Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 30, 2014

Babcock not looking to make changes

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Don’t expect Whit Babcock to arrive at Virginia Tech as athletic director looking to make changes on the current coaching staff.

Far from it.

"Right now I am coming in with my eyes wide open, a blank slate, no preconceived notions, no timetable," said Babcock, during his introductory press conference on Wednesday. "I will be meeting with each and every staff member one-on-one as I get my hands around this."

Babcock, who plans to assume his duties on Feb. 17, replaces Jim Weaver, who spent 16 years at Virginia Tech, and Sharon McCloskey, who has served on an interim basis since Jan. 1

“People closest to me knew it would take an incredibly unique and special opportunity for me to leave Cincinnati,” said Babcock, who has been serving in a similar position at the University Cincinnati for the last two years. “Virginia Tech has been and is number one on my list.”

A native Virginian and a college baseball player at James Madison, Babcock has followed Virginia Tech athletics for so long that he remembers when the nickname was different and the school was known by three letters.

"I go far enough back when it was VPI and the Gobblers so I understand the culture and tradition of it," said Babcock, after being asked what a Hokie is. "I understand the Hokie cheer comes from that and a former football coach took the word Gobblers out and put Hokies in it and now we have the Hokie bird, a combination of both."

Babcock, who bears a striking resemblance to Peyton Manning, was asked numerous questions by a roomful of media types, including his experience with hiring coaches, something he did at Cincinnati. He should know about coaches, his father, Brad Babcock, was his baseball coach at James Madison.

"Hiring coaches is part of the job, living in the household of one helps and hiring a few along the way helps, but they are all different and a pressure cooker when you get into them," Babcock said. "Right now I am a lot more interested in supporting our coaches than talking about replacing them."

Babcock takes over an athletics program which has been successful in football, baseball, softball and soccer, but football is obviously the most visible, led by Frank Beamer, who has become the face of Virginia Tech athletics.

He hadn't met Beamer since taking the job, and couldn’t meet him on Wednesday with Beamer in staff meetings all day, a week before the all-important National Signing Day.

"Obviously I have enjoyed watching the success over the years," Babcock said. "I have talked to Coach Beamer on the phone after being given the privilege of having the job. We obviously have a lot of mutual friends in this business and I am looking forward to spending time with him, but also our other coaches."

The 43-year-old Babcock could be the athletic director who faces the daunting task of replacing the 67-year-old Beamer in the future, but don’t expect that anytime soon. At least that is what Babcock expects.

"Obviously there is no succession planning for replacing Frank Beamer," Babcock said.

If that decision does have to be made at some point, Babcock understands the ramifications of the hire.

“Pressure? Absolutely there is pressure,” Babcock said. “Anytime you replace a Hall of Fame and legendary coach, you feel pressure too, but I hope he coaches for a long time, and wins a lot of games.

"In many facets he is the brand of Virginia Tech athletics. I am much more interested in finding out what I can do to support Coach Beamer than I am at this point of eventually having to replace him whenever that time may be. He is a legend, he is a Hall of Famer and I can learn a lot from him."

Babcock wasn’t asked about Virginia Tech’s struggling basketball programs. The men’s team, led by James Johnson, is 8-12 and sitting in last place in the ACC, while the Dennis Wolff-led women are 10-9 and have yet to win a league game.

Just don’t look for any fast decisions from Babcock when he takes over in 18 days.

"I certainly feel prepared for the job, but I don't believe I should come in without knowing the lay of the land and come in with any preconceived notions," said Babcock, who is finishing up his tenure at the University of Cincinnati, and has also worked at Auburn, West Virginia, Missouri and James Madison, along with a short stint in minor league baseball.

"We will get there, but I want to do a thorough evaluation, a thorough assessment and I don't have any particular timetable for that,” he said. “We will get our hands around it just like we did at my previous institution and move it forward."

While no changes are imminent, Babcock does plan to be prepared to act if something was too happen.

“Every coach search is different, some can go really fast and some take longer,” Babcock said. “As long as you get it right I don't know if the timetable is there.

“I believe you have got to have succession planning in mind, and that should not make any of our coaches paranoid. If you are prepared for a coach search, you should have a list pretty close by or at least someone you can call to help you with it.”

There are currently several issues being discussed related to student-athletes and the NCAA, and Babcock vows to follow the ACC in whatever those decisions might be.

That includes the recent movement by Northwestern football players to form a union in hopes of being compensated for their play on the field, and any thoughts of the so-called BCS conferences breaking away to create their own organization.

“I will certainly take the lead of the ACC and Commissioner (John) Swofford and the way the conference approaches it, but my personal opinion is I am not for pay for play,” Babcock said. “I don't like that model...whatever the direction of our conference is the direction that I am 100 percent in support of...

“I don't get the sense that you will have a breakaway from the NCAA. I guess it could still happen, but the power five conferences certainly would like the ability to impact a lot of the rules and structure of high level athletics.”

Babcock, who defines his leadership style with character and competence, credits his own student-athlete experience with giving him the motivation to go into athletic administration.

“I am a product of the student-athlete experience and I see this as a chance to give back to that and hopefully make an impact on the lives of young people that are coming through here today,” Babcock said. “I don't think there was that lightning bolt moment.

“As I got into it, I started in minor league baseball, not playing, but working, and I quickly realized I missed the college experience, that is in my heart and in my blood.”

So is the Hokies and the ACC. Don’t look for Virginia Tech to get involved in the conference movement that has been prevalent in recent years. Babcock likes where the Hokies have been since leaving the Big East for the ACC in 2004.

“It is a logical fit for this school, it is a fit for me as well,” Babcock said. “I can remember vividly being in grade school and they would roll the televisions in and let us watch the ACC basketball tournament during school.

“That is my fit and I believe it is this school's fit too.”

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @bdtwoodson.