The most shocking news of Friday, aside from the upsets of Duke and VCU, was that former Marquette head coach Buzz Williams took the vacant Virginia Tech head coaching job. At first glance I thought it was a mistake. Why would a coach with a 139-69 overall record at Marquette, who is making $2.8 million a year make a move to Virginia Tech?
The Hokies fired James Johnson after two years, but are clearly looking to move on to a coach who can compete in the upper echelon of the ACC.
To go along with the fact that Virginia Tech offered that much money to Buzz Williams, that they landed him is of vital importance. The Hokies were absolutely atrocious this past year, going 9-22 (2-16). In its entire basketball history Virginia Tech has only won six games in the NCAA Tournament and has advanced past the second round of the NCAAT once (in 1967).
In terms of relevancy, the Hokies have made two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 25 years (Wake Forest has made 14 in that time, and advanced to 8 Sweet Sixteens and 6 Elite Eights throughout its entire history).
The simple answer is that Buzz Williams needed to feel wanted at Marquette, and while he is taking less at Virginia Tech ($2.3 million according to a source close to Williams), it is hard to doubt that with the current conference television arrangement and strength of the ACC, it could very well be a better long-term move.
Regardless of why Williams decided to go to Blacksburg, where he will play second fiddle to Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech football team, it is clear that this is a home run hire for the Hokies. They shelled out enough money to be competitive and brought in what will be an outstanding hire.
So how does this play into Wake Forest at all? Well, for one thing, it ups the pressure on Ron Wellman to dish out the money to be competitive with the other schools in the conference. The Hokies paid James Johnson $680,000 a year the past two years, last in the ACC, and got what they paid for.
With Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech will be third in the conference in coaching salary, behind Mike Krzyzewski (an absurd $7.2 million per year), and RIck Pitino (slightly under $5 million per year).
Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock is demonstrating what most of us already know---to be competitive on the court, you have to be competitive in the checkbook. Lowballing a coach, or trying to find extreme value in hiring a head coach, gets an administration nowhere fast, and often times will puts the school way behind the 8-Ball to schools that are not as good historically on the court.
The public numbers aren't available for Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest, but let's just assume he was making $1 million a year. Not to digress, but that type of money per year for the performances that Wake Forest fans were seeing was absurd. That is certainly not bad money, but if Ron Wellman is offering a cool mil to the coach that he is currently courting to come to Wake Forest, it puts said coach in at least 9th in the ACC in salary (Leonard Hamilton, Jim Larranaga, Brian Gregory and Brad Brownell all make around $1 million a yea as well).
There is probably something to be said about how ludicrous it is that coaches make that much money, but it's a fair market economy, and you MUST compete financially if you want to be a serious player moving forward in the ACC.
If Wellman decides not to match its conference brethren in terms of compensation, it indicates a very Little Old Wake Forest (LOWF) mentality and a clear answer as to whether or not he wants the Deacs to compete on the big stage.
The best thing that Virginia Tech hiring Buzz Williams does for Wake Forest is provide no excuses. If Wake Forest fails to hire a good basketball coach this time around, Ron Wellman cannot use money, or record, or "lack of a good coaching pool" to scapegoat his failures.
Auburn has already fired Tony Barbee and hired Bruce Pearl. Bruce Pearl and Buzz Williams are both excellent coaches that most Wake Forest fans would have welcomed with open arms.
Another interesting angle that this saga has taken on is the Marquette vs. Wake Forest battle. These are the top two jobs on the market right now, and it brings a sense of urgency in the big coach arms race. Each administration can use rumors and media to let the other school of what they are doing. This will specifically be interesting surrounding Ben Howland, who Marquette has already expressed an interest in (see below).
Marquette contacted Ben Howland, and the ex-UCLA head coach is interested. No offer on table yet, sources told ESPN: http://t.co/j43hv5qYa1
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 23, 2014
Wellman has to understand that his hire is a "make or break" one in terms of where Wake Forest will be perceived both regionally and on the nationally. The ACC is absolutely loaded with top tier coaching talent (don't believe me?---Coach K, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Jamie Dixon, Tony Bennett, Jim Larranaga and now Buzz Williams), and the Deacs can either show that they are serious about competing in the basketball landscape, or risk losing all credibility built up by Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Rodney Rogers, Randolph Childress and Josh Howard.
Ron Wellman made a bad decision four years ago with the hire of Jeff Bzdelik. It cannot happen this time around. Buzz Williams to Virginia Tech indicates that even football oriented schools are willing to pony up the money to be serious on the basketball court.
This applies immense pressure to Wellman, as Wake Forest can either rise to the challenge and go after the big dogs (Shaka, Howland, Marshall,
Amaker), or risk being left toiling in mediocrity (or worse) for the next 20 years on the hardwood.
I believe that Wellman knows this, and for a variety of reasons, Buzz to Virginia Tech could be the straw that breaks the camel's back and fuel a big-time hire for the Demon Deacons.