Seth Greenberg is a quality basketball mind and leaves Virginia Tech basketball in far better shape than when he arrived nine years ago. But athletic director Jim Weaver was absolutely right to fire him Monday as the Hokies' coach.
That's difficult to write, because Greenberg was smart, funny and accessible. He cared deeply about his players and program, sometimes to a fault.
But after nine seasons, the second-longest tenure in program history, Greenberg had chafed too many within the athletic department, including Weaver and several assistant coaches who resigned. They considered him abrasive and arrogant, the antithesis of the "family atmosphere" Weaver wants his coaches to foster.
Weaver said his decision had nothing to do with wins, losses or lack of NCAA tournament bids. But let's be clear: Had the Hokies won 25 games and reached the Sweet 16 last month, Greenberg would still be their coach.
Couple fractured relationships, a losing season (16-17, 4-12 ACC) and staff exodus, and you reach critical mass.
Last Tuesday, Weaver addressed the athletic department's annual retreat and looked at an audience that included most Tech coaches.
"It dawned on me then that we didn't have the same camaraderie with the men's basketball program because people were leaving and so on," Weaver told me during a phone interview after his news conference. "It's what I saw and what I felt."
Two days later, Weaver asked university president Charles Steger for clearance to fire Greenberg, despite the four years remaining on his contract and a $1.2-million buyout. The two agreed to ponder the move over the weekend.
At 8:20 a.m. Monday, according to Weaver, Steger green-lighted the decision. Virginia Tech alerted media at 11:37 of a 4 p.m. news conference, the topic of which was not revealed. Weaver said he informed Greenberg at about 1:30.
Awkward timing to be sure, especially since in-the-dark reporters, me included, called Greenberg around noon to see what he was hearing. Greenberg said he was with a recruit on campus and, laughingly, that he was still employed.
The timing of Virginia Tech's search, weeks after most schools filled their vacancies, also is awkward and speaks to recent issues between Greenberg and Weaver.
Here's what happened: When assistant coaches Rob Ehsan and James Johnson resigned for similar positions at Alabama Birmingham and Clemson, respectively, Greenberg portrayed their decisions as rooted in Tech's comparably low salaries.
That cast Weaver as the bad guy, unwilling to invest in basketball. Needless to say he was not amused, especially since he matched Clemson's offer to Johnson and received assurances from Johnson that his departure was not about money.
Also understand that Weaver decided to fire Greenberg without knowing that John Richardson, the lone staff member remaining, was returning to his former job as an Old Dominion assistant. And Richardson resigned having no idea that Greenberg was about get turfed.
"Why were they leaving?" Weaver said.
In part, because the relentless Greenberg can be an overbearing boss.
"That's the conclusion I came to," Weaver said.
Still, Weaver took no pleasure in this. He hired Greenberg, and the two go back to the mid-1990s when, as Nevada-Las Vegas' athletic director, Weaver interviewed Greenberg, then Long Beach State's head coach.
Prospective replacements? Weaver wouldn't bite, but bank on Richmond's Chris Mooney, Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor, Marshall's Tom Herrion, Murray State's Steve Prohm and countless others surfacing in media and fan speculation.
Weaver's choice will take over a program Greenberg renovated.
He arrived in 2003 and inherited the rubble of six losing seasons in the previous seven years. He oversaw the Hokies' transition from the Big East to ACC, earned two ACC coach of the year honors and in 2007 coached Tech to its first NCAA tournament in 11 years.
That offseason, Greenberg lost his most trusted assistant when his best friend and older brother, Brad, became head coach at nearby Radford. When needed, Brad would challenge Seth, and little brother would listen. I don't believe Seth ever found that in another assistant, and I'm convinced it contributed to his downfall.
Greenberg also pitched the program tirelessly to fans, boosters and students, efforts that increased attendance and helped raise funds for a $21-million practice complex that opened two years ago.
Those accomplishments border on remarkable given the Hokies' previous dire straits.
But one NCAA tournament appearance in nine seasons — Charlie Moir coached the Hokies for 11 from 1976-87 — at the ACC level is not enough. In fact, no coach has ever worked that long in the conference with fewer NCAA tournament victories (one).
Greenberg has been a head coach for 22 seasons, six at Long Beach State and seven at South Florida before Virginia Tech. A glib New Yorker raised on Clair Bee and Madison Square Garden, he loves and understands basketball like few others and would be a natural television analyst.
Wish him the best, for he gave Virginia Tech his.