Portrait of the Next Virginia Tech AD
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 6/5/97

Okay, so Dave Braine is moving on to Georgia Tech.

I’m not going to spend any time chronicling Dave’s ten-year career at Tech, because we all know what he accomplished here and how valuable he was to this school. He got us into the Big East football conference, managed to hang on to Frank Beamer at critical times (both when Hokie fans wanted him fired and when other teams wanted to hire him), and set us on the path to big-time college athletics with facilities improvements (funded with all that Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl money). When he came in, we were $5 million in the red, and as he leaves, we are coming off a year in which we were $7 million in the black, with $3 million sitting in the bank and drawing interest.

His tenure as AD sure beats the heck out of Dooley’s tenure, doesn’t it? Braine’s stature as a top-level athletic director is set in stone, and he’s got the new job to prove it.

Excellent job, Dave. Now, who’s next?

The Money Problem

First of all, the perfect athletic director for Virginia Tech doesn’t exist. The perfect AD for Tech would be smart and charismatic, would have great rapport with coaches and administrators, and would have a ton of contacts at all levels in the NCAA and the major conferences. Guided by guile, instinct, and the art of persuasion, this person would gain all-sports admission for Virginia Tech into the ACC, the SEC, or the Big East. And this person would be willing to do all of this for the paltry sum of $115,000 per year (or $150,000 per year, depending upon which source you listened to when Dave’s salary figure was thrown around the last few days).

As a college sports entity and as an academic entity, Virginia Tech constantly strains against the boundaries set on funding by the lawmakers in Richmond. We are a state-supported school, although these days, the term "state-assisted" is more apt. As such, we are subject to the mercies of the funds provided by our lawmakers, as well as the restrictive laws they have written on how we can use those funds. In the 80’s and early 90’s in particular, state lawmakers cut the funding for higher education in this state to the bone, and Virginia now runs far behind other states in that category, ranking a miserable 44th out of 50 states in higher education spending.

In the academic arena, this results in professors and administrators being paid lower salaries and being provided with inferior facilities and equipment. When Tech is able to hire talented young professors and administrators, they are often hired away by other schools with larger budgets.

On the athletic side, this results in coaches and administrators being paid lower salaries and being provided with inferior facilities and equipment. When Tech is able to hire talented young coaches and administrators, they are often hired away by other schools with larger budgets.

What this all means is that it is unlikely that Virginia Tech’s new AD will be a big-name AD from a major school with a proven track record. We simply can’t afford that, and although our athletic department’s current financial outlook is rosy, our conference situation is enough to scare away many prospective candidates, particularly candidates who are already AD’s at major colleges with stable conference affiliations.

Hmmm, "stable conference affiliations." Is that an oxymoron?

Instead, our next AD will probably be "Dave Braine: The Rerun," or a reasonable facsimile thereof. We hired Dave Braine out of the Marshall University, a 1-AA football program. We didn’t steal him away from a Big-10 or PAC-10 school. He had some good job experience, but he wasn’t a pedigreed athletic director, by any stretch of the imagination.

Our new AD will probably be young and unproven, and will most DEFINITELY be someone we can get cheap. The biggest question is: will this person come from inside or outside the Virginia Tech family? Here’s where I have some definite thoughts on the subject.

Things to Consider When Hiring a Replacement

It is my opinion that anyone with half a brain, pardon the expression, can come in and pick up where Dave left off in the areas of facilities improvements. The plans are drawn up, most of the funding is in place, and construction is underway for most of the improvements that are currently planned. And you would have to be a moron to not see that future improvements and expansion of the football stadium should be long-term goals.

Add in the fact that Title IX is a driving force in dictating improvements and additions in women’s sports, and that lays out pretty clearly what the path is in the area of facilities. Thanks to the Big East Football Conference and two straight Alliance Bowls, the cash is there. In short, there isn’t much to figure out here.

The next major concern I have is in the area of relations, specifically relations with the coaches and staff. One of the reasons that Frank Beamer has passed up more lucrative offers at other schools is that he likes (liked) the relationship he has with Braine and Torgersen. He feels comfortable with his bosses, and that counts for a lot, even when money is involved. Don’t think that the presence of Wayne Clough (a former Tech Engineering school dean and friend of Dave Braine) at GT didn’t sway Dave Braine’s decision. I’m betting that Dave Braine would have received a similar offer from North Carolina, but if he had taken the AD job there, he would have been taking orders from Dean Smith. Dave would obviously rather take orders from his friend Mr. Clough.

If Tech’s new AD comes in and doesn’t get along with Beamer, and our football coach’s loyalty to the school slips and he winds up leaving because of it, don’t think there won’t be hell to pay for that new athletic director. Beamer and Braine are both regarded with the same reverence by Tech fans as architects of our newfound success, but now that Braine is gone, Beamer is the most loved figure in the Tech athletic department. The new AD needs to realize that from day one - don’t mess with Frank.

But the most important concern for the new AD at Tech is obviously all-sports membership in a major conference. This is a critical time period for Virginia Tech sports. We have come a long way in the last ten years (hell, in the last six), and it is absolutely imperative that we not lose what we have gained to this point.

In the next few years, the television contracts that are currently providing the stability in conference alignments are going to expire. When the negotiations begin anew, the conference realignments are going to begin anew, as well, and there are two directions Virginia Tech can go: up, by gaining all-sports affiliation in (most likely) either the Big East or the SEC, or down, by getting left out in the cold as the big boys in the Big East are snapped up by other conferences and the Hokies are left sitting at the altar.

When the conference realignments occur, there will be no moving sideways for Virginia Tech. We will either soar higher or crash and burn.

So when Dr. Torgersen goes looking for a new athletic director, it is my opinion that Virginia Tech’s future conference affiliation is priority one. Whoever is hired ought to be hired with that in the forefront of consideration. With that in mind, let’s mull over the possibilities.

The In-House Options

If Torgersen stays in-house, then from what I’ve heard, Danny Monk’s not even in the picture, and the choice would be Sharon McCloskey. She’s an interesting story – she started out as a receptionist in the football office 12 years ago, and since then has made great strides and has held a number of jobs in Tech’s Athletic Department. She is well-liked, aggressive, and hard-working, and the word is that she would be a popular choice with the staff. She already has a good relationship with Frank Beamer, and he speaks highly of her.

But when you talk about all-sports membership in a new conference (remember, that’s priority one), she doesn’t bring anything to the table that we didn’t already have in Dave Braine, and as a matter of fact, she may be a step backwards. Yes, we may be talking about a talented person who has plenty of experience in the Tech Athletic Department, but we’re also talking about a person who has zero experience as an athletic director at any level.

If Tech was already in a stable position and the future was bright, I might say, hey, give her a shot. But as much as Sharon is liked and respected, and as much as she would be a popular choice, I don’t think we should promote her to AD at this point in time. She may be AD material, but she should do her time and gain her experience at a smaller school. She should work her way up the ladder, as the departed Dave Braine did. Let her put "Interim Athletic Director, Va Tech" on her resume and use it to get a great job somewhere else.

I’m not comfortable handing the keys to the kingdom, which is in a somewhat precarious position, to someone with no experience. Not at this critical time. Nothing against Sharon McCloskey, because I don’t know her or much about her, but I just don’t think promoting her is a wise move at this point.

The Outside Options

As soon as the news broke that Braine was leaving, the newspapers started to throw names around for possible replacements. Here’s a quote from The Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Among the possibilities are Keener Fry, a former football player at Tech who is now the AD at East Tennessee State, and Wyoming AD Lee Moon. He succeeded Braine at Marshall University when Braine moved to Tech."

This cracks me up. Where do they get these names? Why in the world would anyone think that Lee Moon is a good candidate? He has spent the last few years out at Wyoming, for crying out loud. He may be a good administrator, but there are plenty of those around. We need someone who’s going to help us land in the Big East or the SEC, and I can’t see where a former Marshall/Wyoming AD can bring anything to the table in that area.

I can see a little more clearly why Fry would be mentioned as a candidate. And at least he has been working in the East lately. And since he’s the AD at ETSU, we could probably afford him and get him interested in moving to Virginia Tech – it would be a great step up for him. He’s an alumnus, and hopefully, a little more loyal to the school.

But loyalty isn’t what we need right now. We need (repeat after me) someone who can help us get into an all-sports conference.

In summary, forget Moon, and although Fry sounds like a solid candidate, I’ve got a better idea.

My Opinion

Instead of hiring an AD from a small school, I think we should hire an assistant AD (or someone holding a similar position) from a school that is in one of our two target conferences, namely from a Big East or SEC school. In other words, hire someone away from the party we want to join. Hire someone who has connections to where we want to be. If we could snap up a bright young talent who had good contacts at, say, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, or one of the Big East schools that currently opposes our inclusion in the Big East, that would be a smart move. How about we hire somebody who "is friends with," as the newspapers like to say, SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer?

"Wait a minute," you say. "An assistant AD? I thought you said up above that you wanted an experienced AD."

Not exactly. I may not have been very clear about it, but I shot Sharon McCloskey down not because I didn’t think she could be a decent AD. I shot her down because I didn’t think she could bring anything new to the battle to get into an all-sports conference. I’m advocating that we hire someone who could handle the administrative end of things, plus who has the contacts and the ability to get us into an all-sports conference like the SEC or Big East. A well-connected assistant AD at a large school with a well-run athletic department would be a great candidate.

Someone who is currently serving as an assistant AD would probably jump at the chance to be full AD at Virginia Tech. If that person is well-connected in the areas we want them to be well-connected in, then that’s the way we should go. The next best alternative is to pluck an AD from a smaller school (like Marshall or ETSU) who also has the contacts we need. We shouldn’t hire someone just because they played football at Tech or they succeeded Dave Braine at some other school.

That’s My Opinion. Now those of you with passwords and your own opinion, trot on over to the message board and let me know what you think.


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