- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The decision to fire James Johnson as men’s basketball coach after two seasons was “gut-wrenching” and came down, simply, to “wins and losses,” Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said Tuesday.

The Hokies were just 22-41 under Johnson, and just 6-32 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Babcock said he met for a long time with Johnson on Sunday, told him he would sleep on the decision and dismissed him on Monday morning. The search for a successor began immediately afterward, he said.

Ideally, Babcock said, he seeks “a proven, high-profile head coach with a strong track record, a known commodity, a splash hire that wins the press conference.” However, he also knows they can be hard to lure away from already lucrative positions at good schools wise enough to out expensive buyouts in their contract.

He’s also open to a young coach on the rise. Babcock said the candidate would have to be “ready to coach under the brightest of lights in the ACC,” noting that even Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who started at Army, and Hokies football coach Frank Beamer (Murray State) once fit that description before proving themselves as all-time greats.

Johnson took over a team that was already losing its top recruited player, Dorian Finney-Smith, to Florida after one year. After the program lost Montrezl Harrell, its top committed recruit, to Louisville when Seth Greenberg was fired, and the Hokies were significantly undermanned in Johnson’s two seasons.

The state of the program, Babcock said, which includes having reached the NCAA tournament only twice in the past 25 years, means the new coach is “going to have to be more blue-collar, roll up their sleeves and have a hunger for something not many people have been (able) to attain … for the last 25 years.”

That means Virginia Tech also is willing “invest for a favorable return,” he said, and give the coach time to build.

The ACC expanded to 15 teams this season, and when Louisville replaces Maryland next season, will have four hall of fame coaches in Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and newcomer Rick Pitino, who is trying to leads the Cardinals to their second straight NCAA championship.

Babcock said it’s a stage that requires a certain confidence.

“I’m looking for somebody that’s a grinder and a scrapper and it not afraid to compete and to get in here and go head-to-head with at least four hall of fame coaches in this league,” he said.

While a rebuilding job that could be characterized as daunting awaits the new coach, the school offers him a $21 million practice facility that is just a few years old, and Babcock said a new, louder sound system will be installed at Cassell Coliseum by next season. He said he also met with the team on Monday, heard their thoughts and asked them to wait until a new coach is hired before making any decisions.

When the Hokies were eliminated 57-53 by Miami in the opening round of the ACC tournament, several players said afterward they felt they had let Johnson down and strongly endorsed him remaining as coach.