Clemson coach Brad Brownell considers Virginia Tech’s James Johnson “a man of integrity” and has some insight into whom Johnson might hire for his staff.
Tech introduced Johnson as its head coach Tuesday, less than three weeks after he had resigned as a Hokies assistant to take a similar job under Brownell at Clemson.
“He’s a guy I trust,” Brownell said Wednesday. “We never worked together (previously) but when you compete against somebody in a league … you get a feel for a guy who works hard and does things the right way. You develop a respect level, and I certainly had that with James. When he told me he had an interest in our position, I was flattered.”
Johnson and Brownell first met as Colonial Athletic Association assistants, Johnson at Old Dominion, Brownell at UNC Wilmington. Brownell hired Johnson to replace Rick Ray, who left to become Mississippi State’s head coach.
Soon thereafter, Virginia Tech fired Seth Greenberg. Brownell said that a Hokies official, either athletic director Jim Weaver or associate Tom Gabbard, asked Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips for permission to interview Johnson.
Brownell then called Weaver to recommend Johnson, who worked under Greenberg for five seasons.
“It was awkward there for a little bit,” Brownell said. “I certainly don’t think (James) expected (Greenberg’s dismissal). In fact, I know he didn’t, because I saw how he reacted to it. …
“I have a lot of respect for Seth. We got along, and he did a good job there. That was hard for us to watch. … He put his heart and soul into it.”
Once Tech expressed interest in Johnson, Brownell pulled him off the recruiting road.
“James knows the lay of the land,” Brownell said. “He knows Virginia Tech. He knows the players. He knows the league. He knows the recruiting base. He knows who to call if there’s a housing issue. He knows who to call if there’s a dining issue.”
Brownell said Ray is encountering such roadblocks at Mississippi State.
“You don’t know who to turn to or who you can trust,” Brownell added. “It just makes it hard. I don’t think James will run into any of that.”
Brownell knows first-hand the advantages of familiarity. Wilmington promoted him to his first head-coaching job in 2002, when Wainwright headed to the University of Richmond.
The Seahawks went 24-7 and won the CAA in Brownell’s first season, and while the 2012-13 Hokies don’t have that much potential, Brownell believes their young roster gives Johnson a chance to start well.
“They’ve got good players,” Brownell said. “Good young players.”
Confirming my hunch, Brownell said that former Wilmington guard Mark Byington is a natural for Johnson’s Virginia Tech staff. Byington has worked the past nine seasons at the College of Charleston under first Tom Herrion and then Bobby Cremins.
During one of those seasons, 2003, Byington shared an office with Johnson, and they remain friends.
Cremins named Byington his associate head coach, and when Cremins took a leave-of-absence in January – he later retired – Charleston elevated Byington to interim head coach. But Charleston bypassed Byington for the full-time gig, hiring Doug Wojcik, recently fired at Tulsa.
Byington hails from Salem, a long 3-pointer from Blacksburg, and was the state Group AA player of the year as a senior at Salem High in 1994. He was the West’s MVP in the state coaches’ association all-star game at Hampton Coliseum.
Byington also worked at the University of Virginia, two seasons (2000 and '01) as a graduate manager, one as director of basketball operations (2006).
Thanks to Johnson’s departure, Brownell also is searching for an assistant.
“We were getting ready to be tight here,” Brownell said of his friendship with Johnson. “But not now. It will be respect from a distance.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including several on Tech’s coaching change.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times