James Johnson won’t need a tour of Cassell Coliseum or Virginia Tech’s fancy basketball practice facility.
Just 2 1/2; weeks ago, he had keys to both buildings.
After a brief detour to Clemson, he’ll get to reclaim those keys — and a significant upgrade in office space.
Sources at Virginia Tech and Clemson confirmed Monday that Johnson has been hired as the Hokies’ new head coach, replacing his former boss Seth Greenberg, who was fired April 23 after nine seasons as Tech’s coach.
Johnson’s first order of business in his return may be trying to keep Tech’s two signees for the class of 2012 — players he had a hand in recruiting — from leaving the program before they even get to Blacksburg.
Tech athletic director Jim Weaver couldn’t discuss whether Johnson had been hired or not, but Weaver did say a Tuesday or Wednesday news conference at Tech would reveal the identity of the new coach.
"We've got one more step to go in the process,'' Weaver said early Monday afternoon. “I hope to get that accomplished (Monday afternoon or night).”
Johnson, a 40-year-old Powhatan native and 1993 Ferrum College graduate, becomes the only current Atlantic Coast Conference head basketball coach hired without previous head-coaching experience.
He was a member of Greenberg’s staff from 2007-12, serving as Greenberg’s associate head coach — the lead assistant coaching role — this past season in which Tech finished 16-17. Prior to last season, Tech went to the National Invitational Tournament in each of Johnson’s first four seasons on Greenberg’s staff.
On April 13, Johnson left Tech to take an assistant’s job at Clemson under Brad Brownell. The job came with a $185,000 salary, which equaled a $45,000 raise from what he was earning at Tech.
At a news conference April 23 to announce the firing of Greenberg, who had six assistant coaches leave the program in his last four seasons as coach, Weaver said he obtained permission from Tech president Charles Steger to counter Clemson’s salary offer with the exact same amount. Weaver said Johnson refused Tech’s counter offer, stating to Weaver that the move didn’t have to do with money.
“This was a James Johnson move,” Johnson said to media gathered last Tuesday at an introductory news conference at Clemson.
Johnson was unavailable Monday.
Johnson held previous assistant coaching jobs at George Mason (2005-07, helping lead the Patriots in ’06 to the Final Four), Penn State (2003-05), College of Charleston (2002-03), Elon (2000-02), Old Dominion (1997-2000), Longwood (1995-96) and Ferrum (1993-95). He also coached the 1996-97 season in Chatham at Hargrave Military Academy.
“(Johnson is) going to have a running start with whatever he’s going to do,” said Jim Larranaga, who is now the coach at Miami, but who coached George Mason when Johnson was an assistant coach there.
“If you’ve only worked for one guy and you’re emulating him, that’s fine, but I think having the experience of working for a handful of guys who approach the game and recruiting differently gives you a broader base.”
Under Greenberg, Johnson was a successful recruiter at Tech. He was responsible for heading up Tech’s recruitment of rising sophomore guard Robert Brown and rising sophomore forward C.J. Barksdale, both of whom were considered by many recruiting analysts to be among the nation’s top 25 players at their respective positions coming out of high school.
Johnson also recruited Tech rising junior forward Cadarian Raines, a projected starter next season, and guard Tyrone Garland, who decided to transfer in December to LaSalle.
Tech has letters of intent for incoming freshmen Montrezl Harrell, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward from Tarboro, N.C., who attended Hargrave this year, and Marshall Wood, a 6-8, 203-pound forward from Rustburg High in Rustburg.
Both considered asking for releases from their scholarships. Wood is supposed to get his formal release this week, but it’s unclear if he’ll actually look to go to college elsewhere.
“I think it would definitely have an effect on Marshall,” Rustburg coach Brantley Shields said regarding Johnson’s return to Tech. “I’ve talked to James several times the past couple days. He hasn’t really mentioned this whole scenario.
“(Wood) will probably take a wait-and-see approach. He’ll talk to coach Johnson and kind of see how the staff is put together and go from there. We haven’t really even talked about it at this point.”
Harrell is considered by most analysts to be one of the nation’s top 100 prospects entering college this coming fall.
“I can’t really comment on the situation,” Hargrave postgraduate boys basketball coach A.W. Hamilton said. “It’s not time to talk about it. Nothing is official, and that’s kind of where we’re at.”