Friday, April 22, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Coaching diversity a gray area for Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver

BLACKSBURG -- There won't be many more hires. If Jim Weaver has his way, there wouldn't be any. His best-case scenario would have all the head coaches currently at Virginia Tech thriving at least until Dec. 31, 2015 -- the date Weaver plans to retire when his contract runs out as athletic director.

When it comes to his army of coaches, continuity matters to Weaver. Race and gender do not -- at least to the point where he'd make a hiring decision largely for diversity's sake.

That's evident in the raw makeup of Tech's head coaches. All are white. Only two are women.

It became even more obvious last month, when Weaver made perhaps the final high-profile hire of his tenure: women's basketball coach Dennis Wolff. In a sport filled with qualified female and minority candidates, Weaver raised eyebrows by opting for a white man with no experience coaching the women's game.

Weaver does not apologize for this, nor should he. Not yet anyway. The success or failure of Wolff will be decided on the court over a span of several years.

Still, Weaver knows he's opened himself up for criticism here -- both on the experience front and in the homogeneity of his staff as a whole.

"Right now if you look at our head coaches, yeah, I see that," Weaver said in an interview Thursday. "I see there's white males.

"I understand that women need to have women coaches in the program, but I don't think they always have to be head coaches. This is one of those cases where I felt we had the right person at the moment in time, right here. Now he's hired two black females to be assistant coaches, so we have diversity, no question about it."

It's important to note that the Tech sports that would be the most logical fits for female head coaches have enjoyed success with men at the helm. Scot Thomas, who was on staff before Weaver got here in 1997, guided the softball team to the Women's College World Series just three years ago. Dave Cianelli, whom Weaver named director of track and field and cross country nine years ago, was the ACC women's indoor and outdoor track coach of the year in '08.

Volleyball (Chris Riley), women's soccer (Charles "Chugger" Adair) and swimming and diving (Ned Skinner) also are led by men. Terry Ann Zawacki-Woods (women's tennis) and Megan Burker (women's lacrosse) are Tech's only female head coaches, but Weaver says he's comfortable with that.

"I've been around women's athletics a long time, and I will tell you this. If you would do a survey of women student-athletes, you would probably find that at least 50 percent or more want to be coached by a male," Weaver said. "Now, I don't know why that is, but I know that that's true. ... When you can put together a combination of males and females and get the diversity that's needed to be successful, that's what it's really all about. And that's what we've tried to do here at Virginia Tech. And I have tried to do that my entire career."

Kelly Cagle was the women's soccer coach for eight years, ending her Tech tenure in 2010 with a third straight NCAA tournament appearance. When she decided to leave, the job went to Adair, who'd been the associate head coach for that sport for five years.

"Kelly Cagle's recommendation was Chugger Adair," Weaver said. "The kids wanted Chugger Adair. The recruits -- for not one, but two years out -- wanted Chugger Adair to stay. [Senior associate director of athletics] Sharon McCloskey supervises that sport, and she's the one that brought all that information to me. So if she's going to tell me all those different things, we're going to go with it."

With Wolff, Weaver went more with his own gut, relying on a relationship forged over a year of watching him work as director of men's basketball operations under coach Seth Greenberg. It's far from the first time he's chosen the "familiar" hire, but race or gender has had nothing to do with it.

"The very first person I hired when I got the AD job at UNLV was a black male, because he was the right guy at the moment in time," said Weaver, referring to then-top administrative lieutenant Keith Tribble, now at Central Florida. "When we went into the UNLV situation, you needed to have a person you could trust that you knew. We worked together for almost 10 years at the University of Florida, so there was a commonality of purpose."

Weaver, noting that there are a number of women and minorities in Tech's administrative positions (and racially diverse coaching staffs in football and men's basketball), says he sees a similar commonality of purpose with the people he works with in Blacksburg. It's the reason Tech's staff continuity has been strong, something that's a major source of pride for Weaver.

And Wolff -- regardless if he were black, white, male or female -- got the job largely because Weaver thinks he can contribute to that positive atmosphere.

"If you walk down our hall and stick your head in the rooms, you will see a woman, a woman, a woman, a black woman -- we are addressing the diversity issue," Weaver said. "But at the same time, we have an obligation to do what's the very best thing for our department at the moment in time.

"Time will tell, but I think it's going to prove itself to be a very solid hire."

And if he has his way, one of his last.

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