Virginia Tech will officially announce the hiring of James Johnson as the new head men’s basketball coach Tuesday during a 2 p.m. news conference, an event during which Hokies fans will be re-introduced to a familiar face.
Just two weeks ago, Johnson decided to leave his post as associate head coach in Blacksburg for a job working under Clemson Coach Brad Brownell. At that point, Johnson likely had no idea his exit interview with Weaver would both spur the end of Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg’s nine-year tenure and allow Johnson to achieve his dream of one day becoming a head coach.
Johnson’s transition will be smoother because of the five years he spent working under Greenberg here. He understands the realities of playing second fiddle to the Hokies football program and how difficult it can be to lure players to southwest Virginia. He also has the respect of many in the athletic department, certainly a key factor in his ascension to head coach.
But Johnson will be faced with some immediate challenges that could define his time as coach at Virginia Tech. How he deals with them will help determine whether Johnson is able to improve upon what Greenberg built or if the program will take a step back under a first-time head coach. Here are three issues Johnson will have to manage right off the bat.
1. Win the news conference
There will be no getting around the awkwardness of Johnson being hired to replace his old boss, especially because Johnson’s departure ultimately hastened Greenberg’s firing last week. Not to mention, of the past 26 ACC hires, 24 had been a head coach somewhere else before getting the job.
Weaver, who is taking a chance by giving an assistant coach his first head coaching gig in the ACC , already stumbled some a week ago with his handling of Greenberg’s dismissal. Johnson won’t be able to convince everyone he was the right choice in one day, but he must show the sort of humble charisma in the coming days that made him endearing to Virginia Tech in the first place.
2. Hire a top-notch staff
Johnson, 40, will be the only head coach in the ACC next year without any prior head coaching experience before joining the league. To address that inexperience, Johnson must hire a veteran assistant coaching staff that can both recruit and be a crutch on the sideline as he acclimates to the rigors of this new job.
A good example would be what North Carolina State Coach Mark Gottfried did a year ago when he brought in former Charlotte Coach Bobby Lutz to be his lead assistant, a move that Wolfpack fans have praised in regards to Gottfried’s successful first season. A logical choice for Johnson would be former Duquesne coach Ron Everhart, a Virginia Tech graduate who’s looking for a job at the moment . There are other options out there as well, but Johnson would be wise to hire at least one assistant with prior head coaching experience.
3. Get back the recruits
Part of the reason Johnson’s hiring makes sense is because of the continuity it provides the Hokies in regards to their roster and the recruiting trail. Johnson was known as a strong recruiter, and he’s very popular with many of the current players. It appears none will transfer to other schools now that Johnson has been hired.
But 2012 commitments Montrezl Harrell and Marshall Wood have been exploring their options since Greenberg’s firing, and Wood has officially requested a release from his national letter of intent. Johnson’s job will be to get them back on board, while also re-connecting with Virginia Tech’s 2013 targets that are probably wondering what happened to Greenberg. The Hokies have a solid nucleus returning next year that should help Johnson in the short term, but a quick transition on the recruiting trail will make his job a lot easier in the long term.