Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz WilliamsPosted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014
When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.
Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.
For Babcock, it was a major coup in his inaugural year on the job. Virginia Tech has long been a football school, and while its basketball team has seen marginal success over the years (postseason appearances for eight of 10 years in the 1970s and ‘80s, and a semi-recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007), it has also seen a steady drop in attendance for the past eight seasons. The fan base, frankly, has become completely disinterested. The 22-41 two-year tenure of James Johnson, who was hardly a splash hire after Seth Greenberg’s ouster, did nothing to invigorate fans who’d rather just wait for Hokies football. But if Williams’ public relations campaign, which included an appearance on TNT during live studio NCAA Tournament coverage soon after news broke, and a pep rally of sorts attended by roughly 2,000 fans in Cassell Coliseum on Monday, is any indication, Virginia Tech has restored some of the interest and enthusiasm for its basketball team again.
There will undoubtedly be growing pains, as Williams inherits an uninspiring roster that has spent the past several years in the cellar and the conference stands to improve at the top with Louisville’s inclusion. Of course, Williams will also have to compete in a crowded state with Tony Bennett’s resurrected Virginia program in addition to the impressive program Shaka Smart has built at VCU. To Virginia Tech basketball fans, however, patience no longer seems like a waste of time. Buzz Williams is a big-name hire that immediately makes the Hokies worth watching, something Virginia’s other ACC college basketball team hasn’t been able to boast for quite some time.