Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Salem native Mark Byington looks forward to running the show at Georgia Southern.
Photo by DAVE KNACHEL | Virginia Tech
Mark Byington was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech this past season.
Photo by DAVE KNACHEL | Virginia Tech
Mark Byington (center) talks with other Virginia Tech coaches during a game at Cassell Coliseum.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
In November, Mark Byington had Thanksgiving dinner at his parents' Salem home for the first time in years.
But his return to this area has turned out to be a short one.
Byington, who spent this season as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, was officially named the men's basketball coach at Georgia Southern on Monday. At the age of 36, the Salem High School graduate has been given the chance to run his own program.
"There's not a doubt in my mind I'm ready for the job, ready for the responsibility," Byington said in a phone interview. "I'm maybe mature beyond my years. I feel like I have a great mind for the game."
As assistants at the College of Charleston in the 2002-03 season, Byington and James Johnson shared an office. Now both are head coaches; Johnson got the Virginia Tech job last April.
"That was a small office," Byington said. "It's a little crazy how things work out."
Byington was offered the Georgia Southern job last Thursday. His wife, son, parents and in-laws were on hand when he was introduced Monday at a news conference in Statesboro, Ga.
"It's an exciting time for me and the family," Byington said. "It's tough sometimes to get a break. I'm fortunate."
Byington replaces Charlton Young, who was fired after four seasons, including a 14-18 mark this year. The Eagles will move from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt in 2014.
"I've been given great advice by a number of people in the business, and they always said to think like a head coach even when you're an assistant," he said. "I've thought like a head coach for a number of years. I've been paying attention to the way programs are successful, the way other coaches work. I'm very ready to implement my plan."
Byington was the Group AA boys basketball player of the year and the Timesland male athlete of the year as a high school senior in 1994, when he helped Salem win state titles in basketball and tennis. He was a UNC Wilmington standout.
He was an assistant to then-College of Charleston coach Tom Herrion before spending a year as Pete Gillen's director of basketball operations at Virginia. He returned to the Cougars for one last season on Herrion's staff. When Bobby Cremins replaced Herrion in 2006, he retained Byington.
Byington served as the Cougars' interim head coach from late January 2012 until the end of that season while Cremins took a leave of absence. He was a finalist for the permanent job when Cremins retired at the end of that season.
Byington said he is indebted to Cremins for preparing him to be a head coach.
"He gave me an opportunity to grow even before being the interim head coach," Byington said. "I had to handle everything from being the recruiting coordinator to running things in practice to doing media obligations to speaking. Even before I was the interim coach, I felt like I knew how to run a program.
"Now I guess it's my name on top. I've got to make the final decisions. I've got to make tougher decisions."
The College of Charleston is one of the Eagles' SoCon rivals, so Byington is already familiar with Georgia Southern.
"I always felt like it was a sleeping giant," Byington said. "I felt like you could win here right away. There's commitment by the administration. The fans here are very loyal and supportive. They're also in a fertile recruiting ground.
"I'm very familiar with the players that are currently here because of playing against them. ... I know right now where the program stands. At the same time, the biggest thing is knowing where it can go."
When Johnson got the Virginia Tech job, he hired Byington as part of his first staff.
Byington and Johnson were on the Tech bench in December when Georgia Southern upset the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum. But when Byington met with his new team Monday, none of them mentioned it.
"I thought that was going to come up [in the meeting]," Byington said. "I was going to say, 'At least I'm in the right room right now.'
"It was a bad 48 hours when I was a Hokie after that [game] - pretty depressing. At least that shows we have some talent here [at Georgia Southern]."
Byington said his season with Johnson and the last-place Hokies was "very valuable" in his development.
"It was such a tough situation, to take over with eight scholarship players, having to rebuild the entire program," Byington said. "You learn from that what you have to do to kind of start and implement your plan, to have [a] vision for where you want to go and not where you currently are.
"Watching what he did, his vision and everything else, was great for me."
Weather JournalNext system: Possible ice/snow Sat.