James Johnson poised to become Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach


Virginia Tech associate head basketball coach James Johnson applauds during the team's game against Boston College in Blacksburg, Va. (Michael Shroyer/AP)

Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver said one of the big reasons he fired former coach Seth Greenberg last week had to do with his three assistants leaving Blacksburg for other jobs. On Monday, Weaver tapped one of those assistants to be Greenberg’s successor.

Two weeks after leaving Blacksburg for a similar job at Clemson, former assistant James Johnson will be named Virginia Tech’s next head men’s basketball coach, according to a person in the athletic department with direct knowledge of the situation.

Weaver could not confirm Johnson’s hiring when reached Monday afternoon because there is “one more step in my process” before an announcement related to the coaching search could be made. He did, however, add that he expected to hold a news conference Tuesday or Wednesday “at the latest.”

Johnson, 40, worked under Greenberg for five years and was elevated to associate head coach last offseason. But his departure spurred Weaver’s decision to end Greenberg’s nine-year run as head coach last Monday. Johnson had been Virginia Tech’s best recruiter in recent seasons, reeling in current players such as redshirt sophomore Cadarian Raines and freshmen C.J. Barksdale and Robert Brown.

Though Johnson received a 25 percent pay raise by moving to Clemson, Weaver said he told Johnson he planned to match the Tigers’ offer of $190,000. Weaver revealed that Johnson said his decision was about more than money.

In addition to Johnson, Greenberg also saw assistants Rob Ehsan and John Richardson leave for similar jobs at UAB and Old Dominion, respectively, an offseason development that Weaver said last week “sat wrong with me.”

When news of Johnson’s ascension to head coach broke Monday morning, several Virginia Tech players had already begun celebrating the move on Twitter. Leading scorer Erick Green tweeted, “I’ll be back next year,” after telling reporters last Monday that he would wait until a new coach was hired to decide whether to transfer to another school for his senior season.

Johnson could also help the Hokies keep their two 2012 commitments — Hargrave Military Academy forward Montrezl Harrell and Rustburg, Va., forward Marshall Wood — because both have reportedly been exploring their options since Greenberg’s dismissal last week. Johnson was Wood’s primary recruiter.

Virginia Tech associate athletic director for compliance Tim Parker said Monday that Wood has asked for a release from his national letter-of-intent and that it would be granted in the coming days. However, Wood’s father has spoken with Weaver and associate athletic director Tom Gabbard, who oversees the men’s basketball program, about the situation in the past week and there is a possibility he could still decide to go to Virginia Tech. Parker said Harrell has not officially requested a release from his national letter of intent.

Prior to joining Greenberg’s staff in 2007, Johnson worked under Coach Jim Larranaga at George Mason when the Patriots made a run to the Final Four in 2006. He has also served as an assistant coach at Penn State, College of Charleston, Elon, Old Dominion, Longwood and Hargrave Military Academy. In addition, Johnson was a three-year starter at Ferrum College and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2009.

Two years ago, Johnson interviewed for the head coaching job at Gardner-Webb, and Greenberg had previously described his former assistant as “a head coach waiting to happen.” Johnson will be the lone head coach in the ACC next year without any prior head coaching experience.

Johnson’s hiring falls right in line with Weaver’s recent penchant for promoting from within. Last year he chose the director of men’s basketball operations, Dennis Wolff, to take over the women’s basketball program. He also has elevated an assistant to head coaching positions with Virginia Tech’s men’s soccer, women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse programs over the past three years.

Johnson becomes the only African American head coach at Virginia Tech.

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