March 21, 2014 was the beginning of the greatest era of Virginia Tech men’s basketball. With the program on life support, director of athletics Whit Babcock dug deep into the Hokies’ pockets to hire Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.
Williams arrived in Blacksburg to all sorts of pomp and circumstance. A press conference in Cassell Coliseum was held for Williams to be introduced. It was the beginning of an precarious pact in which Williams and Babcock gave each other something they wanted.
For Williams, Virginia Tech was never the destination. Blacksburg rarely is, especially for those from Texas. Instead, Tech was not only a stepping stone for bigger and better things, but also a haven from those in Milwaukee who had grown tired of Buzz’s quirks.
Virginia Tech served its purpose for Williams. He elevated his national profile by not only winning a ton of games, but also serving as an analyst for CBS’ coverage of the NCAA Tournament for the 2014-15 season. Williams needed to show he could build a program nearly from scratch with a baseline of resources, and Tech served as that opportunity.
Williams served his purpose for the Hokies. He turned Virginia Tech into a Sweet 16 team this past season, starting out from a dismal 2-16 campaign in conference play his first season. Williams brought several fan favorites to Blacksburg, including the emotional Zach LeDay and Ahmed Hill, as well as the steady Seth Allen and Justin Robinson. Williams brought Tech it’s first elite-level recruit in quite some time in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who should give Virginia Tech a first-round draft pick to its name.
And that’s what the last five years have been for Virginia Tech basketball fans — a transactional relationship. And it’s a relationship that could have ended at any point over the last four seasons.
After Williams’ first year, he threw his hat in the ring for the Texas opening. Next, it was Oklahoma State and to a lesser extent, Ohio State. And Texas A&M was a possibility last season until Billy Kennedy decided to keep coaching after continuing to deal with Parkinson’s Disease.
Kennedy struggled this season in Aggieland, and it gave A&M the excuse they needed to go get the guy they wanted last offseason. The move to hire Williams was made official on Wednesday.
And just like that, Williams is gone. He’s now in a place he wants to be (likely) making far more than he was in Blacksburg. Williams served his purpose for Tech, and now the Hokies have to find a new head coach.
The direction Babcock chooses will determine whether or not he has to go down this road again. In 2014, Babcock needed a mercenary to turn the program around before leaving for greener pastures. Williams was the ideal option. Now the landscape is different, and Virginia Tech can be seen as a legitimate job in one of the nation’s best conferences.
Even though Williams elevated Tech’s national profile, he isn’t leaving the program in a great place. Most of the team’s starters from this season are likely gone — Robinson, Hill and Ty Outlaw are all graduating, Alexander-Walker is likely headed to the NBA Draft and Kerry Blackshear could be doing the same. Virginia Tech’s best freshman from last year’s class, Landers Nolley, has yet to be declared eligible.
(UPDATE: Two players on last year’s roster, Chris Clarke and Wabissa Bede, have entered the transfer portal and Clarke is not welcome back in the program.)
Williams’s best recruit in the 2019 cycle, guard Anthony Harris, is a top-70 player but has already been granted his release from his National Letter of Intent.. The same could happen for forward Emanuel Miller, guard Andre Gordon and forward Yavuz Gultekin, all of whom are outside the top-100. The cupboard isn’t bare, but it isn’t exactly stocked either.
It’s a shame Williams didn’t want to stick around. Despite his childish fights with the local and regional media, which he often started, Williams was a perfect fit for a school like Virginia Tech. Babcock gave Williams free reign over his program, allocating the budget how he saw fit and hiring all sorts of periphery staff members. Williams had the ideal set up in Blacksburg and the fanbase had rallied around him. It had been a long time since Cassell Coliseum roared like it did under Williams, and it was mostly thanks to him.
Virginia Tech fans can start worrying about the next leader of the program, but it’s important to reflect on Williams and his impact. Williams did exactly what he set out to do — succeed at Virginia Tech and then leave.