As I attended our local Orange and Maroon Tour meeting last week, I thought about my HokieCentral friends that donít live near a Hokie Club. Other than the Hokie Huddler and HC you wouldnít have the opportunity hear the state of Hokie Athletics first hand. So I took some notes and have some of my feelings from the meeting. Hope you enjoy the evening as much as I did!
At our local Hokie Club meeting Jim Weaver (Athletic Director), Jim Cavanaugh (football coach), and Randy Peele (basketball coach) attended. Also in attendance was Lu Merritt from the VT Athletic Fund. We had an hour to socialize and talk with our guests, with a turnout of about 60 Hokies.
The VT guests were more than glad to answer questions and really didnít seem to hold back on individual answers. I did ask Jim Cavanaugh whether he thought this upcoming year was going to be Techís best ever in recruiting. He said it is way too early to tell. We are getting tremendous interest, but how many will sign is a big question. We have a lot of deals to close.
The two Jims, Weaver and Cavanaugh, rode each other the entire evening. Jokes about hair (and lack thereof), what clothes they were wearing, and being the better looking guy peppered the evening banter. It made for a very casual feeling.
Lu Merritt was the first speaker. He announced there were now over 11,500 Hokie Club members and they were raising $8 million for the program this year. Remarkably there were over 10 new Scholarship Endowments ($75,000 or more) this past year. Lu mentioned there were so many Silver Hokies that numbered grass parking spaces on Chicken Ridge were a distinct possibility. In other words the money is rolling in, but we need more with the planned athletic improvements. This was a pep talk to keep giving, get your friends to give and consider increasing your gift.
Jim Cavanaugh was the next speaker of the evening. Jim is an imposing presence, being tall and ruggedly handsome (sorry, no picture). He talked mostly about the defense, but gave an overall impression of confidence about this upcoming season.
As usual, Coach Cavanaugh asked that nothing he said appear on the Internet, and out of respect for him, I'll honor that for most of what he said. But he did say some stuff that is pretty harmless:
He started out by saying what multiple other football coaches said this spring -- Tech's corners, Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin, are going to better than last year's corners. Ben Taylor was the best defensive player this spring, and David Pugh was the best inside player. Willie Pile was the most improved.
Keys to defensive success this year was keeping our first team players healthy. The backups will be mostly red shirt freshman, and it would not be the best position if Tech had to play the backups in crucial situations.
He gave one anecdote about Michael Vick. Jim was leaving a late staff meeting several days after the Spring game at 11:45PM. As he was walking down the Merryman Center hall he heard a voice say ďHi Coach!Ē It was Michael. He had been watching films after his study hall finished at 10:00 PM. He has the best attitude and dedication to his position that Jim has seen.
Jim Weaver was the keynote speaker and spoke effectively about the state of the athletic program. Some of his comments were quite candid (see basketball area below). His style was of an inspirational emotional speaker. He could have been an evangelist minister as well as a coach. He started off his talk by complimenting the crowd. We heard lots of "we" and "us" talk, not "you" and "me." Hokies take group responsibility about our program and where we are going with it. It has NEVER been a better time to be a Hokie.
He gave a nice tribute to former Tech President Paul Torgersen. You could see that there was a tremendous amount of respect and friendship there. Paul has to have been the most popular President at Tech in the last 50 years. From athletics to academics Ė Paul Torgersen is a first-class act.
Jim then said that new Tech President Charles Steger understands the importance of athletics as a front door to an education. His meetings with Steger have been progressive and supportive.
$50 million dollars. Thatís what is needed to upgrade our athletic facilities. Increases in football ticket prices were an important step to pay for salary increases and our Big East entry fee. There are $515,000 in salary increases and $375,000 in Big East entry fees every year. The benefit of the Big East is the basketball sharing payout of $1.25 million versus the Atlantic 10s $125,000, but the Big East revenue sharing won't kick in until after we finish our buy-in period (5 years).
He stated that a BCS football game earns the school $4 million, and that all the other bowl games are break even at best! The North End Zone project is on schedule and will be ready on August 27. The move to speed up the South End Zone for the 2001 season is in full steam ahead mode. The effort would be maximum to finish by the start of the 2001 season, and weather or other factors might come into play.
There may be some footing and foundation work done between the Pitt game and the UVA game next year in the South End Zone area. The expansion will add around 11,900 seats and will be at least as high as the East stands. It will be a double-decker and put the fans close to the field. With the South closed in the sound at Lane will be very intimidating. A new large visitor locker room in the expansion will be used for other sports. He spoke highly of HOK and looks forward to the initial design reviews. He did say that when the South End Zone Expansion is finished, Hokie Club members will once again be able to buy individual games seats to all games again.
Jim reiterated his theme that if you stop improving facilities you are moving backwards. Plans are to renovate Cassell Coliseum next year. There are some asbestos issues, so timing of work would be critical to not adversely affect our schedules (although he didnít mention WVU, it was in the air!). Two new scoreboards and a Cassell facelift are in the works. The Cassell seats are 38 years old and need refurbishing / replacing. After looking into replacing the seats it appears that it would be better to refinish, since new seats arenít as durable. Some of this refurbishing would happen soon. Jim talked a bit about the basketball players that left after the season was over. He stated that none of them were ďforced outĒ. They went to play or go elsewhere because they wanted to. This discussion introduced the next speaker, Randy Peele.
Randy Peele is the new assistant basketball coach on Ricky Stokes staff. He has known Ricky a long time and is very confident that Ricky is the right man to take Tech to being competitive in the Big East. Randy grew up with Bobby Stevens. Bobbyís dad coached Randy in baseball. In fact the day of the big NIT win Randy went to baseball practice and no one showed up due to the game being on. Randy called his dad and his dad came 4 hours later telling great stories about watching the game. Of course Randy had to cool his heels waiting for dad. The Hokies were already influencing his life. Randy spoke about changing the Atmosphere in Cassell. It has to be a tough place for opponents to win at. This can only happen with fan support coming back.
Randy is in charge of next years scheduling. He said with 16 Big East games and UVA he would have to be careful with the other OOC games. The team next year with so many new players needs games to come together and find itself. So donít look for a top 20 OOC (at least next year). Randy seemed like dedicated basketball guy and was surprised to be named as the new assistant when the opening happened.
I really enjoyed this Hokie Club meeting (though I didnít win the autographed 1999 football or the Michael Vick signed poster) and had a very positive feeling about the athletic program. Weaver was impressive, enthusiastic and genuinely committed to the program. Although aware of the dollar and cents issues he seemed to really care about the those who are affected by the tough decisions. He spoke about his regret in ending the Football Family Plan program. The reality of the increase in season ticket demand has left no room for the Family Plan. I donít expect any rash or detrimental decisions from Jim. Careful, considered approach would describe his attitude to the changes that are coming. Try to make the next Orange & Maroon Tour meeting near your home!
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