Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Instincts lead Jim Weaver to roll the dice with familiar hire

BLACKSBURG -- Let's say you're playing blackjack. Dealer has a 6 showing. And the guy next to you has 16.

"Hit me," the guy says.

"You sure?" the dealer asks. "Just so you know, the book says..."

"I know what the book says," the guy says.

"Don't do it!" you say, trying to be helpful. "It's not anything close to the conventional play!"

"Hit me!"

Hit me. So says Virginia Tech athletics director Jim Weaver. Flip the card. Let's see what we've got here. Best guess is it's a 5 all the way.

Let's call this Tech women's basketball coaching hire what it is: A gut move. A play from the heart. A roll of the dice -- by all the parties involved.

Please don't take this the wrong way. Dennis Wolff could wind up being one heck of a hire for the Tech women's basketball program. In fact, I hope he is. He was refreshingly human at his introductory press conference Tuesday. He said he understands all the questions about his lack of experience in the women's game (none). He understands the confusion surrounding this hire, gets the fact that he hasn't done this before, can relate to the people who want to know why the heck he's up there on that podium.

Like his predecessor, he will be very easy to pull for.

But can he win more than she did?

Weaver thinks Wolff will. And by golly, there's not a single stat or axiom that will make him change his mind. Wolff is the man to bring the fans back to Cassell Coliseum, he figures, just like they came a decade ago.

"I think he's the guy," Weaver said. "If I didn't think he could do that, I wouldn't have hired him. It's that simple."

It really is that simple. Money was not a factor. Whoever was going to be hired was going to be paid the same amount that Wolff is -- a base salary of $234,486 and the usual accoutrements. That's more than enough to lure a mid-major women's coach who's won a few games in the NCAA tournament.

But instead of interviewing the up-and-comers, Weaver went in-house for a man who was on Seth Greenberg's staff as director of basketball operations. Weaver liked Wolff's energy. He liked the fact that Wolff was a team player. He liked the fact that Wolff got along with everybody on the administrative and team levels.

"That's something I couldn't see from all of those other candidates," Weaver said, noting that he had numerous agents calling and touting their clients. "I might have gone out and hired Jane Doe from someplace, but I don't know her like I know him, as a result of him being here this year. That isn't a hire of convenience. That is doing your homework. And it just so happened that logistically he was here.

"Now, it could have just as easily not come across the way it did, and we wouldn't have gone that way," Weaver said. "But I can tell you this: He is a terrific human being, and he has a great respect for the Hokie athletic family and what it stands for, and he will do the very best job he can. I think he's the best guy -- best person -- at this moment in time."

What do you say to that? This is a man who's hired Greenberg and Pete Hughes -- two terrific choices. And while he might have whiffed on Beth Dunkenberger, a sentimental hire with strong program ties, now he's just going with his instincts.

"It's part of what it is," Weaver said. "It's part of how I make my decisions. When I'm comfortable with it in my gut, I go to sleep at night. And I'm comfortable. And I believe that the Hokie Nation will be very pleased."

Soon enough, it'll be time to flip that card. Five or bust? Weaver's willing to take that chance either way.

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