2014: Hope for the Year of the Pearl

Here is the crux of what I'm going to try and explain my thoughts on; Virginia Tech should hire Bruce Pearl as it's next head basketball coach, this year or next. However, before I start in on that I want to provide some context about myself that I hope will illuminate for those that read this why I feel the way I do.

When I left VT/Blacksburg in 2008 a year after my graduation in 2007 to head down the road into east Tennessee to attend Grad School at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I left as someone who really didn't care at all about the basketball program. Having been a freshman in '03, football defined my sports affiliation with Virginia Tech and honestly my recollection is that the Women's team was generally a better performer than the Men's team. I partially chose UTK as my grad school based on their football history and their appearance in the 2007 SEC Title Game (which if they had won we'd have gotten our 2nd national title shot, and I think could have gotten the Crystal Football, but that's a separate topic). So frankly I was disappointed that during my tenure at UTK the football team was miserable and has continued to stay that way. There is a silver lining though, going to Tennessee introduced me to being able to enjoy college basketball. Thompson Boling Arena was a far more electric building than Neyland Stadium in my time there, and with the Lady Vols as the standard championships and excellence were the name of the game down there for basketball. I loved "The Summit" and Pat is a legend (and a really nice lady if you get to chat with her), but the one guy who entranced most of my grad program (Sports Management) was the head basketball coach, Bruce Pearl. This was a man that showed up to Lady Vol games painted orange, and was down with the students causing a ruckus court side for the home team. He made the Basketball Volunteers the big ticket discussion point around Knoxville which is a tough thing to do when football dominates most peoples' discussions and Pat Summit and her Lady Vols were THE basketball show in town for the past 30 years.

This brings me to the first question I think is worth raising about the VT basketball situation; What are our expectations for the team? We moved into the ACC in 04 and with Seth Greenberg had some decent years, but could never seem to make the NCAA Tournament and we frequently bowed out of the NIT despite #1 or #2 seeds. I believe there is no reason with our fan base and the general quality of our facilities (Cassell could use some renovation, but that new basketball practice facility is real nice), we shouldn't be a team competing to finish in the top half of a strong ACC, and we should be pushing for NCAA Tournament Bids. This was a big part of the reason Greenberg isn't the coach, he seemingly couldn't get the team over the hump. For a place with little basketball pedigree, we should still be a competitive team that has the opportunity to win the ACC or at the least be able to be in a position to play games that matter in deciding it for us, be that in the regular season or in the ACC Tournament.

Having established I believe our program should be A) Competitive in the upper half of our conference and B) Capable of winning conference championships, this leads me to my second question. Do we think James Johnson is the coach capable of getting us to that level of expectation? I don't believe that he is. I'm sure he's a nice person, and I have no doubt that he is working his hardest to help put a winning team on the court every game. Did he inherit a thin roster? Sure, and has the team been hampered by injury? Sure. However in watching this team the past 2 seasons, I cannot help but feel he has failed to fundamentally improve the product on the court. The team frequently plays with a lack of focus and execution at basic basketball tenants. I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about basketball as I am about football, but I know a good team when I see one, and I know a bad team when I see one. This team has been BAD the past 2 seasons under his direction. There has been a serious regression of players who are late in their careers and we squandered having the nation's leading scorer on our team in Erick Green last season. They seem incapable of playing quality defense and have frankly struggled to score as a group. I just don't see the foundation for the kind of improvement necessary to get this team to where my expectations for it lie with James Johnson at the helm. We can provide plenty of explanations and excuses for the teams performance, but we are the worst team in the ACC by a wide margin and the team has not improved enough over the course of the season (if at all to me) to justify keeping a coach who was a lazy hire by our last AD on the cheap. It is not his fault, and I wouldn't have turned the gig down either, but I think he was in over his head taking over VT as his first HC position.

I've written a lot here and most of it hasn't been about the topic at hand I started with. Time to get on task. I do not believe that James Johnson should be the basketball head coach after this season, and if he is I do not believe that he would last past next season short of a magical run in the NCAA Tournament and perhaps an ACC Title Regular Season or Tournament. His time in Blacksburg grows short and we should be looking to see who will replace him. I think we should be hoping for Bruce Pearl; the disgraced former coach of Tennessee, as well as Milwaukee, and Southern Indiana. I believe this for a few key reasons.

1) He has produced a winner at all of his coaching stops.
- He won an NCAA D-II title in his 3rd year as a HC at Southern Indiana, and never posted a season with less than 20 wins while the HC there.
- His team posted a winning record all 4 years he was the HC at Milwaukee, and he took a team from the Horizon League to the Sweet 16. Despite all the mid majors going deep the past few years that's a tough charge and a big accomplishment.
- While the Vols HC his teams never posted a losing record, and they made the NCAA Tournament every year he was the HC; including 3 Sweet 16 Trips and 1 Elite 8 Trip that was very close to being a Final Four run (a 1 pt loss to Michigan State I think we all know they're a pretty good program).
- His Vols teams beat some really good teams in his tenure; 2 wins over national Champion Florida in 2005/6 to go along with a rout of #2 Texas the same year, a rout of defending national champion #4 Florida in 2006/7, #1 Memphis in 2007/8 which got the Vols their first and only #1 ranking in the polls, and in 2010 he got Ws over #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky.
- His Vols teams posted a number of school records including most Ws in a season (31 in 07/08), most points scored in a game (124 vs UNC Asheville in 2009), and helped his players establish firsts such as Most 3 point shots made in a game, most assists, most rebounds, and the first Triple Double in school history.

2) He can recruit & develop that talent.
- #12 class in the country in 2008
- #11 class in the country in 2010
- He had a good class committed in 2011 that fell apart with his NCAA investigation
- His players helped set new records as I've already mentioned at Tennessee, and not just for individual accolades.
- I'd like to write more here, but I'll admit it's not my strong suit.

3) His enthusiasm extends beyond just the game of basketball, but to the institution he works for.
I don't know during my time at Tennessee I saw a guy who was more passionate about nearly every Tennessee team that competed. You saw him everywhere on campus, from football games to the swim and dive team. He lived, and breathed the Big Orange in Knoxville and was one of their most outspoken supporters. He repped the Vols no matter where he was and he loved being a part of any student event on campus.

I think Bruce Pearl is the kind of coach that can elevate the Virginia Tech basketball program beyond my expectations for them. I think he is the kind of coach that has the charisma, knowledge, and ability to make Virginia Tech basketball just as attractive to recruits and fans around the country as Frank Beamer has done with the football program. He comes with some baggage to be sure. Thanks to his lack of honesty (and depending on how you look at it a lack of ethics and respect for NCAA regulations), he has a show cause attached to him until August of this year. Does this make him the easiest coach to get, or perhaps the most sensible? We could all use a bit of Frank Beamer's second chance generosity for a guy that made the mistake of trying to hide something minor and it turned into a huge penalty for him. Probably not, but we could be the first ones to give him a new place to call home and I believe if we could do that he would reward us with a basketball team we can all be proud of. If he didn't make that mistake he'd likely still be at Tennessee helping the Vols win a lot of games, but he did and you know what? That means that 2014 (or 2015) could be the Year of the Pearl in Blacksburg.

DISCLAIMER: Blog posts may not have been written or edited by The Key Play.com staff.

Comments

Good write up. Bruce Pearl & Gregg Marshall are my top to candidates if Whit decides to make a change. I see several hurdles to attaining either of them.

1. Money, both of them would require much more money than we've ever invested in the Basketball coaching staff. Also, Football coaches will probably need a raise before we can spend 2MM+ on a new Basketball coach. This could be mitigated by Whit's ability to raise money.

2. Pearl's relationship with Seth Greenberg. Everybody has their opinion about whether Seth should've been fired, but no one can argue that we didn't botch that process. They've worked together at ESPN for the last two years and I'm sure they've swapped stories. This could be mitigated by Whit's ability to sell him on the new regime, but that could be difficult with Weaver still on the payroll for a few more years.

3. James Johnson. I am of the opinion that JJ will get another year. I don't forsee him getting fired so soon into Whit's tenure. This can't really be mitigated. If we keep JJ, we won't land Pearl or Marshall. I'd put money on both of them having a new job come very soon.

@Fightin_Gobbler

Go Hokies

Go Falcons

1) That's a fair point, but given how Weaver managed the department in the black (which is a good thing) there should be room for decent coach salaries for what should be the 2nd major sport at VT. I also think Pearl will be hard pressed to command top dollar coming off his Show-Cause.

2) Seth is I'm sure rightfully upset at VT's admin which was basically Weaver. New regime should mean the ability to speak from a fresh slate in that regard. Many of the administrators that were around with him (Steger etc) are also on their way out.

3) It's not obvious to me that Pearl will land a job the moment his show cause is up. I think given the cycle of recruiting and coaching it might take him until after next season to really land somewhere he wants. Certainly if JJ sticks around it would dim that opportunity though.

Great write-up and I think you make a lot of solid, well thought-out points. I will save the retain/fire JJ for the end of the season, but want to address the Bruce Pearl (and Gregg Marshall) calls, briefly.

I don't want Whit to pursue either Pearl or Marshall, plain and simple. Forgive me for my high horse, but I feel like the University (and everyone associated with it) prides themselves on running a clean, honorable department. In a nation full of cheaters, bag men, spirit girls and fake classes, we continue to set the standard for how to run a program and an athletic department, plain and simple. Go read Gregg Easterbrook's book.

I want to win a National Championship as much as the next guy, but I refuse to donate money to a school that wins dirty. Bruce Pearl is the antithesis of Coach Beamer. Though he is a gamer; an intense teacher and successful recruiter; and a winner, he went out drinking with high school recruits and he consciously and regularly stepped outside the rules of the NCAA. I love him as a coach - seriously, the dude can coach his tail off - but I think we are all jaded by the media's love affair with him over the past few years. As some readers know, I am an avid Bill King listener, and being based in Nashville, Bill brings Bruce onto the program weekly. While Bill talks about how great a guy Bruce is, being a good radio guy and being the spokesman for your program are two different things. While I would love to see Bruce rockin' a burnt orange blazer courtside, I would do so awaiting the inevitable news story about some impropriety.

As for Gregg Marshall:

  1. With his squad's undefeated season, I question whether we can afford him or if he would want to come to Blacksburg, regardless of the fact that he is a Cave Spring grad. If he wasn't interested last season, its unlikely he would be this off-season with his stock so high.
  2. He is a Seth Greenberg re-boot. Strong personality, not the most like-able character in the nation. Why the hell would we want to go through that again? Just because Weaver is gone doesn't mean Whit didn't do his research. No thanks.

@PhillyHokie007

I considered waiting on this until after the last game of the season (but the mental process struck me late last night and I ran with it).

I also would say I don't really think it's that high of a horse. Each of us has their own standard for what we find acceptable and certainly Pearl recruited, and interacted with his teams in a lot of grey areas to flat out unacceptable areas by NCAA regulations. I can only say that I'd like to believe when you make mistakes that so heavily affect your career and your chosen profession if/when you are given a second chance it would be a focus of his to ensure he stays well within the lines.

Virginia Tech I think does proudly represent the fact that we do things the right way, I wouldn't want a coach that wouldn't do his best to be that. I also think that with a new leadership in the AD's office it might not be a bad idea to take a chance on some talent with some safe guards in the contract to help protect the school. I can't imagine coming off a show-cause situation it would be unreasonable to build buyouts and outs for early termination tied to a failure to do it the right way (NCAA Violations, Ethical Violations etc).

I can understand and respect the side of the table that doesn't want any association with that though. It is a fair point and it is certainly something Whitock would need to consider. It would not surprise me if it removed him from consideration entirely either (if he would be considered at all should JJ not be retained). I know you are not alone in the Hokie fan base when it comes to that opinion.

I don't have a high horse. It's college basketball. What is and isn't ethically acceptable is graded on a curve.

I have a high horse, its called in the rafters, over the catwalk, off the scoreboard, bank shot, nothing but net. Here is your H.

Rob Peterson
VTCC
Charlie/Hotel Company
Class of 1999

Some good analysis, but I think your conclusion that he is the best choice is a bit clouded in subjectivity.
I wouldn't touch Pearl with a 10 ft pole, and I don't think Whit will either. There are other coaches that we could get that can elevate VT as well as him.
See ltrepetor2000's previous thread on available Bball coaches. That is a well thought out piece.

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

I don't think I tried to argue he is the best choice, only that he would be my first choice based on my personal experiences in TN. You are correct in that I have some bias there and I tried to make that clear up front when I wrote this out.

OK, we both have our opinions and you experienced some B-ball success at UT that you never saw at VT. I get that. I experienced B-ball success at VT back in the early 80s. I just don't think Pearl's a great choice going forward.

Thanks for helping me above 1k turkey legs!! Woohoo!

What's up with your avatar?

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

It was a joke I made after the first 2 games of the 2010 season where we lost to Boise and JMU. The joke being we are frequently the cHokies and don't show up in big spots/lose OoC games in the spot light. I've been in attendance for Beamer's 2 biggest come backs (2010 NCSU, 2012 Duke), but I've also been in attendance at 2 of our biggest choke jobs in OoC spots (2010 Boise St, 2012 Cincy). So it's just kind of a cynical poke at our reputation in the national media.

I was there for '10 Boise, '10 JMU, '12 Cincy, and '12 Duke. Unfortunately its the Boise and Cincy games that stick out in my mind (JMU has been locked out).'08 ECU and '09 Bama are also stuck in there...

Carry Me Back

That first quarter against Duke in 2012 was the quietest I've ever heard Lane Stadium, just stunned silence from everyone there. It was astonishing. The '09 Bama game I was in Atlanta for, but having been scammed on a ticket I just drank most of that game away, and try not to count it among my experiences. The Cincy game was awful because it was a mental mistake from one of our all time best defenders that cost us the game at the end (even though there were so many chances for that game to be a Cincy blow out).

yeah, I suppose "cynical" is one way to describe a picture of the fighting gobbler hanging from a noose. . .

"It's worth it right? It's worth it to lay it all on the line for your brothers!"
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster (both quotes)

none of those were horrible ... see matt ryan 2 min drill and any season opener or bowl game sean glennon ever played in then you will know pain.

Let us never mention Matt Ryan's name again. That 07 Season is just so painful because it's as close as we came to a 2nd national title shot as we've had and it was blown by his BS.

As painful as that game was, the '07 season is a mirage to me. We started the season getting blown out by LSU, then there was BCS catastrophe the entire second half of the year (remember, USF was #2 at one point), so for us to not win that year means that we just got caught up in the churn. Hell, I think LSU lost to Kentucky that year (and Arkansas, if memory serves) and still won the MNC.

You're right that we might have been in the mix that year had we finished that game out. But I don't dislike Matt Ryan for that game. I dislike Jeff Jagoffzinsky for that little dance he did, but that's neither here nor there.

I respect your opinion and experiences around Pearl but I have to hope that Whit stays far far away from him as a coaching candidate. As mentioned above I wrote a pretty in depth column on potential coaches, all of whom I would rather see us go after. I would prefer to see JJ replaced but don't see that happening right now. Whit is going to want to put a few more big wins under his belt before taking on the
challenge of finding a new coach on a limited budget.

Bottom line for me on Pearl is I don't want to be standing around wondering when the other shoe will drop.

I also agree with the above comment about Gregg Marshall being a ship that has sailed. When you coach a team to a final four and then follow it up with the first undefeated regular season in over a decade you are either staying put or like Shaka a few years ago, going to have the pick of any opening you want.

Rob Peterson
VTCC
Charlie/Hotel Company
Class of 1999

A name no one is talking about is Richmond's Chris Mooney. Dude is a great coach and even better person. I've met him a couple of times and he is all class. He has really done well there, I would be thrilled if Tech hired him.

In Sam Rogers we trust.

I will almost literally take anyone as the next Head Coach over James Johnson. Maybe not Dennis Wolf, but it's close.

maybe we should go after larry brown.

"It's worth it right? It's worth it to lay it all on the line for your brothers!"
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster (both quotes)

Two problems:

SMU has money for days to outbid us. These are the guys that let so much money flow that they got their football program the death penalty.
He is already enjoying success at SMU. Currently ranked #18th. 23-7 so not a big reason to leave

Rob Peterson
VTCC
Charlie/Hotel Company
Class of 1999

I wasn't really being serious, more of a poke at larry brown coaching at least 27 teams that I can remember. he has done an unbelievable job at smu though.

"It's worth it right? It's worth it to lay it all on the line for your brothers!"
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster (both quotes)

There is no reason that Johnson should coach next season. He never deserved to be the head coach in the first place and he has done even less to show that he deserves to keep his position. I don't care who we hire, but bring in someone new to bring some life back to this program.

I don't pay attention to basketball at all, but here's my two cents:

Yeah, I hear this. Johnson may have been put in a position where it was going to be exceedingly difficult to succeed, given his experience. Given that we are in the best basketball conference that's ever existed, it's tough to say anyone but the blue chip coaches should get the opportunity to do the job.

Having said that, I haven't heard anything from anyone (not that I've paid much attention) that suggests that Johnson is anything but a class act. Sure, maybe not ready for this gig in this conference at this time, but not being successful as a first time head coach in the ACC in 2013/14 is hardly a death knell for his coaching career. I'd like to see him given another year, if only because we had a football coach that didn't do too well in his first few years, had support, got it all together, and became a legend.

Maybe JJ isn't that guy, sure. But as far as I know he's represented us well, and if he isn't coach next year, everyone should be happy for us and happy for him that he had the chance, it may not have been the right time, and he deserves the highest recommendation we can give him (since his on-the-court record in this job is already well known). If he doesn't come back, tip your hat to him, raise a glass, and cut him a slice of pie.

Its like a band aid, just rip it off. In 48 hours, once JJ has been relieved of his duties, nobody will be relenting the unfairness of his situation or his future. The attention will be 100% focused on the future of VT basketball and how we can make a hire that represents the commitment we showed by building the Greenberg Practice Facility.

I know JJ didn't get the best opportunity in the world, but he did nothing with what he was offered. We have to keep the big picture in mind, and the big picture is that our program is moribund and making no change is saying we are okay with that.

I'll take any coach that doesn't solely rely on the 'pick and roll' as their offense.

Bleeding burnt orange and chicago maroon

It's funny. I watched some segment on espn today - the first time I ever saw it. It was Greenberg & Pearl imitating current coaches and talking about game plans. I thought to myself, "that could be the past and future of VT bball on the screen." I'm all for Pearl!

Kendall Fuller - future Thorpe winner

Pearl is the all in hire the team needs, but it's going to take time and ultimately may not end up happening. I believe Seth is still on the payroll another year, JJ has a couple years left and Weaver is on the hook for 2 years at $450,000 each year. JJ will sit down with Whit, if he hasn't already and is supposed to discuss each player and the direction he has for this team. Put that together with the program wanting to keep the recruits around, even though they will lose Wood, I just don't see JJ getting canned until after next season if anything is to happen.

I could care less if he is back or if he is canned but keeping recruits around is a bs excuse and one that should not be made again.

UVA: Jefferson's biggest mistake

@pbowman6

Especially if they are going after someone like Pearl. They won't have problems keeping these kids that are coming in.

I have a suspicion that Beamer would piss on that fire if Pearl became a target.
I don't know how much influence Frank would exert in the hiring process, but I see him weighing in at some level.