Last week, Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver came to the realization he wouldn’t extend basketball coach Seth Greenberg’s contract after next season. Or the season after that.
With Greenberg effectively losing his entire staff, nearly any semblance of continuity within the program was gone beyond the Head Hokie himself.
“With three full-time vacancies on our staff, it became clear to us that we might just as well make the decision now and move forward,” Weaver told reporters in Blacksburg.
And so that’s that. Greenberg departs after nine years. He can quibble with the circumstances (hint to ADs: Tell your coach you’re firing him before announcing any sort of vague press conference, not after), but the upshot is the same. Virginia Tech will make a head coaching hire in one of its two high-profile sports as a member of the ACC for the first time.
There’s always three questions worth asking when it comes time to fire a coach. Only two would seem easy to answer.
Could Virginia Tech afford to terminate Greenberg? It will pay him $1.2 million to go away, a relatively modest buyout considering he has four years left on his deal.
(In a related note, Weaver said he didn’t want to make a bunch of assistant coach hires and then dismiss Greenberg next March, thus having to pay two staffs for a while. If you can pay a $1.2 million buyout to Greenberg, you can probably rustle up $100,000 or so to pay off three assistants for three months. It’s a concern that shouldn’t be a major issue).
Could Virginia Tech afford not to make a change? Given the massive value of assistant coach continuity in recruiting, it wasn’t hard to see Greenberg scrapping just to finish around .500 the next few years with his staff a full-fledged revolving door. A change of some kind, whether it was now or in 11 months or in 2014, seemed inevitable.
And finally, can Virginia Tech find someone who can do a better job?
That’s going to be difficult, regardless of how were Hokie fans to the reality of rumbling into the wrong side of Bubbleville (Population: Seth Greenberg) on a nearly annual basis.
Greenberg’s resume – 170-123, one NCAA tournament berth, five NIT appearances – is not glistening, at least when not adjusted for reality. Virginia Tech enjoyed one winning season in the seven years before Greenberg’s arrival. The Hokies made two postseason appearances (1995 NIT and 1996 NCAA) in the 17 years before his hire.
When compared to past history, Greenberg was overwhelmingly successful, even if he did have the luxury of selling an ACC program for nearly his whole tenure.
He also had to deal with facing ACC programs. Sure, the league is not nearly as strong top to bottom today as it was when the Hokies entered the league in 2004-05. But, to borrow one of Greenberg’s most memorable declarations, most folks would have thought someone was certifiably insane if they believed the Hokies would be 61-67 in league play in their first eight ACC seasons.
It’s still not a particularly simple job. Virginia Tech doesn’t have the basketball pedigree of many of its conference members, and attracting basketball prospects to play in an aging arena in a hard-to-get-to (though quite appealing) locale will never be easy.
Basketball does not have the cachet at Virginia Tech as football, and that’s evident beyond recruiting. Based on his contract, Greenberg made $1.2 million last year – a figure that can go a long way in Blacksburg but remains far from the top of the ACC head coaching pay scale.
For all his issues – the single NCAA bid, the turnover on his staff, his unabashedly opinionated approach, a grinding style of play that was often agonizing to watch – Greenberg still won nearly 19 games a year at Virginia Tech. Weaver would be remarkably fortunate to find someone else who can do the same.