Now that Frank Beamer has announced his retirement, Hokie Nation will soon see exactly what kind of athletic director they really have in Whit Babcock.
Since being announced as the new AD in early 2014, Babcock has enjoyed a honeymoon of sorts, with fans falling in love with him – mainly because he was NOT former AD Jim Weaver. Where Weaver seemed like the grumpy old man who told kids to get off his lawn and would not spend a penny more than necessary, Babcock was younger, charming and spoke with a great sense of purpose. Most instantly thought “this is the guy.”
He immediately fixed Weaver’s biggest bungle – cratering the basketball program by firing Seth Greenberg and hiring James Johnson – by removing Johnson and bringing in former Marquette Coach Buzz Williams. Babcock was hailed a genius, and has pretty much enjoyed that status ever since.
You’re only as good, however, as your last big decision in Blacksburg. Babcock may be well thought of, but he’s not even been on the job two years, so he doesn’t have huge amounts of fan equity. The decision to hire Williams was excellent, but there is a school of thought that Williams also may have fallen into Virginia Tech’s lap. Williams desperately wanted out of Marquette and wanted to go to a school in a major conference, and at the time, Virginia Tech was one of the few options that fit that criteria.
The schools Williams allegedly wanted to go to – Tennessee or Texas – weren’t open, but did come open a month later after he had already signed with the Hokies. If all three jobs are open at the same time, I doubt Buzz is wearing orange and maroon. Many in the media, however, have painted the scenario that Babcock doggedly pursued Williams and persuaded him the Hokies were the place to be. So Whit may have gotten his man regardless if true.
Other than that, Whit hasn’t had many opportunities to show off his athletic director muscles. The facilities improvements are mostly the work of Weaver; he has raised prices on tickets to generate additional revenue, sold naming rights to the basketball court and moved the press off the floor to sell those seats at premium prices. None of those are earth-shattering things any new AD wouldn’t do.
He has spoken a lot about the fan experience, but earlier this season on a Friday night game against N.C. State, he made a foolish decision that went decidedly against the fan experience, opting to start the game on time despite the stadium being closed due to lightning in the area. By doing so, about half the crowd couldn’t make it to their seats until midway through the first quarter.
The decision on a new football coach will illustrate whether Whit Babcock is the athletic director everyone hopes he is, or something different. In the past, his decisions on coaches have been similar to going into a store and buying the best available brand name.
At Cincinnati, he hired Tommy Tuberville, who is a good and decent football coach, but not what people who consider a great hire. The two knew each other and worked together at Auburn; Whit and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez worked together at West Virginia, and it's why some believe he will be the next Hokie coach.