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Don't panic, Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver says. The basketball programs are in good hands.
Daniel Lin | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech women's basketball head coach Dennis Wolff paces the sideline.
Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech basketball coach James Johnson (left) is congratulated by Virginia Tech women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff. Both men are former assistants under former men’s basketball coach Seth Greenberg.
Daniel Lin | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson watches his team.
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson talks with Jarell Eddie (31) during a game against North Carolina on Feb. 2.
Virginia Tech head coach Dennis Wolff (center) talks with Alyssa Fenyn (left) and Alexis Lloyd (right) during a dismal the first half in the Hokies loss to Miami in the ACC tournament Thursday.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Last year, Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver hired James Johnson to be his men’s basketball coach.
Two years ago, Weaver hired Dennis Wolff to be his women’s basketball coach.
The men’s team is in last place in the ACC, and the women’s team has already finished last.
But Weaver is optimistic about the futures of both programs.
“Anytime you make a change in the head coaching position, especially of basketball and especially in the conference we’re in, it’s going to take a little time to get where we want to go,” Weaver said Monday. “We have two good leaders heading up our programs and I think they’ll get us where we want to get. I think we’ll be better next year. To very honest, I thought both programs did some very good things this year.
“[Last is] not where we want to be, I’m the first person to say that, but when you transition, there’s a lot of things that happen and it takes time. I think we have the right leadership and I think it’ll happen.”
The Tech men, who conclude the regular season at Wake Forest on Sunday, are 13-17 and alone in the ACC cellar with a 4-13 league mark. Tech will either finish alone in last place or in a tie for last. The Hokies could be seeded anywhere from 10th to 12th in next week’s ACC tournament.
Tech finished last in the women’s standings with a 4-14 league mark. The Tech women ended 10-20 overall after losing in the first round of the ACC tournament Thursday.
“There’s not a lot of patience in this world anymore of athletics, and people’s expectations are very high,” Weaver said. “Ours are high as well. And we’re trying to do the best we can do to give our fan base the kind of program they can be proud of.”
Johnson has never been a head coach before. Wolff has been a successful men’s basketball coach but had never coached women’s basketball before getting the Tech job.
So their resumes might be one reason some fans are worried about the programs’ futures.
“I can understand fans saying that, but we are going to stay the course,” Weaver said. “We believe in the people we hired, and I think they will get the program where we want it to be.”
Weaver suffers from Parkinson’s disease and also has had multiple back operations in the past six years. But he reiterated Monday that he intends to remain as AD until his contract ends in December 2015, when he will be 70 years old.
Entering Friday, Tech was one of nine Division I schools whose men’s and women’s teams were both in last place, along with TCU, UC Riverside, St. Peter’s, Southern Illinois, Nevada, Northern Illinois, Austin Peay and Troy. The latter three schools are last in their divisions.
Some fans wonder if Weaver cares only about football.
“Look at what the track program has done since Dave Cianelli was hired. … They’ve won eight [ACC] championships,” Weaver said. “Our swim program, both men and women are second in the ACC. … Softball has won a couple ACC titles.
“We’re not a football school. We have, and want to have, a well-rounded athletics department. That is our goal, and that has always been our goal since getting into the ACC. And we need to make sure that we do what we can to help basketball get there as well.”
The Tech men tied for last place last season, which was Seth Greenberg’s final year as coach.
Greenberg had seven winning seasons, five NIT bids and one NCAA tournament berth in his nine years at the helm.
Does Weaver regret firing Greenberg?
“No. I made the decisions that I had to make,” Weaver said.
The Tech men could be in for an even worse year next season, when Syracuse, Pittsburgh and possibly Notre Dame will begin ACC play. Tech’s Erick Green is leading the nation in scoring, but he is a senior.
Weaver said he still believes Johnson was the right pick to take over the Hokies.
“I believe in James,” he said. “He’s had a lot of good experience. He’s hired a very solid staff. They’re recruiting well and I think we’ll continue to get better. Certainly we’ll miss Erick, … but I also think some of those big guys down in the post have gotten better.”
Weaver said he did not hire Johnson, who is reaping $680,000 in total pay this year, to avoid paying the heftier salary that an experienced head coach would demand.
“If I would’ve needed to spend more money, I could’ve spent more money,” Weaver said.
Johnson spent the past five seasons as a Tech assistant coach. Wolff was Greenberg’s director of basketball operations before taking over the Tech women.
“Both people will show they are ready to do the job that needs to be done,” Weaver said. “Internally, they’re doing what needs to occur with their teams, and I think we’ll be better next year and get better after that.”
The teams moved into a $21 million practice facility in 2009.
“We’re spending enough money to be successful [in basketball],” Weaver said. “Look at the new facility that basketball is in. It’s as first-class as any in the country.”
The Tech men rank 10th in the ACC with an average home attendance of 6,202 fans at 9,847-seat Cassell Coliseum this season. The Tech women rank sixth with an average of 2,066 fans. Tech sold 3,742 men’s season tickets and 1,012 women’s season tickets.
“We’d like to have more … in the stands, but we’ve got to earn having them there by having the product that we want,” Weaver said.
This is the sixth straight year the Tech women have not had a winning record. Last year, they went 7-23, 3-13 in Wolff’s first season. They won just one ACC game two seasons ago under Wolff’s predecessor, Beth Dunkenberger.
But the Tech women did make five NCAA appearances from 1998-2004 under Bonnie Henrickson. They made two NCAA appearances under Dunkenberger, the last in 2006.
Just two years ago, the Tech men upset Duke and went 9-7 in the ACC. It was their fourth winning ACC record of the Greenberg era.
“We’ve got to use it as motivation to get better, that we have been there in the past and we’ve got to get back to that kind of environment in both men’s and women’s basketball,” Weaver said. “We have the facilities to do it.
“We’ve just got to stay the course and get better.”
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