Shaka, The Shocker, Seth and Shane

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Yesterday, Virginia Commonwealth University upped the ante for coach Shaka
Smart and will reportedly pay him $1.2 million a year for the next eight years.
He’s a hot commodity who was being pursued by NC State, so the Rams locked him
up. Is Smart worth it? That’s a matter of opinion, and yes, we will relate it to
Virginia Tech athletics. Also, there seems to be confusion among some of you as
to what Shane Beamer’s title of “Associate Head Coach” means. Is this
a slap in the face to Bud Foster?

Shaka

First, the Smart issue. Shaka has been Virginia Commonwealth’s coach for just
two seasons, and prior to that, he was a career assistant for about ten years,
most recently at Akron, Clemson and Florida. As you know, he caught lightning in
a bottle and rode some hot three-point shooting, the play of Jamie Skeen, and
bench depth to the Final Four, where the Rams lost to Butler.

As a result of this remarkable run, Smart found himself being courted by NC
State, whom he is suddenly in a position to turn down (according to VCU Athletic
Director Norwood Teague) because he is getting a huge pay bump at VCU: from
$325,000 per year to $1.2 million per year, for the next eight years, according
to published reports.

Perhaps those who follow college basketball closely (paging Rev. Zeke Vodka
and Cvillehoops 13) viewed Smart as a rising star, but one thing’s certain: his
name was not on the radar of most college basketball fans prior to VCU’s Final
Four run. Anyone who tells you they foresaw VCU making the Final Four and Smart
being college basketball’s hottest commodity is just trying to make themselves
look smart, in my opinion. Pardon the pun.

Until the last three weeks, the results of Smart’s tenure at VCU have been
nothing particularly impressive, to those of us on the outside looking in — in
other words, guys like me who don’t know zip about Colonial Athletic Association
(CAA) basketball. The first thing I did was go look up the CAA standings from
the last couple of years, and there I saw VCU finishing fifth (in 2009-2010) and
fourth (2010-2011) in Smart’s two years.

Before Smart arrived, the Rams were arguably better. Under Anthony Grant, who
was hired away two years ago to coach Alabama, VCU won the CAA regular season
title three straight years, and the CAA Tournament twice in that span. But upon
Smart’s arrival, they were suddenly finishing well out of first, and VCU hasn’t
won a CAA Tournament title in Smart’s two years. In CAA terms, VCU is worse
under Smart than they were under Grant.

In Grant’s last two years, VCU went 48-18 (.727). In Smart’s two years, they
have gone 55-21 (.724). The records are about the same, but Grant won more CAA
championships.

That’s worth $1.2 million a year? was my first thought. Of course not.
Coaches don’t get paid huge money for winning the CAA. Two years ago, VCU didn’t
lock Grant up with a huge contract, despite Grant’s CAA accomplishments at VCU
outweighing Smart’s. When the time came for Grant to move on, Alabama offered
$1.8 million, and VCU let him go.

But Grant didn’t make the Final Four. Smart did, with Grant’s players, I
might add. VCU’s top five scorers were four seniors and a junior. (Among them is
Jamie Skeen, who started at Wake Forest and transferred to VCU in January 2009,
when Grant was still the Ram’s coach.)

So did the Rams overpay? Time will tell. Outside of the Final Four run, Shaka
Smart hasn’t proven a thing, because he has only been a head coach for two
years, has never coached a team full of his own players, and has never won a
regular-season or tournament conference title.

But his players got hot, they caught a wave, and now Shaka, just 33 years
old, is a rich man. I don’t think Smart is “worth” $1.2 million a
year, but VCU didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter from a PR standpoint.
This is a rare window for VCU to make a statement about who they are and who
they want to be, and to let Smart go would have been to make the statement,
“We don’t deserve this guy and this fate, and we’re okay with letting him
go and staying just like we were before all this … Final Four stuff. That’s
not really us.”

The Shocker

Gregg Marshall, the head coach of the Wichita State Shockers, is a more
accomplished coach. Marshall, 48 years old, has been a head man for 13
years, nine at Winthrop and the last four at Wichita State. He won six
regular-season Big South championships at Winthrop and seven tournament
championships. At Wichita State, he hasn’t won a regular season or tournament
title, but he continues to build the program, improving from 11 wins his first
year to a school-record 29 wins and an NIT championship this past season.

The Shockers were an impressive team, with a ten-deep roster that passed the
eye test when I watched them defeat the Hokies in Blacksburg.

Like Smart, Marshall was courted by NC State, and like Smart, he chose to
stay where he was and will receive a contract extension for his loyalty. At the
time of this writing, terms of the extension had not been reported or even
rumored, but Marshall’s current deal pays him $750,000 a year, so it’s
reasonable to guess he’ll be in the $1 million range now.

What does it say about NC State, that two hot coaches passed up probable
offers from the Pack to stay at home, especially when you consider that State is
rumored to be offering $2 million a year?

I’m not sure what it says. It’s popular to ridicule the Pack as being unable
to easily hire a coach. Their last search, which ended with Sydney Lowe’s hire,
was a public, drawn out affair that also scared off a lot of good candidates
before Lowe agreed to botch, er, take the job. People say that they’re stuck
between Carolina and Duke and are unable to compete with either one. I’m not
sure I buy that. Lowe recruited just fine; he simply couldn’t coach; not college
players, anyway.

Every other coach in the ACC has to get past UNC and Duke. NC State’s
geographic proximity to Duke and Carolina doesn’t make them any more or less
likely to beat the Heels and Devils than any other ACC team. But I don’t see
other ACC schools struggling to hire coaches because of the Duke and Carolina
factor, so I think that’s overblown.

If NC State had the financial resources of an upper-level
SEC school or Big Ten school, Shaka Smart or Gregg Marshall would be packing their bags for Raleigh. If the Pack was dangling $3 million or $4 million a year instead of “just” $2 million, Smart and Marshall would be shoving each
other out of the way to sign on the dotted line. Loyalty to a smaller-profile
school can apparently be achieved if the salary difference is less than a
million, but if it’s multiple millions, all the misty-eyed pledges of commitment
turn into, “Thanks, see ya’ll later.”

That’s the underlying problem with the huge TV money the SEC, Big Ten and
Texas are getting. They are 800 pound gorillas in the college sports world, not
cute little chimpanzees like everyone else. If those schools want something,
they get it, and money is not an object.

Seth

What does this have to do with Virginia Tech? Not much, but to bring this
around to the Orange and Maroon, I will admit that it struck me that Shaka
Smart’s compensation is now equal to Seth Greenberg’s, but the manner in which
VCU and Virginia Tech arrived at the same place has been radically different.

As detailed here, Smart is young (33), has only been a head coach for two
years, has never won a conference regular season or tournament title, and has
one NCAA bid at his current school. His team got hot at the right time, and he
received an instant pay boost from a base of $325k to $1.2 million.

Greenberg is 21 years older, has been a head coach for 21 years, has won one
conference regular-season title (1995-96 Long Beach State) and two tournament
titles (1993 and 1995 Long Beach State), and has one NCAA bid at his current
school, three overall.

Smart is getting paid $1.2 million after just two years at VCU for showing
promise as a young coach after three exciting weeks, while Greenberg is getting
paid about $1.2 million a year after eight years at VT for bringing Virginia
Tech up out of the dumps and making them a competitive team in the ACC. Seth’s
ascension in pay, from $450k when he was hired to $1.2 million now, has been
gradual.

Smart is a shooting star, while Greenberg is a plugger. It will be
interesting to see where the two of them are in five or ten years.

Shane

Let’s switch gears to VT football, and let me address a question or comment
that we’ve received in our email inbox. Usually, the comments we receive via
email make their way to the boards in one form or another, but we’ve gotten a
few emails in the last month that express an opinion that I haven’t seen on the
boards, not that I see everything.

It goes something like this. This is not a cut and paste, just a
representation:

Will: What do you think of Frank Beamer naming Shane Beamer Associate
Head Coach? Don’t you think that’s a slap in the face to Bud Foster, who has
been with Frank for over 20 years and is much more qualified to be the next
head coach? This smacks of nepotism to me, and I think Frank is setting up a
coach-in-waiting deal for his son.

Interesting viewpoint. Let me ask you this: When Billy Hite was the Associate
Head Coach for the last ten years, was that a slap in the face to Bud Foster?
Was that a head-coach-in-waiting deal?

Of course not. Billy was never going to be the next head coach of the Hokies,
and when he held the Associate Head Coach title, it didn’t mean he was next in
line, in front of Foster or Bryan Stinespring. The title doesn’t mean any more
in Shane’s case than it did in Billy’s.

But here’s the scoop straight from the horses’ mouths. Frank Beamer, when
asked about it, told BeamerBall.com, ” That role really comes down to
trust. If for some reason I’m incapacitated, I have to know that things will
operate normally in my absence.”

Shane, when interviewed by BeamerBall.com, said, “I think some people
don’t really understand the position. If dad gets hit on the sideline and is
taken from the field, somebody needs to put on the headset, keep things rolling,
let the coordinators do what they do, and manage the game with respect to the
officials and the team, etc. It’s very different than Interim Head Coach. That’s
something the athletic director would have to name.”

So, just to be clear, Associate Head Coach doesn’t mean head coach in
waiting, interim head coach, or next head coach. Nepotism isn’t running rampant
in Blacksburg.

While we’re on the subject, I think Shane Beamer is a rising star with an
impressive resume and list of accomplishments. I also think, if something were
to happen with Frank, that Virginia Tech would be crazy to offer Shane the head
job, and he’d be crazy to take it. While Shane’s got a great resume, he’s not
ready to be the head man at a Top 20 program, and as the old saying goes, you
don’t want to be the guy who replaces “The Guy.” You want to be the
guy who replaces the guy who replaces “The Guy.”

I call it the Bill Guthridge strategy. Guthridge was an assistant under Dean
Smith for 30 years at UNC, and when Smith retired, UNC name Guthridge as the
sacrificial lamb, er, Smith’s replacement. Guthridge coached UNC for three
seasons of steady decline, before he retired and UNC set about hiring the guy
who replaces the guy who replaces “The Guy.”

That’s probably revisionist history from a distance, but years later, I think
UNC was willing to let Guthridge take the heat before they really set out
to build the post-Dean Smith Tar Heels. When it comes time for Frank to retire,
Virginia Tech’s strategy won’t be to hire a placeholder for a few years to ease
the transition. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want to be the guy who replaces
“The Guy,” and I wouldn’t want Shane to be that guy, either. I’d be
satisfied with him eventually being VT football’s version of Roy Williams,
national championships included.

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