clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Whit Babcock's Russian Roulette Conundrum

New, 2 comments

Why Whit Babcock is playing a gameshow where it's really hard to win. When the odds are increasingly stacked against you doing what you're trying to, the task can sure look less like Duck Duck Goose and more like Russian Roulette.

It doesn't get much harder than this for our AD...
It doesn't get much harder than this for our AD...
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a game show junkie from my youth. I introduced myself to this site with an old game show reference, using ‘Let's Make a Deal' to kind of pick who would replace Michael Brewer. I don't plan on mimicking that article again, but right now, I've got another analogy for what Whit Babcock is stuck in right now. GSN produced a show hosted by Mark Walberg (not Mark Wahlberg, there are actually two different famous people with that name) wherein contestants basically stood on top of trapdoors, and would have to pull the lever to send lights spinning to decide if their trapdoor would open or not. The game and the concept are known well enough. The show, maybe not as much. But they're all known as one name: Russian Roulette.

Suffice to say my confidence in the ability to do anything 100% right in the scenario Whit is in right now is rather low. That's not to say that he can't make a good move, but it's never going to be the perfect move to unite the fanbase that Frank and company envision. Frank stepping down only united the fanbase in one thing: We all appreciate what Frank Beamer has done. That's unquestionable. Anyone who doesn't actually thank him for what he helped the university become lacks perspective. But he and other people involved around him likely knew it was time before the record became worse. Now the team has something to fight for, sure. But beyond that? We're in deep trouble. NONE of the solutions are easy or appealing to 100% of the people 100% of the time- that's how it is in life but you can see it clearly here. Any way you do it you're running a heavy risk of getting yourself fired. For Whit Babcock this is more than a coaching decision, this is his career on the line. He took the job likely knowing full well that he'd have to do this at some point. Now he's getting what he signed up for.

I'm going to outline Whit's options and the positives and the negatives I'd ascribe to each. Because despite what everyone thinks about their side, any way you proceed, you're going to have problems.

Option 1: Hire Bud Foster...figure everything else out later.

Promoting Bud Foster is the ‘obvious' move. Move the longstanding and loyal assistant up to the head coaching gig. Foster certainly has his strengths: He's an inventive defensive mind, he knows the school and territory, he knows the roster, staff, and expectations, and he knows the university. It doesn't get much simpler than that. But the issue comes AFTER that move...you're not going to be sure of whatever you're adding. Are you going to stick with the same offensive staff that's produced years of modest to inferior returns? No? Then who the heck does Bud know to join the staff that he trusts enough to hire? Tech's continuity with him and with their coaches hasn't left much in the way out there of people to simply reel in and expect to fit right under him.

Bud Foster is a self-acknowledged not great recruiter. He's made lightly recruited high schoolers into success stories, but has had issues making highly recruited and regarded players succeed. And beyond the few that he's had, he hasn't been pulling in the higher ranked players for years. Do you expect that to suddenly change now? Even he admitted in a press conference on Monday they'd been losing that fight. That is on him and his staff- and the whole team, really- for not doing better in that regard. Foster is also not the kind of ‘hail-fellow-well-met' salesman type of person that can make it in the college coaching world today. Of course Saban's a hardhead and rips the media, but he sure can put on a spread for parents and for recruits. Foster's biggest pros- continuity and familiarity- comes with the added issue that the same failings or deficiencies can stay the same, or even become worse with added pressure and responsibility.

On top of that, if Whit thought that Bud could do the job, he'd have it already and there wouldn't even be a search. I think the die's been cast on Bud Foster, for better or worse. If you hire him, no one, I think, will be MAD, but he doesn't necessarily solve any of the problems that the program has at the moment. I know if you DON'T hire him, a significant part of the fanbase will be annoyed unless you somehow managed to retain him. Even then, they'd grumble that he didn't get the head job.

Option 2: Hire an outsider...that scorches the earth.

If you want to go out and get yourself a brand new head coach, have a happy. There are plenty of well deserving candidates out there this year- Matt Rhule, Matt Campbell, Justin Fuente, Tom Herman, etc. All of them have either turned around programs or continued their winning ways after down years or down decades. This isn't the place to disparage them or anything they've achieved. But if you go out an hire guys that demand to scorch the earth, you're going to end up putting the program back at least two if not four or more years.

Your recruiting would suffer in the short term while current recruits leave, and for at least a year or two after that where their teammates or friends listen to them dissuade them from attending Tech. Success will remedy some of that- and it's also fair to ask ‘what do we actually risk scorching? Mediocrity?'- but it's hard to have success when you can be guaranteed that many people will leave the team due to the staff turnover. Important freshmen like Tim Settle or Dwayne Lawson? Unless you've got someone that could sell him on whatever scheme they've got? They could be gone very fast. You're also going to have to spend years rebuilding or building relationships with coaches in the area. And while you might have SOME connections, you're obviously going to need to hit the 757 hard (and for once I'd like to see a heavier VT presence in the 703), along with bringing in new territories we don't venture out much to exploit.

So while you could, yes, conceivably see a greater upside on the back end? The immediate future could be pretty bleak and require some patience. By discarding Foster and the whole staff, you're also going to infuriate part of the fanbase- the former Beamer Retentionists have become the Foster Promotionists. So while one section of the fanbase would be happy to see some fresh faces and new thoughts, the other section would most definitely not be. Again, that's the longer term play. But if it goes south, would both the coach and the AD that hired him live to tell the tale? That you can't be sure of at all.

Option 3: Hire RichRod (WHY?!)

I'm going to include this because the pervasiveness of this rumor is getting on my nerves. I know it makes some sense. Whit's a friend of RichRod's back in the WVU days. I get that. You can't trash Babcock for Loyalty at the same time you praise Foster for his. You can't deny his offenses have had success in the past- Steve Slaton, Pat White, Noel Divine, and Denard Robinson (at least to start)? Yeah, all RichRod.  But the problem right now is that Richard Rodriguez is an unacceptable poison to the VAST majority of the fanbase. I can't give you a percentage, but I can guarantee that whatever side you were on before or post retirement? You're united with the other side in your mutual distaste for RichRod. He's not a huge recruiting upgrade; he's had NCAA violations at Michigan; and the way he handled his exit at WVU and now his job-hopping propensity make him the coaching version of a mercenary.

You're bringing him in to either be a bridge coach- to what, who knows- or you're bringing him for long term. And while winning heals a lot of wounds, real or perceived, I'm not convinced that RichRod can do major winning anymore. He pretty much crashed and burned his way out of Michigan, spent a year in CBS purgatory, and then got the Arizona job and while that's all good and well, he's not done stellar things with it- can't be argued he's gone farther than we have with a program with less prestige, though (Editor's Note: He just beat the #10 Team in the country, Utah, just after this was posted). Look, I'm very much in the #justsaynotoRichRod camp. I think it'd really be a cruddy way to cap the Beamer retirement with hiring a mercenary that doesn't do anything that Virginia Tech has come to stand for. But there are understandable reasons why Whit would hire Rodriguez, at least from his end. The issue is that it would feel like a betrayal of both the staff and the fanbase. If you have Foster stay under RichRod? Maybe it'd feel better. But it would sure be bittersweet.

Option 4: Hire some offensive-minded coach that would retain Foster

This would be Whit trying to keep everyone rowing in the same direction as much as possible. Keep the defensive staff at what they're good at, hire an offensive-minded head coach that doesn't have a defensive preference, and try and merge both new and old. I think this is why the Chad Morris rumors have as much leg as they do- Morris is an offensive guy not overly tied to his staff, he comes from the ACC as Clemson's offensive coordinator, he recruits well, and he'd be an addition to the value of the team. Of course, that's going to get awkward in the staff if it happens, but if you could swing it, it might be worth it. Granted, it'll cause some grumbling- putting in a guy over THE guy will always cause a ruckus- but it might be the potentially best COMPROMISE candidacy. That's what wins elections, right? Well. That's what most think. I still know there's going to be grumbling. but at least it would be understandable in the end. But there still could be egos and perspectives that clash from the old and new world that would lead to a staff conflict that might sink the program into further ignominy.

I personally empathize with Whit. This is no easy decision- if Foster were the guy, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Something, whatever it is, is holding Babcock back from making that decision. I'll trust him right now in his insinuation that it wouldn't be the best move. But the problem is I don't think you can make a move where you win. I think that whatever move you make, you're falling down the hole somewhere. Here's hoping that in this final round he'll have pulled the lever on an unlighted space. Because I don't want to know what's down that hole.