As the days of former Director of Athletics Jim Weaver's 16 year tenure dwindled down, an aura of angst and excitement enveloped the Hokie Nation. Many, including myself had grave and somewhat pessimistic concerns that the Virginia Tech AD search committee would not make a thorough enough search and give this hiring its due diligence. I'm happy to admit I was sorely wrong.
Enter new Hokies AD Whit Babcock. Let me give you a quick recap on Mr. Babcock's background:
- A native of Harrisonburg, VA
- Played baseball for James Madison University (lettered 4 seasons, team captain his senior year)
- Earned his bachelor's from JMU in 1992, master's in sports management in 1996 from WVU
- 20 years of experience in various administrative roles at JMU, WVU and Auburn
- Executive Associate Director of Athletics at Missouri 2006-2011
- Director of Athletics at University of Cincinnati from 2011-2014
I think with this hire, Hokies alike will get the best of both worlds. He's not some lazy internal hire (this is not directed towards anyone, rather praising the thoroughness of the committee to find the best person), he's had over 20 years of "outside" experience, son of a collegiate coach and played intercollegiate athletics himself. He "gets it."
Mr. Babcock has stated that Virginia Tech is his "Dream Job." In his introductory press conference on January 29th, he stated:
"It’s good to be back home again in Virginia, when those closest to me, my family, my mentors, would ask, ‘Whit if you could pick one place in the country, one place, your top place, to be the director of athletics, where would it be?" That answer has been and is Virginia Tech. I’m humbled and blessed. Today is a dream come true."
What else could we really ask for?
Some statements and promises Mr. Babcock made from that press conference and subsequent interviews that caught my attention:
"I'm a lot more interested in supporting our coaches than I am talking about replacing them."
For those of you who think Mr. Babcock is going to come in with an axe, ready to chops heads might be a bit disappointed. He reiterated that he's going to come in with his "eyes wide open" and not have any "pre-conceived notions."
"I believe you should have a succession plan in mind"
Mr. Babcock stated that he will "not make changes for the sake of making changes" but reiterated that we will have a "sense of urgency" to get our programs to perform at levels of excellence.
"Creating memorable experiences" and "Customer experience and customer service better be darn good"
These particular statements echoed loudly for me. It's no secret that the loyal VT fan has been somewhat discontent with the atmosphere and overall experiences at Tech sporting events in recent years, especially that at Lane Stadium. With former AD Jim Weaver implementing the Hokies Respect campaign and "taking a break from Thursday Night games," seemingly muted the enthusiasm that once dubbed Lane Stadium as the "Terror Dome" and many proclaiming it to be the loudest stadium in college football.
Many feel Mr. Weaver's policies only catered to the interests of a select demographic and not the overall fan population, as a result we saw Virginia Tech's home football sell out streak come to an end this past season after 15 years and 93 straight games. We hope Mr. Babcock's goals in his aforementioned quotes turn this trend around and inject life back into our gameday atmosphere.
So now that we have a better idea of who we're working with, what kind of coaching moves can we foresee Mr. Babcock making down the road?
In his short time as AD with Cincinnati, he made six coaching hires while firing four, with two resigning (non revenue olympic sports). This should give fellow Hokies a sense of excitement towards the future as he will not keep an under performing coach around, period. The most notable tidbit was five out of the six hires were made outside of the "Cincinnati family" as that highlights Mr. Babcock's insistence on bringing in fresh and innovative ideas to a program and it's respective sports.
He also knows how to improve football without neglecting basketball. For instance, Cincy's head basketabll coach Mick Cronin was hired back in 2006, well before Mr. Babcock's arrival. In 2013, he extended Cronin's contract through 2017-18 season as a reward for the stellar job he has done with their men's basketball program. The Bearcats are currently ranked 7th in the country, so he's leaving a very good situation to come to VT.
The biggest splash being the hiring of former Auburn and Texas Tech head football coach Tommy Tubberville prior to the 2013 season. That hire, certainly raised eyebrows around the college football landscape, but I think reflects more on the impression and respect Mr. Babcock had made on Tubberville during their time at Auburn.
"I was perfectly satisfied," Tuberville said. "I had a great home in Lubbock, Texas. The people of west Texas are great people, they love football. Our football team played hard....But there was something when Whit called that I thought, 'You know? Let me think about this."
When the time comes for Mr. Babcock to make that difficult decision to hire Coach Beamer's replacement, he's going to be prepared to make to make it. He's said the right things, having a succession plan and an idea of who would be a great fit. I'm sure Mr. Babcock isn't against hiring and promoting from within, but I also think he understands the bigger picture and what this football program means to the Virginia Tech, the community, it's alumni and fans. He realizes the gravity this future hire will hold.
"I’ll say this: I’ve done no succession planning for Frank Beamer at this time. I’d like to be on the job one day or a lot longer than that before doing so."
"Pressure? Absolutely there’s pressure. Anytime you replace a Hall of Fame, legendary coach, you’d feel pressure too. But I hope he coaches for a long time, wins a lot of games and in many facets he’s the brand of Virginia Tech athletics. So again, I’m much more interested in what I can do to support coach Beamer than I am right now at eventually having to replace him whenever that time may be. But he’s a legend, he’s a Hall of Famer and I can learn a lot from him."
There you have it, folks. Mr. Babcock is fully aware that he's going to have to make this decision in the not too distant future. Don't be fooled, this isn't going to be automatically handed over to Coach Bud Foster as many think is going to happen. No, this isn't going to be a Jim Weaver - walk down the hall and hire Dennis Wolff (women's basketball coaching hire), but it's probably going to be more like the one in which he was hired: a big pool of talented and diverse candidates where he will perform his due diligence and make the best move for the university moving forward.
Again, I'd like to give a kudos the AD hiring committee for making such a quality hire and proving my pessimistic outlook wrong. I'm confident that Virginia Tech has the right man for the job, one who understands what it takes to run a successful business, and someone who understands who ultimately has the power to perpetuate a business' success...and that's us, the fans.