Today Athletic Director Jim Weaver called an impromptu press conference and announced his decision to fire Virginia Tech Basketball Head Coach Seth Greenberg. The decision, the handling of the press conference and Weaver's timetable of events have come under scrutiny both nationally and within the Virginia Tech fan base.
As an ardent Virginia Tech basketball fan, I thought it appropriate to weigh the things that were not handled well and that I take issue with against the things that were unfortunately and unarguably true about Seth Greenberg's tenure at Virginia Tech. For a full-on analysis of everything that was running through my mind today, please jump right on in. Discussion is welcome and encouraged.
Things I take issue with
That the Hokiesports masthead was emblazoned with a picture of Weaver and seemingly promoted it as a positive, must-see event, almost expectant of fanfare is something I take issue with. I would argue that no matter the coach, a firing of a coach is never a positive thing and should not be viewed as such by the athletic department out of respect for that person and their efforts. Whether intentional or by complete accident, in their attempt to promote the press conference they managed to make such a spectacle out of it and fueled widespread speculation and rumors. It became a media circus. Furthermore, doing that BEFORE informing Greenberg of their decision made for an embarrassing situation in which he was repeatedly asked about his job status without having the proper information. It also seemed beyond arrogant that Jim Weaver would open the press conference by prefacing his decision to fire Greenberg with a suggestion that speculation over HIS job was unwarranted. Although many wondered if that was the announcement, it seemed very self-serving to re-affirm himself and his job given the circumstances. As many neutral observers on Twitter professed, to say that he wasn't throwing Greenberg under the bus was at best a half-truth.
As Dana O'Neil of ESPN put it, "There is no arguing this could have been handled better -- a lot better. Weaver said he and associate athletic director Tom Gabbard made their decision a week ago. Yet, apparently they couldn't find a break in the schedule until 1:30 p.m. ET on Monday afternoon to inform Greenberg -- long after rumors started flying around the Internet that Greenberg was being let go."
O'Neil also added, "Say what you want about Greenberg, he is a good man who put in nine years at Virginia Tech. He deserved to be the first, not among the last, to know he no longer had a job, and the university's almost giddy link to its live stream of the press conference was borderline bad taste."
That the decision was made ONE WEEK ago to let Seth go and that they sat on it, failed to tell Seth until today, two and a half hours before a press conference, allowing him to still recruit and serve as the figurehead of the program is an unforgivable breach of ethics and good sense. The result? Certainly we will not be getting the prospect in question. The two recruits we currently have committed that have signed their national letters of intent may be pushed further towards the edge of jumping because of Tech's lack of haste to ACTUALLY fire Seth once they had decided to fire him. Since then those players may have had other opportunities (at least in their minds) to latch on with another program who had an open scholarship that has since been filled.
Additionally, a damning detail for future recruits making a visit to campus is that the higher-ups in the Virginia Tech athletic department wouldn't have coordinated either with the prospect/family of the prospect to re-schedule the visit or to alert Seth of the news earlier so that they could dually field a call to the family giving them a heads up. That is insanely disrespectful of that family's time and shows the lack of coordination on the part of the Tech athletic department. I do not know for sure if that visit was allowed to continue uninterrupted once reported, but I have been given no indication that it was not, nor any information to suggest the Virginia Tech athletic department attempted to prevent that visit from happening knowing that they would fire Seth Greenberg today.
Weaver talked about the desire to not pay two entire staffs by hiring another whole complement of assistants under Greenberg for the 12-13 season when he envisioned Seth as a goner after next year. However, I find that excuse is made out of absolute baloney and posturing. You can't preach about fiscal responsibilities when comparing a staff whose previous collective salary was a joke (relative to other staffs in power conferences in college basketball) and whose current collective salary (when stretched across the several years Tech may have been required to commit to them to gain their services) POTENTIALLY MAY HAVE AT WORST added up to a wash with the contract buyout tag of Seth Greenberg (which is a hefty $1.2 MILLION). When considering the addition of a new head coach's salary, it's not even close. Paying two head coaches simultaneously as opposed to two staffs is at least two times as expensive. Therefore, that is an indefensible statement.
When firing a coach, the assumption is that you are doing so in an attempt to get a better coach. While I don't doubt this is their intention, I highly doubt that at this juncture of the college basketball year and coaching carousel that we can find such a candidate. Additionally, when considering Jim Weaver's vote of confidence in Seth and his job security late into the season (in which Weaver said Seth would "absolutely" return for a 10th season), coaches who are currently employed might spurn the Hokies because of the questionable job security of the position. They may also balk at the job offer because of the apparent delusions of grandeur the Tech athletic department has about their historically average basketball program, a program I have followed closely since the 1996-97 season and as such have a terrific understanding of the pulse of the program.
The program is also handcuffed by the absolutely unacceptable timing of Seth's firing. As I stated above, the timing of the firing will not allow for the Hokies to have their pick of qualified candidates. The field is skimpy at best at this time as the coaching carousel was already presumably done making its rounds. To say that the change in direction that Weaver cited as one of his primary reasons for Seth's firing is bound to be negative at least initially is almost a certainty given the lack of available candidates. NO program in Division I college basketball fires their head coach on April 23rd without a scandal, a breach of contract, or the coach leaves of his own volition.
Things that I cannot argue with
Despite the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's preposterous decisions to exclude Virginia Tech in AT LEAST two and possibly three of the past four seasons, the FACT is that Seth Greenberg only piloted the Virginia Tech Hokies to ONE NCAA Tournament berth in his nine seasons. That was something the athletic department wanted to improve upon as they had only made one NCAA Tournament over the previous eight seasons, and as you see, they did not, even with the tournament expanding by four spots over that time-span. I cannot and will not argue that.
Despite being a media-savvy head coach who graduated college with a degree in communications, Seth made a ruckus on several occasions with his handling of criticism of Virginia Tech's schedule and right or wrong, Virginia Tech's exclusion from the NCAA Tournament. That he brought up a the possibility of a conspiracy of an agenda (again, right or wrong) against the Hokies on the part of the Selection Committee ruffled a lot of feathers. I cannot and will not argue that.
Seth Greenberg's record in close games (decided by 5 points or less or in overtime) was 53-55. This record was a big part of what made Seth Greenberg a 58% winning coach and a 60-65% winning coach which would have almost undoubtedly qualified us for the tournament on several occasions which we were deemed to not be qualified. It should also be noted that those 55 losses represent 45% of his total losses at Virginia Tech, labeling him as a coach who floundered in big moments. I cannot and will not argue that.
The biggest point of contention as Weaver mentioned was attrition, both by players and coaches. During Greenberg's tenure, approximately 12 out of 34 players (figure includes all current players) transferred, were kicked off the team, or never enrolled after signing their National Letter of Intent (not including Augustus Gilchrist who wiggled his way our of his commitment by announcing the tragic events of 4/16/07 changed his mind about Tech). That is an exceedingly high number that equates to 35%. Players will transfer in basketball. Their egos will be hurt. Family illnesses or issues will pop up. Spats with coaching staffs will and do occur. Bigger programs come courting. Sometimes players just want a change of scenery. But players transferring out or not finishing at a school at that high of a rate should be considered a mass exodus and uncommon.
Additionally, Greenberg's inability to keep assistants was alarming. I know there were issues with payment, and probably many of them we don't know about prior to the announcement this year that the Tech assistants were being paid nowhere near competitively. But as the transcripts and reports of interviews with outgoing coaches this year attest, that was not on the radar of at least some of the coaches who chose to leave, essentially meaning those coaches simply took a better job, wanted a change of scenery, or no longer wish to work for Seth Greenberg. There were rumors that Seth was an incredibly demanding coach, both on his players and his coaching staff, and as you could imagine, that could become very abrasive. Because of those allegations, he has also been accused of having a terrible pulse on his team and their fatigue level, and as a result of overworking them, injuries occurred at an astounding rate. Now, those are big leaps to make and they may all be rumors, but if they are true, I cannot and will not argue that. It is not my job to speculate on the validity of those rumors, only to report them as what they are: unsubstantiated rumors.
Lastly, if Greenberg and Weaver really had as fractured of a professional relationship behind closed doors as Weaver suggested in the press conference, then I cannot and will not argue that. BUT, it takes TWO people to make a relationship work, and therefore Weaver is equally culpable for his inability to maintain that relationship, as this is one of the primary responsibilities of an athletic director.
Things that we should remember and consider about Greenberg's career and his termination
Greenberg finished with a career record of 170-123 (55%), good enough to make him the program's second-winningest coach. He posted a winning record in his first year, the program's first winning season since 1999-2000 and in 2007 gave us our first tournament appearance in 11 years. His team also posted the school's best record as a member of the Big East, our only bid and subsequent win in the Big East Tournament. He led us to four first-round tournament byes in eight seasons in the ACC and six postseason berths. We also finished in the top-four of the ACC in five of our eight seasons.
He took us from a culture of losing in the A-10 and the Big East to competing and often winning in the ACC. He was a two-time ACC Coach of the Year and only twice posted losing seasons in his nine-year tenure. He THRICE beat the nation's #1 team, a feat that was only accomplished ONCE in the 94-year history of the program prior to his tenure. He also managed to produce 10 of the school's 40 1,000 point scorers. For those of you not so good at math, that is one-fourth in under one-tenth of the program's history.
Seth also suffered an absolutely incomprehensible rash of injuries, a season in which the team attended six funerals for family members of players in a five-week period, directed the program through the tragedy of 4/16/07 and despite that, did not hesitate once to allow two of his daughters to attend the school. He was at the forefront of many philanthropic ventures and was always the first person to thank the fans and the Hokie Nation for their support and attendance. He was a driving force in our program's decision to build the $21 million basketball facility that allowed us to compete on an equal platform as other power schools for recruits. He was held in incredibly high-esteem by coaches and pundits in the basketball community and unarguably raised the profile of the program.
As such, the response from national pundits was generally shock, awe and disapproval. Sportscaster Tim Brando was among those who called the move "horrible" and an "awful decision." The Washington Times' Patrick Stevens said "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."
Niemo from Techhoops, quite possibly the preeminent voice on Tech basketball said "While it may have been time, you also have to be careful what you wish for. We knew what we had with Seth – a tireless recruiter who could really implement a solid defense. Did he hit a ceiling here or did the ceiling hit him? We’ll never know."
Those of us who watch and understand basketball know that while Seth's teams never employed the most imaginative offenses, were guard-centric and could inexplicably drop games to lesser foes, they were worlds above the teams that his predecessor Ricky Stokes fielded and kept us competitive in the nation's most storied basketball conference. To those of us Hokies who thought Greenberg was a terrible coach and that we deserved and expected much better than the success we attained, I offer caution: (much like Niemo and Patrick Stevens) Known devils are better than unknown devils.
Whether firing Seth Greenberg was a good or bad decision is a matter for debate. How and when Seth Greenberg was fired was absolutely unacceptable. If he was fired at the end of the season, I would have disagreed, but would have understood and been okay with their decision. However, with their decision today, the athletic department demolished the basketball program for the next couple of years in one fell swoop. In athletics (and life) timing is everything, and today Jim Weaver and co. executed one of the poorest timed decisions they could have made regarding the future of this basketball program.