Virginia Tech fired men’s basketball coach James Johnson after two seasons and will begin a national search for his replacement, new Athletic Director Whit Babcock announced Monday.
Johnson compiled a 22-41 record leading the program, which finished its worst season (9-22) since 1955 after a loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC tournament. The Hokies won just one of their final 18 games and finished in last place in the ACC for the third straight season.
“A change of this significance affects many people and is never taken lightly, but I felt a change and a new direction was necessary for the long term, best interest of our department,” Babcock said in a statement. He took over the athletic department last month after Jim Weaver retired in December.
Johnson had spent the past seven years at Virginia Tech, the first five as an assistant to former coach Seth Greenberg. Following the 2011-12 campaign, he left Blacksburg, Va., for a similar position working under Clemson Coach Brad Brownell and a $45,000 raise that Weaver agreed to match.
Johnson’s departure helped convince Weaver to fire Greenberg in April 2012, and Weaver then hired Johnson back as head coach a week later in hopes of stabilizing the program. It was Johnson’s first head coaching job at any level of basketball. But forward Dorian Finney-Smith transferred to Florida and forward Montrezl Harrell asked out of his commitment to Virginia Tech and went to Louisville. Both are expected to be significant contributors in the NCAA tournament this week.
With just seven scholarship players, Johnson’s first year began with seven straight wins, and former point guard Erick Green led the nation in the scoring. But the Hokies stumbled to a 13-19 record.
Johnson went 6-32 overall against ACC competition and had losing streaks of nine or more games during both seasons.
Virginia Tech opened this year with a loss to South Carolina Upstate and later was upset by UNC Greensboro at home during nonconference play. As the program tumbled from being in the annual NCAA tournament bubble discussion to the cellar of the ACC, attendance at Cassell Coliseum dropped by nearly half since Greenberg’s last season, when the team also finished in a tie for last place.
Johnson had three years remaining on his contract, and his buyout could cost nearly $800,000 depending on his future employment. He becomes just the fifth coach in ACC history to be fired after just two seasons or fewer on the job.
Babcock will hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss his decision. He announced last week that the school would retain women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff after a 12th-place finish in the ACC.