BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver was standing in front of his entire department last Wednesday for an annual workshop when he decided that his men’s basketball program needed a change of direction.
“It just hit me,” Weaver said.
On Monday, Weaver moved forward with that gut feeling, firing Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg after nine seasons but only one NCAA tournament appearance.
Weaver cited the recent upheaval in Greenberg’s coaching staff and the lack of continuity within the program as the main reasons for making the decision after telling The Post in February that Greenberg’s job security “wasn’t even a topic” at that point.
In the past month, two of Greenberg’s assistants and his director of basketball operations left for similar jobs at other programs. According to a person familiar with the situation, Greenberg’s lone remaining assistant, John Richardson, was also in negotiations last week to join the staff at Old Dominion. Coach Blaine Taylor announced Monday evening that Richardson had been hired by the Monarchs.
It was the second time in three years Greenberg had to fill at least two spots on his coaching staff during the offseason.
“I don’t like coaches leaving an ACC program where we have constantly got to replenish all of our staff. I can certainly understand some coaches leaving, but to have as many leave as we had sat wrong with me,” Weaver said at a news conference on Monday. “It had nothing to do with losing, it had nothing to do with NCAA appearances. It had something to do with people leaving.”
“I want to change the leadership such that the person at the top of that program has the same kind of family environment that the other part of our department has,” he later added. “And it became crystal clear last week when I closed our workshop, that we didn’t have that in the men’s basketball program, especially with people leaving.”
Greenberg finished his nine-year tenure in Blacksburg with the second-most wins in program history, compiling a 170-123 record and earning two ACC coach of the year awards (2005 and 2008). The Long Island native helped shepherd the Hokies into the ACC, but Virginia Tech qualified for the NCAA tournament just once and finished with a 16-17 record this past season, just the second time Virginia Tech finished with a below-.500 record under Greenberg.
Weaver said he and associate athletic director Tom Gabbard, who oversees the men’s basketball program, came to the conclusion that even if Greenberg had been given another year, they had no plans to extend his contract any further. They felt with at least three staff vacancies to fill, this was the appropriate time to move in another direction.
But Greenberg was caught off-guard by Monday’s firing. When reached by telephone after news first broke about an afternoon news conference late Monday morning, Greenberg was hosting a recruit on campus and even joked with a Washington Post reporter.
“I’m still employed, so I don’t think it’s about me,” he said.
Weaver said he informed Greenberg of his decision around 1:30 p.m., nearly two hours after calling the news conference.
“I would say it’s very safe to say he was shocked,” Weaver said.
Greenberg did not immediately respond to a message asking for comment after Virginia Tech made the announcement.
Greenberg had four years remaining on his contract, and a buyout clause calls for him to make $300,000 each year for the duration of the deal. If he takes a job in television or another coaching gig, Virginia Tech will still have to pay him the difference in salary.
Greenberg and Virginia Tech’s administration had increasingly been at odds in recent years, according to multiple people familiar with the situation within the athletic department.
On one hand, his abrasive demeanor rubbed too many people within the department the wrong way over the years. Greenberg, meanwhile, felt part of the reason so many of his assistants had left his staff of late was because of a lack of financial commitment from the athletic department. After lead assistant James Johnson departed for Clemson two weeks ago, Weaver responded by raising Virginia Tech’s assistant coaching salary pool last week.
Firing Greenberg this late in the offseason leaves Virginia Tech in a precarious spot. Recruiting is in full swing, and rising senior Erick Green — the team’s leading scorer in 2011-12 — told reporters that he would wait until a new coach is hired before deciding whether or not to transfer.
Weaver said the search for Greenberg’s replacement will begin Tuesday and that he has been in touch with “some of the bigger names” in college basketball circles. He added that he would be open to hiring a veteran head coach, an inexperienced head coach or an up-and-coming assistant.
But as he walked out the door from his news conference, Weaver made it clear the sort of continuity he’s in search of when a reporter asked if it was as simple as looking for “Frank Beamer in sneakers,” a reference to the school’s highly successful football coach who will begin his 26th season in Blacksburg next fall.
“I’d take that,” Weaver said with a grin. “Wouldn’t you?”