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Who Might Replace James Johnson?

Monday, March 17, 2014 4:11pm
  • Mick Cronin would be a reach for Virginia Tech, but Whit Babcock has reached before (AP)
     Mick Cronin would be a reach for Virginia Tech, but Whit Babcock has reached before (AP)

  By Shawn Krest

Virginia Tech fired James Johnson after two seasons as Seth Greenberg’s replacement. Johnson finished last both seasons, winning 22 games and losing 41. 

Athletic director Whit Babcock, who took over the Hokies program in January, will now make his first significant coaching hire at the school. A look at his past may help shed some light on who the next coach might be. 

Babcock served as Cincinnati’s AD since 2011. Prior to that, he spent five years as associate AD at Missouri, West Virginia and Auburn. In his only major hire as Athletic Diretor, Babcock went to a familiar face. While at Cincinnati, Babcock hired football coach Tommy Tuberville, taking Texas Tech’s head coach in a fast, aggressive coaching search. Tuberville was hired as Auburn’s coach in 1998, near the start of Babcock’s term with the Tigers.

If Babcock goes with someone he’s familiar with on the Virginia Tech job, there are several high-profile names to consider. 

Mick Cronin: The Bearcats’ head coach was running the program when Babcock got hired by Cincinnati. Cronin was raised in Cincinnati and a graduate of the University. He’s been the Bearcats’ coach since 2006, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Babcock can lure him away.  

Bob Huggins: The former Cincinnati coach crossed paths with Babcock at West Virginia, when he was hired following John Beilein’s resignation. Like Cronin, Huggins is coaching at his alma mater. While the lure of the ACC might be tempting to the veteran coach, it would be a surprise to see him make the jump to Tech. However, a phone call to Huggins might result in a recommendation for a current assistant on his staff.  

Ron Everhart: The 50 year old has 18 years of head coaching experience, including rebuilding a three-win Duquesne team and leading the Dukes to the NIT. He’s been Huggins’ assistant for the last two years and may be ready to return to the head coaching ranks. A 1985 graduate of Virginia Tech, Everhart played for the Hokies and may relish the chance to rebuild his alma mater’s program. 

Cliff Ellis: He coached at Auburn during Babcock’s tenure there and has experience in the ACC, winning ACC Coach of the Year twice. He coached Coastal Carolina into this year’s NCAA tournament and may be looking for one last fling in the league. Again, if the 68-year-old Ellis doesn’t want the job, he may recommend a former assistant.  

Bobby Lutz: The NC State assistant coached under Ellis at Clemson and has head coaching experience at Charlotte. Other than two years at Iowa State, Lutz has spent his entire career in the ACC footprint and is ready to get the keys to his own program again.  

Mike Anderson: The Arkansas head coach was at Missouri while Babcock was there. In his three years at Arkansas, he’s won 18, 19 and 21 games. The lure of the ACC might be enough to lure Anderson to Blacksburg.  

Melvin Watkins: Another player with roots in the heart of the ACC, Watkins played and coached at Charlotte and served as Anderson’s assistant while Babcock was at Missouri.      

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that Babcock follows the blueprint he used to land Tuberville. He may go outside his immediate contacts to land a current coach at a mid-major. But he can assemble a fairly strong roster of candidates just from the people he’s seen in person.