big East to the ACC gave Seth access to recruits that his crummy predecessor didn't have.  But as far as national scouting services were concerned, Greenberg was still working with less than his conference contemporaries.  Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon were two of the best players ever to wear the orange and maroon, and they weren't on the radars of a lot of power conference schools.  For a while, Greenberg was getting the most out of his players and it was showing in the ACC record.  The simple fact of the matter is that with Seth Greenberg's patented defense, the Hokies kept most games close and often finished in the top half of the ACC standings.  That's great... that's exactly what you want.

The negatives were also there, though.  Greenberg did not seem to be a guy who could develop players.  When I think of Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Dorenzo Hudson, and Victor Davila, I think of 4 guys who were promising as freshmen and were basically the same players when they graduated as seniors.  Sure, there were slight improvements... Davila improved defensively in his junior year and Delaney learned in his senior season that he couldn't drive into the lane, flail around, and expect to draw a foul anymore (the referees were on to his game during his sophomore season).  But these were pretty minor improvements.  The only guy I can think of who really burst onto the scene to surprise everyone is Erick Green.  Green showed some tremendous improvement.  But for the most part, it just wasn't there under Greenberg.

Another negative was the lack of offense.  Look, I get that he was a defensive coach who preached protecting the ball and quality possessions.  But for all of Greenberg's offensive plans to score more in transition and "get out and run", the Hokies failed to ever actually do that.  Year after year we suffered through offenses with low scoring (and worse than that, poor efficiency numbers), but Greenberg refused to bring in an offensively-minded assistant to take over this role.  Personally, I think he just has too much of an ego to ever do that.  Last year VT had one of the top 15 freshman classes in the country, a feat never before achieved at my alma mater.  I'm kind of relieved that they won't have to sit through 3 more years of a Seth Greenberg offense.  If this group of guys doesn't get to the NCAA tournament at some point, it will be a massive failure in the new coaching staff.

And that leads us to the hiring of James Johnson, the prodigal assistant.  Without throwing Seth Greenberg under the bus, what we know from JJ is that he liked his chances of becoming a head coach more by being at Clemson and that was the primary reason for his move.  But the unsaid connotation is that he was also unhappy with his position at Tech and didn't think he could become a head coach in that position.  I have no qualms with Weaver going out and grabbing the guy who recently spurned VT for Clemson.  I would have done the same if I was JJ and I would have looked at hiring him if I was Weaver.  There was no conspiracy here... JJ was not Weaver's first choice.  He kicked the tires on Shaka Smart, Jay Wright, and Bobby Lutz for sure, but for all three guys I am told that there was a money problem.  They wanted too much of it and they weren't going to get it.  With those guys and others at their level out of the mix, JJ was a fantastic hire.

Why do I like the JJ hire?  For one, he is going to keep all of our current players on the roster and will probably end up keeping both of our promising young recruits, Marshall Wood and Montrezl Harrell.  Harrell is less certain, but he hasn't asked out of his letter of intent yet.  Wood re-upped with Tech as soon as he heard JJ was the hire.  Why?  Because players love JJ.  No one has a bad thing to say about him... he is beloved by players, colleagues, media members, recruits... he's a great guy who loves basketball and never says a negative word about anybody. 

So this is where we are... we have a first-time head coach who preaches defense and claims that his defense will remind you a lot of Seth Greenberg's defense.  Like Greenberg promised so many times, JJ wants to "get out and run".  Personally, I think coaches just say this because their players want to hear it.  What player doesn't want an open up and down game where they can show off their monster dunks and drop wide open transition 3-pointers?  These are the plays that get the crowd fired up and thus get the players fired up.  But you know what?  Someone has to have a real game plan that will lead to this happening.  The players have to learn when to jump passes and get better at deflecting passes in order to create the turnovers needed for fastbreaks.  Players need to learn to outlet the ball quickly after rebounds and made baskets and push the tempo the right way with guys at different levels on the court.  You don't just "get out and run" by running.  I'm hoping that JJ realizes this, and if he is in the same vein as Greenberg and doesn't have a knack for game-planning an offense, I really hope he is not too proud to bring in an offensively-minded assistant coach to help him.  I've heard that College of Charleston assitant Mark Byington is almost a done deal, and he would be an absolutely amazing hire.  Great X's and O's coach who is a solid recruiter, is well-respected by his peers, and is originally from Salem, VA.  I hope he comes home.  Former Dusquesne coach Ron Everhart is also being talked about, and he would be a guy with head-coaching experience who could really help JJ in this transitional time.  I've heard other names from Ace Custis (supposedly contact JJ about his interest), Dell Curry (sounds like BS to me), and Jerry Wainwright (would bring same kind of credentials and experience as Everhart).  I like what I'm hearing if these guys are indeed interested.

It's a new era in Virginia Tech basketball.  Seth Greenberg had 9 good years with a lot of positives for all of us VT basketball fans, and we should take some time to remember that and thank him for it.  Basketball wasn't very fun in Blacksburg before he arrived.  Now we have a brand new head coach who could take us back to the dark ages or bring us further into the light, and I can't even venture a guess as to which of the two will happen.  I want to see our guys play hard for JJ.  I want to see our players develop and improve from year to year and hopefully even month-to-month.  We know James Johnson can recruit.  What is he going to do with those guys once they walk through the doors of Cassell Coliseum?  I'm excited to find out.