Dispatches from Blogfrica: Gobbler Country Talks Iowa-Virginia Tech Hoops

Peter Casey-US PRESSWIRE

The B1G-ACC Challenge is upon us and it's time for the age-old battle for avian supremacy: hawks vs. hokies.

What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? This week: chicagomaroon at Gobbler Country, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Hokie.

1) Seth Greenberg's departure seemed to come at a weird time. Usually coaches get fired immediately after the season, but he wasn't fired by Virginia Tech until late April. Did that come as a bolt out of the blue or had things been trending that way for a while? I know there was some frustration at his inability to get Tech over the proverbial hump and into the NCAA Tournament on a more consistent basis -- was that the main reason he was let go? How beloved was he in Hokie-land? Were you sad to see him go?

You don't say? Well, as a Greenberg homer I usually have to step back a bit. What he did for the program was phenomenal, and I have to say I didn't agree with the firing. But independent of that, the firing was a catastrophe no matter one's feelings on Greenberg as a coach or as a person. The handling of it was absolutely piss-poor and unacceptable (as the vast majority of the national sports media intimated). I don't know if you know all of the details, (if not, this is one of many great reads on the matter) but if not, the blow by blow went down something like this:

1. During the latter part of the season when questioned about Greenberg's job security, Jim Weaver stated unequivocally that he would be back as the coach in these statements, "The whole body of work, he's done a pretty daggone good job here. He is not on the hot seat. ... He'll be here next year. ... He's going to be our coach next year. ... We're going to be a pretty solid basketball team next year."

2. It was discovered nearly a month before his firing that the Virginia Tech assistant basketball coaches were being criminally underpaid (at least competitively speaking) to the tune of over $100,000 or relatively half in some cases of coaches at comparable schools. This practice had apparently been taking place over the several years prior, presumably making the decisions for outgoing coaches (something that Greenberg experienced a lot of) much easier.

3. On the day that Greenberg was fired, Weaver announced a phantom press conference, the nature of which he didn't specify, forcing journalists in a scramble to make conjectures about one of several possibilities, of which they mostly hit on Greenberg's firing, or that Weaver was retiring due to health concerns (still wishing the latter were true).

4. While doing their due diligence, reporters phoning/texting Greenberg were surprised to find that the coach had no inkling that he was to be fired, had not been notified he was going to be out of a job, and as he said, (something to the effect of) "I am still the coach as far as I know. I'm with a recruit," and "I’m still employed, so I don’t think it’s about me."

5. Fifteen minutes later, and some three hours before the press conference announcing his firing, Greenberg was called by ASSISTANT Athletic Director Tom Gabbard, not Jim Weaver, notifying him of his firing.

6. The press conference was, get this, LIVE STREAMED on the website, one of the first athletic-related events of its kind to do so, seemingly to promote the legitimacy of the format. In the background leading up to the presser was upbeat, happy jazz music (like playing Happy Birthday at a funeral).

7. Ever the ego-maniac, before announcing Greenberg's firing, Weaver took several minutes to dispel the notion that the presser was about his health issues, and addressed the absurdity of such rumors.

8. When asked about the firing, he said that it had been a gut decision and that he had made the decision a week earlier.

9. He gave several accounts of the reasons for Greenberg's firing (both during the presser and after), citing the inability of the coach/A.D. to be able to maintain a family-like environment with one another, the mass exodus of assistants leaving every year (addressed above), and his desire to not commit the money to a brand new coaching staff (which at the time equalled one-fourth of Greenberg's buyout clause) for fiscal reasons. Later he made the comment that it was solely about the attrition of assistants, and then again redacted his own account, offering up that he would've fired Greenberg no matter the decisions of the coaching staff to leave.

As the Washington Post article linked above may have said best, "Virginia Tech’s season ended on March 9. Weaver waited until April 23 to fire Greenberg. Would it have killed him to wait another 24 hours to give Greenberg a chance to sit down with his family and prepare them for what was about to happen?" But as a general rule, it's not a good practice to announce a press conference for the firing of a coach who is unaware he is being fired.

As for your last questions, I think the love affair that Hokie fans had with Greenberg was in its dying days. The fan base was disenfranchised with the Hokies ability to beat great teams, lose a few puzzling games and to be left out of the tournament (fair or otherwise) on Selection Sunday. Most of these fans had not attended games regularly (I know this because, if so they were dressed as empty seats), been watching Virginia Tech basketball prior to Greenberg's arrival, more notably since 2006-07, and certainly not before then. That contingent of fans must have thought Tech basketball was always competitive, and that the recent success had come out of thin air, nothing related to Greenberg, this dope of a basketball coach who had turned our basketball program into an "unwatchable" (something muttered often in arguments against retaining him) failure, when in fact the three years prior to his hiring had symbolized the low point in Virginia Tech basketball modern history. So forgive me Tech fans for calling it as it is, but that viewpoint was and is historically ignorant. Obviously I was upset to see him go, as I thought he deserved one last season to prove his worth or the doubters right.

But, I would've been okay with the rationale to fire him had it been handled correctly and at the right time (i.e. at the end of the season, when 99% of schools fire and subsequently HIRE their coaches, with the A.D. telling them in person, face to face, in advance before throwing them to the wolves with an ill-conceived press conference or allowing them to act as a representative of the basketball program and the school in general towards a prospective recruit and his family, something that is incredibly disrespectful). The only thing I think Weaver and Co. failed to do was to realize the most important when firing/hiring a coach: make sure that the guy you hire is better than the guy you fire. Not to vilify James Johnson, because I like him (yes that is possible) and want the best for him, but it's too early to tell.

If you want to read our writers' riffs on this subject, look no further:


2) Tell me a little about James Johnson, the current head coach. Is he a long-term hire or more of a gap-filler until a better search can be conducted, given the weird timing of Greenberg's departure? Is Tech changing things up stylistically under Johnson? Or is he keeping the Greenberg way going, more or less?

Not a lot is known about Johnson as a head coach yet. He has advocated for a more up-tempo style (something Greenberg often said but seldom did), and so far is executing it with success beyond our wildest dreams. Whether he is the guy long-term or not is to be seen, but Virginia Tech took a calculated risk in hiring him given that he has never been the head coach at any level. He is more of a player's coach than Greenberg, and perhaps the only reason Tech was able to field a basketball team this year, as he re-secured the commitment of Marshall Wood (one of the Hokies two commitments in 2012). Also, senior point guard and leading-scorer Erick Green said after the Greenberg firing, if the Hokies hired anyone but Johnson, he would transfer.

3) What's the personnel situation like for 2012-13? I know there were a few transfers and de-commitments in the wake of Greenberg's departure and that you're only going with eight scholarship players this season. I assume that means you're relying pretty heavily on walk-ons to contribute -- which guys are stepping up there? Among scholarship players, who are a few guys that we should keep an eye on?

Yes, with Greenberg's firing, Tech lost the top-rated recruit in school history and a fifth-year senior to transfer, and the top incoming recruit (and top-100 talent) to a de-commitment. So yes, the walk ons are getting minutes, particularly Will Johnston who is a dead-eye 3-point shooter. Really any of the starters could go off for Tech, but in order of likelihood, I'd say Erick Green, Jarell Eddie, Robert Brown and Cadarian Raines, the first three of which are 3-point threats.

4) Can you tell much about this team so far? I know you're 5-0, which is certainly nice, but all five opponents are rated in the 200s in the most recent Pomeroy ratings, so the competition hasn't been stellar. (Mind you, as an Iowa fan, I'm not about to assume wins over "lesser" competition are gimmes; I've seen Iowa lose to many teams like that in recent years.) How has Tech looked so far?

Well, they like to run. That and they are easily beaten/outworked on the defensive glass. I think you make a good point about the competition though. Tech has played well in the first five games, but haven't really played much competition yet. I also hope Tech fans who are reading this come back down to Earth and wait until the Hokies start playing some teams of their ilk. It's too early to say meaningful things about this team.

5) Finally, obligatory realignment question -- how do you feel about Maryland leaving the league and Syracuse and Pitt (as well as someone else, most likely) joining the league? Are you excited about the possibilities of new faces? Dreading the addition of two perennial hoops powerhouses to a league already stacked with quality basketball programs? Pining for a move of your own to a different league?

I wasn't really in favor of Maryland leaving the conference, as it does make the ACC look vulnerable. But, I understand they are financially-strapped (though their math on that subject is a little bit speculative in my opinion). As for Syracuse and Pitt, I'm excited about the proposition. Yeah they are two basketball-centric schools, but Pitt can play some football too (as they proved to Virginia Tech this year). I would like the next moves to be football-centric though, and though I was one of the staunchest against leaving the conference, but I am warming to the idea.

6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?

I predict the Hokies will speed it up for the Hawkeyes, and hit enough 3's to make the difference. I have Tech winning 82-76, but it should be a close game throughout.

Thanks for being a good sport, Chris. You can check out Chris at Gobbler Country. You can also follow him on Twitter at @LunchpailD and Gobbler Country at @gobblecountry. The Iowa-Virginia Tech game is in Blacksburg, VA on Tuesday, November 27 at 6:15pm CT, with television coverage from ESPNU.

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