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James Johnson will keep Hokies happy... for now


I'm not sure if U-Haul has a loyalty points system, but if they do, James Johnson has a bunch of 'em.

Just weeks after leaving his post as assistant coach at Virginia Tech for a similar job at Clemson, Johnson was reportedly hired Monday as the Hokies' next head coach. Given the circumstances, it is a move that was the best for both sides.

We will never know what the pool of candidates to replace Greenberg would have been had the Hokies pulled the trigger on letting him go a month earlier. The coaching carousel had come to a virtual halt by the time Athletic Director Jim Weaver and his administration finally decided to let the nine-year head coach go.

There were dozens of names floating around during the Hokies' week-long search for Greenberg's replacement. Many of them were always too good to be true. By giving Johnson the keys to the program, Weaver has done one thing if nothing else. He's saved the basketball program in the short run.

Let's make one thing clear. Assistant coaches don't typically land full-time ACC head-coaching gigs. As noted last week on this blog, just five of the last 33 coaches hired by ACC programs came directly from an assistant coaching role at the collegiate level. All but two of those were in-house promotions, too.

Is Johnson qualified for the job? Barely. Make no mistake about it, his familiarity with the program is absolutely vital in this stage of the game. It was anybody's guess what next year's roster would look like as the coaching search dragged on. The Hokies' two commitments, Marshall Wood and prized recruit Montrezl Harrell, had both reportedly asked for releases from their respective letters of intent. Erick Green did not hide the fact that he was waiting to see who the next head coach would be before he decided to return to Tech for his senior season.

Green's tweet in the moments that followed the Johnson new breaking answered that question.

"Yesss I'll be back next year," Green said on Twitter.

Several other players gave their stamp of approval through the social networking platform as well. It's clear that Johnson has a strong relationship with the current team.

It's hard to ignore how this move will be viewed through the national prism. It's never too often that an administration straight-up cans a head coach, only to replace him with his top assistant. From an outside perspective, this would seem to be quite the opposite of a so-called "change in direction."

To those who know Johnson and were close to the program during Greenberg's tenure, they can attest to the vast differences in approach between the two. Greenberg was a throwback type who was more bark than bite when it came to running a tight ship and gaining the trust of the players. Just in the past four seasons, the Hokies lost the likes of Hank Thorns, Manny Atkins, Ben Boggs and Ty Garland to transfer. All four of those players would have played pivotal roles in the Hokies' program had they opted to stay. For whatever reason, it wasn't worth paying dues as a role player for a year or two under Greenberg's watch.

Johnson is wired very differently. He's not nearly as long in the tooth as his old boss, but he has a much better ability to relate to college-age basketball players than Greenberg did. Think Mike London on a basketball court. In this Darryl Slater profile from 2010, which followed Johnson on the recruiting trail, it quoted Johnson busting out rap lyrics as words of wisdom. Kids love that. They will respect Johnson and play their butts off for him.

It's too bad rap lyrics don't win basketball games. Johnson will have to surround himself with a veteran staff that can develop a talented roster and give Johnson the counsel he needs with the "X's and O's" of the job, both during game preparation and during the games themselves. Hiring a staff in early May is much different than hiring a head coach. It's not ideal, but Johnson will have the chance to poach assistants from around the country without much recourse.

Weaver came dangerously close to botching this entire saga from start to finish. By hiring Johnson, he's rolling the dice on a coach who was passed over for the Gardner-Webb job just two years ago. It's a near certainty that Weaver won't be around when it comes time to make another coaching decision on the men's basketball program. At the very least, Weaver is putting off his troubles for another year or two. Now it seems like that is all the aging AD is really worried about.

For all we know, Johnson will prove to be an excellent strategist (something Greenberg never was) and will be the face of the program for the next decade or more. His lack of experience is a substantial red-flag when it comes to feeling secure about the long-term stability of the program. This much is clear: the 2012-13 Virginia Tech basketball team is in good hands. It's what lies beyond next season that is so uncertain.