New Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson knows well how important an assistant coaching staff can be in Blacksburg. After all, it was his departure from Seth Greenberg’s staff that ultimately spurred Hokies Athletic Director Jim Weaver to fire Greenberg two weeks ago and give Johnson his first-ever head coaching gig.
Weaver cited the lack of a “family environment” within the program as one of the main reasons for making the change. So it was no surprise Thursday when Johnson officially announced he had hired Navy associate head coach Kurt Kanaskie, College of Charleston’s Mark Byington and Ohio assistant Ramon Williams as his assistant coaches that previous relationships and local southwest Virginia ties had a large impact on his choices.
Johnson worked with Kanaskie when both served under Coach Ed DeChellis at Penn State (2003-05), and also shared an office with Byington, a Salem, Va. native, during their one year together at College of Charleston. Williams is a Roanoke native who starred at VMI.
“These three coaches will bring a lot of things to the table,” Johnson said in a school-issued statement. “They have experience, youth, and energy. They are all very good coaches and all have been a part of some very good programs that have advanced to post-season play and competed in the NCAA Tournament. They are experienced recruiting up and down the Eastern Seaboard. We will be able to cover from New Jersey, all the way down to Florida, as well as some Midwest connections. We are excited to get going.”
Perhaps more important for Johnson, a first-year head coach known for his prowess on the recruiting trail, is that both Kanaskie and Byington have experience leading a program.
Kanaskie, 54, followed DeChellis from Penn State to Navy last year and served as the head coach at Drake for seven seasons (1997-2003), compiling a record of 62-136. He was, however, a very successful head coach at the Division II level at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Lock Haven.
Kanaskie, the ninth-leading scorer in La Salle history, was an eighth-round draft pick by the Golden State Warriors in 1980.
“He is a very experienced and knowledgeable basketball coach,” Johnson said of Kanaskie. “He is outstanding on the court, in recruiting and has a great relationship with players.”
Byington, 38, was named the interim head coach at College of Charleston in January when Bobby Cremins stepped down because of health concerns. He led the Cougars to a 7-4 record before losing in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament.
Byington was a finalist for the permanent job, but College of Charleston ultimately hired former Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik. Byington, noted for his work with perimeter players, had spent the past nine seasons at College of Charleston, the last six as Cremins’s associate head coach.
Byington starred at Salem High, which is less than an hour from Virginia Tech, and previously worked as an assistant coach at Hargrave Military Academy and director of basketball operations at Virginia in 2004-05. He was also a three-year starter at UNC Wilmington.
“Mark Byington is a young, energetic and enthusiastic coach and I’m thrilled to have him join our staff,” Johnson said. “He is a local guy from Salem, Va., and knows the ACC area. He has a lot of contacts in this area of the country and is an outstanding recruiter.”
Williams, 44, comes to Virginia Tech after three years at Ohio, where he helped the Bobcats reach the Sweet 16 this past season. He has also reached the postseason as an assistant coach during previous stops at DePaul and Richmond.
Williams is known for developing guards, like Ohio’s D.J. Cooper, and still holds VMI program records for three-point field goals in a game and single-season three-point field goal percentage.
“He is a young man who has Virginia ties and Virginia roots,” Johnson said of Williams. “He was an extremely good player at VMI and has coached with some outstanding coaches in some very good programs. He has coached at the highest level while at DePaul and did a great job with John Groce at Ohio, as they made a run to the Sweet 16. He was an integral part of recruiting those players and with the on-the-court coaching.”