RALEIGH, N.C. — Virginia Tech has hired Marquette’s Buzz Williams to be its next men’s basketball coach, Athletic Director Whit Babcock announced Friday evening.
Williams is coming off a disappointing 17-15 campaign, but he led Marquette to five straight NCAA tournament appearances before this season and compiled a 139-69 overall record at the Milwaukee school. Last year, he led the Golden Eagles to the Elite Eight after winning the Big East regular season title.
“It’s never easy to leave a great school like Marquette, where I spent seven wonderful years, six as the head coach,” Williams said in a statement. “But this is a special situation to work at a place like Virginia Tech. I’ve heard tremendous things about this terrific institution, and this is an outstanding opportunity to build a program. My family and I look forward to becoming a part of this great university and community, and taking on the challenges associated in succeeding in the ACC.”
Williams replaces former Coach James Johnson, who was fired by Babcock on Monday after two seasons. He will inherit a program that just completed its worst season since 1955, the third straight year the Hokies have finished in last place in the ACC.
During a Tuesday news conference detailing his decision to hire a new men’s basketball coach just a month into his tenure at Virginia Tech, Babcock said he would look into high-profile coaching options but insisted he did not have a candidate “in my hip pocket.”
However, it took Babcock just four days to find a new coach, similar to when he lured football coach Tommy Tuberville away from Texas Tech in 2012 when he was the athletic director at Cincinnati.
“I am extremely excited about welcoming Buzz Williams to the Hokie Nation,” Babcock said in a statement. “Buzz is a proven winner who has earned his way up through the ranks with a strong track record of success. I am confident he will energize our fan base and help make Virginia Tech Basketball competitive in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I know he will recruit at the highest level.”
One person who spoke with a Virginia Tech official Thursday about Williams’s impending move said Williams plans to bring some of his staff from Marquette to Blacksburg, Va., but that he had already begun looking into hiring an assistant with recruiting ties to the Washington-Baltimore corridor.
Williams’s decision to come to Southwest Virginia was surprising to some, particularly because he left a tradition-rich program in the Big East for a program that has qualified for the NCAA tournament just twice in the past 28 seasons.
Former Georgetown Coach John Thompson Jr., who watched Williams up close in the Big East, said the news “shocks the hell out of me.” But Thompson added he had little doubt Williams would be successful with the Hokies.
“Buzz is the kind of guy who you thought would be at Marquette forever,” Thompson said. “I think he’ll do well because of his personality. He’s so enthusiastic, and tactfully he’s very good.”
It’s unclear exactly why Williams chose to leave Marquette, but there had long been rumors that he and the school’s administration did not see eye-to-eye. His name had frequently been brought up during various coaching searches the past few offseasons.
ESPN reported that Williams signed a seven-year contract worth approximately $18 million, although no Virginia Tech official would confirm those figures.
If true, Williams took a pay cut after he earned approximately $2.8 million last year at Marquette, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It also means he would become Virginia Tech’s highest-paid employee, surpassing Hokies football Coach Frank Beamer, who earns a yearly $2.3 million salary.
Johnson made $680,000 annually and was the lowest-paid coach in the ACC.
Before arriving at Marquette in 2007, Williams spent one season as the head coach at New Orleans and previously served as an assistant at Texas A&M and Colorado State. He also served as an assistant coach at Marquette under former Coach Tom Crean.
Virginia Tech will hold a news conference Monday evening to formally introduce Williams.