James Johnson has been fired as head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies men's basketball team on Monday after two turbulent seasons at the helm.
Official word of Johnson's dismissal came from the Hokies' official website, which included a statement from athletics director Whit Babcock in its official press release:
I want to thank Coach Johnson for his dedication and hard work for our university and our basketball program over the past seven years. A change of this significance affects many people and is never taken lightly, but I felt a change and a new direction was necessary for the long term, best interest of our department.
Johnson will have a concluding press conference on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Shott Media Center to bring an official end to his tenure. The coach went just 22-41 overall in two seasons, and a horrendous 6-30 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
This is an unfortunate and unexpected turn for Johnson, who got the feeling he'd return for the 2014-15 season after losing to Miami (FL) 57-53 in the first round of the ACC tournament, per the Associated Press' Hank Kurz Jr:
I'm sure we'll sit down and talk and continue to evaluate the program, me and where we go from here...I'm optimistic that I'll be back and I'll be the head coach here at Virginia Tech and I look forward to coaching these young men and us moving forward.
David Teel of the Daily Press noted how Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga backed Johnson as the long-term Hokies coach, having worked with him on the same staff at George Mason:
But a 9-22 season was evidently enough to seal Johnson's fate after he went 13-19 in his maiden campaign. Brian Hamilton of SI.com implied that Johnson didn't get a fair shake—and that whoever follows him may not either, due to the relatively short leash he was given:
Current ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg was Johnson's predecessor and struggled to recruit top-tier talent to Blacksburg, which resulted in just one NCAA tournament appearance in his nine seasons. That problem has persisted for Virginia Tech, as many top prospects opt to go to ACC rivals.
Greenberg had Johnson on his staff as an assistant beginning in 2007, which made Johnson an ideal candidate to take the head job next. The Hokies had at least been a fixture in the NIT under Greenberg, but Johnson was unable to even get to that level in his brief stead.
There wasn't much time for Johnson to get the ball rolling, and his preferred up-tempo style was a difficult sell against the premium athletes he faced within the conference. Having said that, the results weren't good enough to justify keeping him.
The Hokies are searching for an immediate replacement, per the press release, and need a strong recruiter and a more authoritative figure to get their program back on track. Right now, it's trending in the wrong direction. Babcock just arrived at Virginia Tech in January after serving as athletics director at the University of Cincinnati; it's pretty clear he's seeking a quick turnaround.
This is a big first move by Babcock, but more important is who he can bring in next to pull Virginia Tech out of the ACC basement.
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