BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg was sitting in a Charlotte hotel ballroom last month, holding court with reporters during the ACC’s annual media day, and seemed to be enjoying his sudden status as an elder statesman in a league that has seen eight of its men’s basketball programs change coaches in the past three years.
But then a question put Greenberg on the defensive: At another school, would he still have a job if he only made the NCAA tournament one time in eight years, like he has at Virginia Tech?
“I would hope so,” Greenberg shot back before mentioning that only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams have more ACC wins than him over the past five years and that he’s the fifth-winningest coach in the league. “I don’t think a lot of schools would pull the trigger on a two-time ACC coach of the year. A coach who took a team that was the worst program in the Big East and averaged 4,000 people per game and went to the ACC and became one of the winningest programs in the ACC and sells out every game. A coach that brought a four-hour infomercial to the campus in ‘College Gameday.’
“They don’t do that because I’m a good salesman,” he continued. “They do that because there’s respect in our program. Our people got it with Frank Beamer, and again I think our people understand that we’re graduating our guys, we’re winning games, we’re playing big games, and there’s certain things out of your control.”
Heading into his ninth season in Blacksburg, there is little doubt Greenberg has elevated the profile of Virginia Tech’s basketball program to heights it has not seen before. No coach in school history has won more games (154) without committing NCAA violations.
Led by guards Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson, the Hokies were picked to finish sixth in the ACC this season. Perhaps more important, though, is that the team expects to be more well-rounded this season even though two of the program’s greatest players — Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen — are now playing professionally in France.
And yet Greenberg still finds himself fighting for respect as Virginia Tech’s perpetual bubble status the past four years, and the emotional Selection Sunday rants that followed, have increasingly become what people associate with his program. Behind all his bluster, though, is a 55-year-old Long Island native just trying to do right by his players.
“My passion is driven by my genuine love and concern for my guys. My reaction to the NCAA situation was as much my hurt for them and my appreciation at the investment they made in our program and them not getting the chance to have that experience,” Greenberg said. “I’m gonna have that experience again, but they’re not gonna get another opportunity.”
It’s easy to forget that before Greenberg arrived from South Florida in 2003, the Hokies’ basketball program went 30-54 during their first three seasons competing in the Big East and hadn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 1995. They’ve won more than 20 games four of the past five years.
In recent years, the school has constructed a state-of-the-art practice facility and watched Cassell Coliseum turn into an intimidating road environment that routinely hosts sellout crowds. But as Athletic Director Jim Weaver said earlier this month when discussing the competitiveness Greenberg infused into the program, “People make the buildings work.”
Greenberg says he’s most proud of the brand he has created, one that helped Virginia Tech reel in this year’s five-member freshman class, which is ranked No. 12 in the country by ESPN and considered the best recruiting haul in program history. That’s in large part because of Greenberg’s tireless efforts, which are based on his core philosophy: “Recruiting is like shaving. If you miss a day, you look like a bum.”
“Greenberg was the reason I came to Virginia Tech. He came to my high school more than any other head coach,” said sophomore Jarell Eddie, a 6-foot-7 forward from Charlotte who chose the Hokies over Kentucky and is expected to play heavy minutes after senior J.T. Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. “He comes to you man-to-man and says this is what I need you to do. There’s a comfort you just have with him.”
The comfort is mutual. With the ACC expanding again, Greenberg enjoys being a voice of experience, although he has been quick to point out that support for Virginia Tech’s inclusion in the conference in 2003 was minimal because “everyone thought we would weaken the brand.”
That likely won’t be the case as long as Greenberg remains in Southwest Virginia. When asked if he’d be content to finish his career at Virginia Tech, Greenberg referenced his decision not to coach closer to his home town at St. John’s in 2010. “If I was gonna leave, I would have left then,” he said.
“We want to get to the Final Four, but it’s hard to get to the Final Four without making the tournament,” Greenberg added with a smirk. “That’s our Holy Grail, much like a national championship is with football. We’re not where we were, but we’re not where we want to be yet. I’m committed and I feel like I’m part of the fabric of the community and the university.”