Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: In firing Greenberg so suddenly, Tech's timing was off

Who's next?

BLACKSBURG - Once they decided next season would change nothing, Virginia Tech administrators had to make this move immediately.

Too bad they couldn't come to their conclusion earlier, though. Athletic director Jim Weaver could have and should have handled this better.

The timing of Seth Greenberg's surprise firing on Monday was brutal in almost every sense. On a basketball level, we're right in the middle of recruiting season and Tech has nobody available to recruit.

In a purely human sense, the execution of the ouster was unnecessarily bizarre.

Tech sent out an email at 11:37 a.m. Monday announcing the 4 p.m. news conference. About 1:30 p.m., Weaver said, Greenberg was told that he'd been fired. That timeline simply fit the schedule best, the AD said.

Really? The guy's worked here nine years. Shouldn't he at least be the first to know?

That's very unlike Weaver, who, regardless of what you think of him, tends to deal with people in a straight-forward manner. That tells you that the relationship had to have become more strained than we'd thought.

Weaver had good reason to be concerned about the assistants' exodus. He said James Johnson, who departed for Clemson even after Tech offered to match the Tigers' financial package, told him explicitly it wasn't about the money. Draw your own conclusions.

Greenberg can't be easy for everyone to work for. He's high-strung, bombastic, passionate, demanding and outspoken. All are attributes that made him the perfect man for the job about six years ago, when Tech was trying to gain a basketball foothold.

The Hokies needed a spokesman, a media lightning rod who wouldn't back down from the high-profile coaches in the ACC, and they had one. If Greenberg turned off a booster or two with his sideline histrionics, it was a worthwhile trade-off.

The Hokies were visibly getting better back then. And they were getting the right kind of attention, largely thanks to their coach.

But no longer. As the program plateaued, those Type-A characteristics became harder to shrug off. Greenberg's players gave maximum effort for him, but it still wasn't enough to get Tech to the NCAAs. The offense struggled. Attendance started to sag. Fans began to grow restless.

Other things began to matter more.

For Weaver, the most important of those was what he termed "the family environment" of the athletic department. His epiphany came a week ago, when the department held its annual in-house workshop for full-time staff members. Weaver looked around the room at the Merriman Center and saw the camaraderie he seeks from the other teams on campus - but not from the hoops program.

And that was it. He sat down with associate athletic director Tom Gabbard. They discussed it. They decided.

Weaver wants a coach who wins games and, just as important, gets along well with others inside and outside the program, leading to staff continuity. Essentially, he wants to find a Frank Beamer in an Armani suit.

"I'd take that," Weaver said. "Wouldn't you?"

Yes. I've been on record saying I thought Greenberg deserved one more year, one more opportunity to mold a young squad with potential into an NCAA tournament team. He's done a lot of good in Blacksburg.

But once Weaver decided that Greenberg would not be his long-term coach - that he would not extend Greenberg's contract, which had four years remaining, at the end of next season regardless of any improvement shown - it was best to do it now.

The Hokies couldn't afford a situation like they had in their women's basketball program, where Beth Dunkenberger was allowed to finish out her contract essentially as a lame-duck. Everything suffers that way. Recruiting. Fan interest. Everything.

But the best time to do this would have been at the end of last season. That would have allowed Greenberg to get on to his next professional stop more quickly, given Tech a deeper pool of coaching candidates and provided the new hire more time to become immersed in the Tech athletic culture.

If the family atmosphere was one of the keys to this decision, Weaver had nine years to determine whether Greenberg could engender that.

It shouldn't have taken three assistants leaving to drive the message home.

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