News With Commentary by TSL Staff
Monday, March 10, 2003
Ricky Stokes Dismissed
In a 4:30 press conference Monday, Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver announced the firing of Ricky Stokes from his position as head men's basketball coach. Stokes' dismissal comes four years after he was hired from the University of Texas, where he had served as associate head coach.
"This is a very difficult decision for me, personally, as I have the highest regard for Ricky as a person," said Weaver in a statement released by the VT Athletic Department. "We appreciate all the hard work Ricky has put into his position and wish him the best in the future."
In televised comments, Weaver gave one of the reasons for the firing: "I didn't think we could continue the recruiting efforts that we've had over the last few years with any kind of degree of consistency of results over the next few years in the program if we would have allowed the leadership to continue as it was."
Weaver felt that the record under Stokes did not warrant a long-term extension, and that recruiting would suffer if one was not given.
Stokes led Virginia Tech to a winning 16-15 record in his first year as coach -- Tech's last year in the Atlantic 10 Conference -- but was not able to keep the Hokies' head above water in three years in the Big East Conference. In the last three years, the Hokies have gone 29-55 overall (.345) and just 10-38 (.208) in-conference.
The Tech basketball team under Stokes was dogged by poor attendance and painful out of conference losses to teams deemed inferior to Virginia Tech.
Former coach Bobby Hussey was dismissed in March of 1999, and one of the reasons cited by Weaver was declining attendance. The Hokies averaged just 4,039 fans in Hussey's last year, but in Stokes' four years, they didn't fare much better.
In addition to low attendance, the Hokies were dogged by losses to out of conference foes that the Virginia Tech fan base expected to defeat, particularly at home in Cassell Coliseum. In four years, the Hokies lost to ETSU, Radford (at home), Chattanooga, Liberty (twice, both at home), William and Mary (twice, once at home), Western Michigan (twice, once at home), Wofford (at home), and East Carolina.
Weaver hinted that those losses also led to Stokes' release. "It was not unknown that we were very disappointed, as a department, as a staff, as a basketball program, with the preseason -- or the non-conference -- results."
The Hokies rung up some nice wins this season, including blowout victories over Virginia, Connecticut, and Villanova, but the program never seemed to gain momentum under Stokes. The Hokies never won more than three games in a row under Stokes, and they only managed that four times in four years.
The marquee wins were also few and far between. The win over #18 Connecticut was the first victory over a ranked opponent for a Stokes-coached VT team in 24 tries.
The team was also marked by turmoil and numerous player defections. At least twelve players either quit the team or transferred out since the beginning of the 1999-2000 season: Tony Dobbins, Brian Felts, Clinton McPherson, Dennis Mims, Rolan Roberts, Danny Gathings, Jon Smith, Rodrigo Viegas, David Whaley, Chris Exilus, Harding Nana, and C.J. Pigford all left Virginia Tech before completing four years of eligibility.
The firing was a reversal by Weaver, who pledged in an October 17th, 2002 Roanoke Times article, "I don't ever take away people's times on their contracts. I gave him [Stokes] a five-year contract and I'm going to give him five years to do the job. Ricky Stokes is going to coach the basketball team this year and next year, and I'm hopeful Ricky Stokes is coaching the basketball team a lot of years beyond that."
But when the season started, the Hokies lost an ugly home game to Wofford (79-77) and then lost to William and Mary two games later (60-52) on the road. The fan base started to turn on Stokes, openly discussing who the next coach might be, and through a season of ups and downs, the fans were ambivalent on keeping Stokes or letting him go.
Weaver changed his public comments from Stokes coaching the team next year to Virginia Tech "honoring his contract," (Hokie Hotline radio show, 1/27/03) and you could see the change coming.
Virginia Tech will buy out the fifth and final year of Stokes' contract at a cost of $158,000, and a search will
begin immediately. Weaver said that he would prefer a coach with head coaching experience to replace Stokes, but he said
it's not required. He also said that barring something unexpected, a new coach will not be hired for at least two weeks.