Well the Buzz Williams minute has exhausted itself, and the hoopla over his decision to depart for other pastures seems to be fading a bit. His big reception in College Station, and his complete embrace of his new status should probably have come as no surprise, and it certainly should allow Hokie Nation to do a similar action in reverse. Now the obvious questions of how this happened, when did the AD know, and what happens from here are begged.
The first question is how did this happen? That is pretty obvious on its face (Williams decided to leave); but there is always a when and why buried in the how. As to the when, more than a few people who often refused to be more than an “anonymous source” offered their observations in the past months. They were increasing in volume after the Hokies reached the Top 10 in the polls, and the back current of speculation about the move started to be more than idle rumor. Those rumors also became more consistent. Usually idle speculation drops into the “more or less random story” category. This time the lines began to sharpen quickly. We kept hearing near variations of the same story by the end of January. All were pressing the “Buzz exiting shortly after the season ends, whenever it ends”. Only the broadness of the timeline of the decision was a variable. There were people who were pretty convinced that the “deal” was done last year and it was the problem of paying off the old coach and Buzz’s contract that became the sticking point and reason for the extra year. Given the rapidity of the move my gut tells me that this was, indeed, the case, but it’s only a gut feeling, and now it’s moot so my scalp doesn’t itch to tell you my opinion on it. Suffice it to say, as I look back at the season and see the speechifying and pep talks, it seems evident that Williams had checked out of Hokie Nation by New Year’s, and the coaching focus became largely organizational and individual, not institutional. The big ‘what’s next’ question mark remains with the Athletic Department and Whit Babcock, who seems to be in an odd position.
If the rumors were so obvious, and the AD to AD contact so ethereal, when did Whit know about this? Well at least when did Whit realize that ‘it’ was happening; that no amount of talking greater remuneration, and future commitments were being received? It really seems that given the serious gap in time between Williams’s departure and publicly identifying final candidates to replace him. Of course those sorts of negotiations usually take place among several parties including agents, ADs, and administration reps; all with accompanying barristers. The point is that Babcock should have known (even though publicly saying that he was Sgt. Schultz) about the probability of this happening. We have heard reports of counter offers and the like, but that’s really speculation at this point. Those kinds of negotiations are conducted in tiny groups behind closed doors and communications between the parties are often conducted in the dead of night (including transportation). It’s all pretty opaque and we are really unlikely to hear of the details until far after the process settles. Suffice it to say that Babcock probably knew and was not at liberty to discuss due to legal and contractual obligations. Given the tight lid on the information flow from this Athletic Department in general, I wouldn’t be surprised that finalized negotiations are underway for someone “out there”. Usually programs change basketball coaches pretty quickly once the balloon goes up. I am surprised that something hasn’t been announced at this writing. It’s Friday, so it would not surprise me to see an announcement of a new hire, either today or Monday. If it stretches beyond next week, then we will know that Whit was “blindsided” and had no backup plan.
The ‘what happens’ is not something that Hokie Nation is going to feel too good about. The current team structure is guaranteed to change (graduations aside), and given the permissive transfer policies and the usual recruiting commitment duck outs (2 so far from reports). The 2019-2020 Hokies are going to struggle. It might have been 20+ wins and a Sweet-16 date for us in 2019, but 2020 might be a very lucky trip to the NIT. That might not come true. A new coach might be just the tonic to sort out some things and push this current team and recruiting structure to the next level. That’s not probable, however. What is probable is a trip back to the rebuild bucket with limited success punctuated by fits and starts. Buzz Williams proved that this program could run up into the Top 20 and sustain it for a season. That’s a mixed blessing at this point. Rarely do coaches who reach the Sweet-16 voluntarily leave a program that they have been building. It’s risky to go restart the process somewhere else that is arguably a step back in league level (the SEC is not bad at hoops, it’s just that A&M is bad at hoops).
I guess the last question is what most of us would ask him if given the opportunity. Other that a tie to “Texas” where was the benefit in pulling the flush handle on a successful five year stint that could have lasted a decade or more? The opinion of at least three knowledgeable Hokie Fans, one of which is my eldest son, have given is that Williams is not a “Sustainer”. He’s motivated by the thrill of the chase and the rescuing of programs from the trash heap. Once done, he’s done and moves on. If you look at his five year recruiting record at both Marquette and Tech, you’ll notice that there was a precipitous drop of in the quality of the recruits, and a mismatch to the needs of the program. Tech has always needed at least 4 big men with 1 or two real trees in the mix. Williams’s teams always suffered from mediocre to poor rebounding, and struggles in the paint. We were solid at 3’s but shaky under the rim. Eventually you begin to pay for that.
Ultimately it’s not our concern as to whether or not Williams sticks with Texas A&M beyond his seeming five year limit. Maybe the move “home” will prove to be a turning point, but my capability for caring much sort of evaporated as the back door to Cassell barely missed connecting with his keyster on his way out... DARN IT!...
So, onward and forward for the Hokies.