April 12, 2004 BLACKSBURG When Billy Hite, Virginia Tech's running backs coach and associate head coach, was told in early April that junior tailback Cedric Humes likely would be back from a broken leg at full strength by mid-July, Hite was resolute. "He better be back by then," Hite said. If you know Hite, you know he made the statement with a big grin on his face. But Hite probably hasn't been smiling all spring. Life without standout Kevin Jones in the backfield has been more interesting than Hite would like it to be. There is no sure thing in Tech's backfield anymore. Consider these tailback tidbits. Humes is hurt. Mike Imoh is quick and has good hands, but he's inconsistent, has shown a tendency to fumble and could have some eligibility issues on his hands, pending the results of a May 14th trial for three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. John Candelas is slow, unproven and really has no chance to be the regular starter. George Bell isn't quite as slow as Candelas but is even more unproven. Justin Hamilton well, Hamilton is a receiver and will remain primarily a receiver, even if he does get a few reps in the backfield because of Humes' injury. So, where will the ground game come from this season? Hite is still depending on Humes to get back healthy before the season starts. There's little doubt that Humes will get the first crack, but if he's slow to recover from his broken left fibula, no other tailback has displayed the ability to provide a consistent four yards per carry. Hite may be begging Jones to give back all his NFL riches and petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jones if Humes can't go. Plus, Bell's head must be spinning. Bell, a 5-11, 225-pound freshman who enrolled at Tech in January, spent the first week of spring practice working at fullback before moving back to his natural tailback position when Humes went down. Bell is learning two positions this spring, while continuing to regain strength in his left knee, in which he tore ligaments during a game in 2002. Here's the bottom line. If Humes isn't 100 percent, Imoh doesn't hold on to the ball better or isn't available this fall, and Bell doesn't mature and regain his speed in a hurry, the tailback position is going to become a much bigger concern for Tech in the near future. It is encouraging that help for the distant future could be on the way in the form of tailback Elan Lewis, a highly regarded 5-9, 185-pound high school junior from Hampton, Va., who is believed to be leaning toward Virginia Tech. But Lewis won't be able provide the Hokies with any assistance this fall, so Humes needs to get healthy and stay healthy.
Coaching Change: Money Matters Though it may have required letting go of one of Virginia Tech's best coaches, athletic director Jim Weaver might have figured out a way to make women's basketball a revenue-producer after all. Now, that's not to say Weaver wanted to see Bonnie Henrickson, Tech's former women's basketball coach, leave Blacksburg to take the job at Kansas in late March. Henrickson led the Hokies to seven consecutive 20-plus-win seasons and postseason tournaments in all of those years. She is considered one of the brightest coaches in the business. But the laws of economics made her special, too. Kansas had to pay a $523,000 buyout the equivalent of three years of Henrickson's deal at Virginia Tech to get Henrickson for the Jayhawks. Short of the kind of money Tennessee and Connecticut might be willing to pay to continue the success of the women's basketball programs on those campuses, that's an unheard-of buyout for any university to shell out for the right to hire a women's basketball coach. With $4.5 million in conference entrance and exit fees to pay, plus a $50 million football stadium expansion project in full swing, it stands to reason that Virginia Tech could use an extra half-million dollars right now. Did it come at the expense of losing Henrickson? To Weaver's credit, he said efforts were made to renegotiate Henrickson's contract after Kansas made her an offer. Yet Weaver indicated that Henrickson already had made up her mind to leave. Plus, Weaver attempted to make life more comfortable for Henrickson and her staff in recent years, providing the head coach in 2002 with a $500,000 annuity (payable if she remained at Virginia Tech for 10 years) plus raises for her assistants and an increased recruiting budget.
Weaver moved quickly to find Henrickson's replacement, hiring Beth Dunkenberger from Western Carolina less than two weeks after Henrickson's departure. Henrickson did not return phone calls regarding her move to Kansas, but sources within Tech's athletic department said her primary interests in going to Kansas were helping her three assistant coaches upgrade their salaries again (all three will be earning $90,000 per year at Kansas) and having an even better recruiting budget. To call Henrickson's departure from Virginia Tech a purely money-driven development may not be altogether true. It has been speculated that Henrickson was unhappy with the amount of financial resources and effort given to promoting the men's basketball program by Tech's athletic department, considering that the women's team carried the reputation of the entire basketball program for almost a decade.
Then again, Henrickson is nobody's fool. Let's not forget she's going to work for Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins, who when he was the AD at UConn in 2000 re-worked women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma's contract so he would earn $2.95 million over five years. But whether Henrickson's decision had everything to do with money or not, the $523,000 she helped bring to Tech's athletic department by leaving already has been put to good use. Dunkenberger and the three assistants she is bringing with her from Western Carolina, plus likely a fourth person yet to be hired, together will earn a total of $440,000 in their first year at Tech. In essence, the buyout for Henrickson paid for a year of salaries, bonuses and perks for a new head coach and assistants, with money to spare. In the long run, Henrickson's contributions to Tech will reach far beyond wins and losses. At the end, she even helped Weaver crunch his athletic department's budget.