The Weak and the Strong

By Jim Alderson, 12/14/99

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  HokieCentral is pleased to bring you columns from Jim in the HokieCentral Columnists area.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.

I have been watching the activities surrounding the job status of the football coaches at our North Carolina neighbors with great interest. I find it highly illuminating, and germane to Tech. We are observing exactly what happens when a school does not have a strong Athletic Director.

At North Carolina, AD Dick Baddour was frozen by indecision and clearly unable to make up his mind as to whether to fire Carl Torbush, finally taking the easy way out, that of doing nothing. It would seem an easy enough call to make; Torbush has trashed the Tar Heels program and clearly demonstrated the Peter Principle in action. Baddour, however, seemed paralyzed at the notion of actually having to make a hard choice.

Over at NC State, Athletic Director Les Robinson watched as State Chancellor Mary Anne Fox took it upon herself to determine whether Coach Mike O'Cain remained in charge of the Wolfpack with his neck intact, which, of course, he didn't. While observing these Old North State fire drills, it has crossed my mind a time or two that this is not exactly the way we do things at Tech these days. It is illuminating to remember how both Baddour and Robinson were hired.

North Carolina Athletic Director Dick Baddour was hired because Dean Smith ordained it. Candidates with better qualifications to run the Heels were ignored. Many Hokies will remember that when Dave Braine left Tech, Frank Beamer went on record in support of Sharon McCloskey for the job, but he hardly made a federal case out of it.

Not so at Carolina, where Deano, even in "retirement," has retired none of his zeal for controlling things in Blue Heaven. Smith wanted Baddour so it was Baddour they got. They also got an Athletic Director who absolutely could not make a decision in what should be the primary duty of an AD, determining the personnel who, ostensibly anyway, are reporting to him. This led to the heelish series of events that seemingly had Baddour flipping a coin to determine whether or not to fire or keep Torbush.

Over at State, Les Robinson was the guy hired as basketball coach to pick up the pieces left on the floor of Reynolds Coliseum by Jim Valvano. Robinson is a State alumnus and an all-around nice guy who is beloved by State fans. He also failed miserably as the Wolfpack basketball coach.

When the necessity of replacing him became apparent to even the most die-hard Wolfpacker, he was not fired but instead kicked upstairs into the AD's chair. He has proven to be a weak Athletic Director and is currently being eased out of that position into some ceremonial job. He has been merely a bystander in the Mike O'Cain affair, as Chancellor Fox took it upon herself to determine who the football coach would be.

Robinson is doing the legwork of identifying and interviewing candidates, but you can bet your Sugar Bowl tickets Chancellor Fox will choose State's new coach. Astute readers who read my previous column will remember what happened at Tech when the president meddled in the Athletic Department, not once, but twice. It seems to be an irresistible urge.

In 1986 when Bill Dooley was fired as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach and given his reward of a million bucks for running our athletic department straight into the ground, a committee was formed to hire an Athletic Director, a group that was headed by Tech faculty member Dr. James Robertson [He of the 'What we have here at Tech is a sleeping giant' comment; Dr. Robertson was sure right about that]. They hired Dutch Baughman, who in turn hired Frank Beamer. Dutch recorded what would be one of the shortest tenures in the history of any athletic department, but his inspired choice of football coach is paying some rather enormous dividends. This is the way the process should work.

Things were a little different here last year, too, when it came to a decision on basketball coach Bobby Hussey. Tech fans were split on whether to retain or can the likable Hussey, who was just as far in over his head as Torbush has proven to be at Carolina.

Jim Weaver, unlike Baddour, did not agonize over the decision. He did not rush to the office of President Torgersen seeking to be told what to do, consult with big donors or base his actions on the comments of the last person he talked to. Weaver took quick and decisive action himself. Hussey was booted and Ricky Stokes was hired, and despite how Hokies felt about Hussey, we had a clean coaching change without the rancor that has accompanied the moves, or lack thereof, down South. This is what a strong leader can do for you.

The most important job of an Athletic Director is to hire good coaches and to fire bad ones. The job of a university president should be to make sure he or she has a strong and able Athletic Director around, not meddle in whom would be reporting to that AD. We have seen and continue to see what a strong Athletic Director can do for you, and we are also watching what happens when a school has weak ones. My opinion is that this is just another example of why we should be grateful to have Jim Weaver.

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.

          

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