Virginia Tech’s choke job in the ACC Tournament and abysmal strength of schedule may have cost the Hokies more than just a spot in the big dance.
Few people outside Big East basketball fans (although after Thursday’s tournament showing, there shouldn’t be many of them left either) will give a second glance to St. John’s University firing their basketball coach, Norm Roberts.
But if you’re a Hokie (like me) or a Virginia Tech fan in general, you should be paying attention. And worried.
Because at the top of St. John’s wishlist is very likely none other than our very own men’s basketball coach, Seth Greenberg. And if the whispers are true and St. John’s comes-a-callin’, Seth’s ears may not be entirely closed from listening.
Few people realize that Greenberg grew up in Plainfield, NY, less than one hour away from St. John’s main campus. He’s Long Island kid with a Brookyln attitude, about as warm and cuddly as a catcus, with a dry, biting wit that the New York media would absolutely eat up.
Greenberg’s teams are just as much a reflection of his bare-knuckle attitude. His teams may not be flashy and they certainly don’t win “pretty”, but you know that if you’re playing the Hokies, you’d better come to play for all 40 minutes. That’s why Greenberg’s teams have been embraced by the Hokie faithful: like Frank Beamer’s football teams, he gets tough, athletic guys who may have been passed over by some of the bigger schools, and gets them to play their ass off (that, and the fact that they actually win more games than they lose, a novel but brand new concept for men’s basketball in Blacksburg).
In a conference that’s a season-long slugfest amongst some of the toughest teams in the nation like the Big East, Greenberg has shown that he can build a team that’s not afraid to throw down and scrap with anyone. Like Tech, maybe he won’t turn St. John’s into a national contender, but at least teams will know that if they’re playing the Johnnies, you’re going to get punched in the mouth. Hard.
But the 64-thousand-dollar question is: Why would he leave Tech?
The biggest reason is, simply: no matter what anyone says, basketball is not revered anything close to how football is in Blacksburg. Tech fans are loyal and will always support their teams, but there’s a reason Blacksburg is considered “a drinking town with a football problem” (or vice-versa). In the school’s coaching hierarchy, Greenberg is beloved, but Beamer is worshiped. The common Tech sorority girl who knows absolutely nothing about football, other than it’s fun to go to Tech games completely hammered, will still know who Frank Beamer is; the same is can’t be said about Greenberg. Beamer can’t make the 30 yard walk from the parking lot to the team’s training facility without having no less than a dozen students ask for a photo with him; Greenberg can probably walk around campus for an entire day and maybe get a quarter of those same requests.
Greenberg would have a chance to go to a school with a long history of basketball success, and become the “big coach on campus” if he were to return St. John’s to respectability. Short of winning the national title in Blacksburg, as long as Beamer is around, Greenberg will always be second fiddle.
Greenberg may have resurrected Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball program from being laughably/butt-of-on-campus-jokes bad to being able to compete with the creme-dela-creme of the ACC, but at the end of the day, unlike Frank Beamer, he has no ties to this university. He’s not like Beamer, who played at Tech and has his number retired.
He may not smack of an over-inflated sense of self-worth or see himself as some coaching deity like a Rick Pitino or John Calipari, nor is he a turncoat money-chasing coaching vagrant like Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin. But at the end of the day, every coach has enough of an ego to where they want to be the “campus legend,” even a blue collar guy like Greenberg.
Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech’s athletic director (AD), has done everything he can to sabotage basketball in Blacksburg. Like in football, his inexplicable, petulant reluctance in scheduling any of the more competitive schools around the country – at his current rate, Weaver will start scheduling home-and-homes with Blacksburg High School – arguably cost the men’s team a spot in this year’s big dance. He already reportedly marched former women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson out of town, turning a team that was perennially in the top 25 and routinely outdrew the men in game attendance, into an afterthought.
If he has any sense left, and doesn’t want to see Cassell Coliseum relegated to being used for monster truck rally’s and Southwest Virginia rodeos, Weaver needs to do whatever it takes to keep Greenberg around. Otherwise, being the 66th or 67th selection in a 65 team event may be the closest we’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in quite some time.