On how he is feeling after returning from San Jose…
I’m very thankful, overwhelmed with gratitude. I’m excited that we are able to practice the week and play again. I think everyone in the program is deserving of this opportunity and I think, in the right way, they’ve earned this opportunity. To be able to have a front row seat and watch all that you’re able to garner from experiences like this is very special.
On having Coach Lewis Orr with him through this process…
I think coaches are the last bastion of hope in society in many regards, regardless of sport, regardless of whether they are college coaches or high school coaches or middle school coaches. Above all else within the profession, I hope that I am a coach’s coach. My relationship with Coach Orr started in the Fall of 1990, that’s when I met him. In San Jose, that was game #16 and game #17 of my head coaching career in the NCAA tournament. Only two people have been at all of those games, and that’s my wife and Coach Orr.
We could talk the rest of the show about what he has meant to me, but when you boil it down, he’s 82 and he’s in San Jose to watch games 16 and 17. I think that speaks to the relationship that we have. Obviously, when I met him and the two years that I worked for him [in Junior College], I had no idea that it would turn into all of these things and our relationship would be what it still is today. I think that shows the change that he made in my life.
On how his players handled the media attention last weekend…
Every time all of those people were trying to talk to me, I was trying to find ways for them not to talk to me. Let those kids do the postgame TV interview, let them do all of it. I was trying to tell [Bill] Dyer to make sure that he infiltrated the media with that. I’ve been around a lot of really good players that are also really good people, but I don’t know that I’ve been a part of a team that has really good players that are really good people that can articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as they can.
I was telling our guys each day, ‘Hey guys, these are the guys that are going to go to the stage for the interview.’ Then the next day, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to have these guys go.’ I think those are incredible reps for their life, but I think that it also gives glimpses from different ears and different eyes to hear our kids speak. I’m proud in the right way, but more so my spirit is learning from those guys. Some of the questions that they ask, it’s so easy to tell for me who takes pride in their craft and who has worked to develop the question that they ask. Then, who just asks the same ignorant questions that you see on Twitter.
To see how our kids handle them both the same, I have to get better at that. Listening to KJ [Blackshear], listening to Med [Ahmed Hill], Five’s [Justin Robinson] response on Thursday before we played on Friday. We even put Bede up there on Saturday morning, I thought that was a great rep for him. I’m astonished, to be honest, at how they’re able to, on that stage, articulate in such a humble way what this means and who we are. That’s been one of the best things in this process.
On what was going through his mind after beating Liberty…
I don’t know that there is, there’s for sure not, a book on how to appropriately handle things like that. The one thing that, I’m not very good at saying ‘Hello,’ I’m not good at saying ‘Goodbye,’ I’m not good at fluff. In that type of situation, when there’s so much emotion, the one thing that I want to be aware of is not to be offensive to anyone. I know this sounds maybe counterintuitive, but it means so much to Five and his family; partly because of his injury, partly because he’s a senior, partly because he’s such a good player.
It also means so much to Mully [Jonathan Kabongo], a freshman who rarely gets to play, and his oldest brother is there. So, I don’t want from my chair to treat or act as if it’s more important to someone or act as if someone may have had more of an impact. I’m really careful about that. I don’t want to be Jimmy V running around looking for someone to hug. I love him, even though I didn’t know him. I don’t want that moment, I don’t want it to ever appear as if it’s about me. I try to be cautious of that and I also try to be very aware of making sure that, whether you’re a manager or you’re Jamie [McNeilly] who has been with me the whole time, that I handle all of those emotions in the right way.
It’s the same thing in the locker room. I don’t tell those guys that it was my 100th win, that was coming from my staff. I appreciate that, very much so, but I want to be careful with it because then it seems like, ‘Oh, it was your 100th win and isn’t that cool? And the Sweet Sixteen.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it is cool. I don’t want to not acknowledge it, but I don’t want to suck up some of the emotion and energy from all of the lives that the experience changes.’ I just try to be, almost weird, I don’t want to cause problems. I want to love everybody the same.
On finding his family first after the game…
Those NCAA people subcontract out all of those security and ushers and it’s a great opportunity for those people, but they have so many rules and regulations that they’re trying to follow. I’m screaming at Dyer, ‘Where’s my family?’ As if Dyer even knows. They were on the other side of the court, and again, all that’s going through my brain is all of the things I just mentioned in the previous answer. So, I was caught off guard because they were on the other side. Against Saint Louis, they came from a different direction. That’s why I was looking around, like ‘Where are they?’ Anytime I see my crew, it does re-center me. I remember all of the games that we’ve played to get to the Sweet Sixteen, and they’ve all been there if they’ve been alive. That’s really cool.
On his postgame quote shirts for the tournament…
For the first time since we’ve been here, somebody outside of you guys asked about it, and I did such a poor job of answering it. What was going through my mind is, ‘Burnop is the only one who has ever asked me, but he has some context for what that is.’ So, whoever this guy is asks me, I didn’t know who he was, and I did such a poor job answering it. I never had peace, it’s two games. What two suits am I wearing? What socks am I wearing? What boxers? What shoes? As we talked about before we went out there, it just wears me smooth out.
So, I packed four quote shirts because I couldn’t have peace on which two. I never do that, so that threw me off. Which two am I going to take? The two that I wore, Newton’s Cradle was the one that I wore after our second game. You know the deal at your grandmother’s house, the little balls where you pull one up and it hits the next ball and makes the other side go up. I taught our guys that in late November, it bled into December, and they loved it. It turned into a quote shirt. Then, our kids started saying, ‘Yeah coach, that’s Newton’s Cradle.’ They would see how things are interconnected. So, it caught some steam. It’s the only one we’ve ever done that’s a chocolate brown color. I didn’t even know Nike did shirts that were chocolate brown dry-fits.
The one that I wore against Saint Louis was one of my favorite ones as far as the art work. It came from our postgame, ‘The Right Way is the Hard Way.’ Josh [Chambers] did that one on his own. You guys know the Brooks and Dunn song, ‘I Grew Up on Rural Route 3’? That’s one of my favorite songs because I grew up on Rural Route 1. Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the dirt road that I grew up on. In the background on that shirt, Corey [Williams] goes, ‘Are those mountains?’ I say, ‘No, those are not mountains. I grew up in the country, there aren’t any mountains. That’s a dirt road. Can’t you tell?’
I wore that one on Friday because I think we’ve done things the right way. It for sure, particularly this season, has been the hard way. I knew Five was going to play. He managed that, we managed that, his family handled that with great care. Our medical team, Mike Goforth, Dr. Catterson, Eddie Benion, they had such perfect bedside manners every time I met with them. That was why I wore that one. I wore the Newton’s Cradle one on Sunday because it’s so hard to articulate, ‘Here’s the one reason.’ It’s not one player, it’s not me, it’s not one situation, it’s not one game, it’s how they’re all interconnected. I never wore the ‘History’ one that our kids wore at Selection Sunday. I know it’s technically not a quote shirt, but it’s so special so I’m going to maybe figure out how to wear that to media practice this week.
On the Avengers-themed videos Josh Chambers created…
He was a manager during our first year here, then we worked really hard for him to have an opportunity for him to work with one of my closest friends the year after he graduated. During the year that he was gone, I missed him so much that, this was when Desiree [Reed-Francois] was the Deputy AD here, who is now the AD at UNLV, I started working with her initially to find a way to create a job for Josh. It ended up playing itself out perfectly. We ended up having someone on our staff leave and we recreated the job description with human resources, so Josh could fill that role, even though that was not initially what that job was.
He is the most gifted employee in our program. He is a special, special human being. He’s so caring that unless you spend a lot of time around him, you don’t realize what a great human being he is. The gifts that he has as a worker, I can’t articulate. Even with the quote shirts, ‘Hey Coach, here’s a quote shirt.’ He does it now, ‘Here’s four different designs of the same quote shirt,’ because I have to see it and say, ‘Can you do this one right here? Or can you take this from example three and this from example one, mash it together and can I see that?’ It’s the same thing on those cut-ups that he does. That takes hours to do, and I’ve been sending it to people I know in the entertainment industry and they use their words to describe how gifted he is. I don’t understand what they’re saying really, but what they’re saying is, ‘That guy is a pro.’
I’ve told Josh multiple times, ‘You are for sure underpaid, and you probably need to take this and start your own company.’ He just loves our kids, he loves ball, and he’s so anointed at what he does. Nobody in our organization can touch what he does, he’s the head coach of that, he runs it. That was my point to Desiree when all of this started, that’s how recruiting is going and that’s how exposure is going. We probably need to find the next two or three Josh’s because those things take so long to put together, that he is literally working twenty hours a day. We need to find two or three of those guys that can do some of that ground work, but we’ll get to that.
What is Avengers? Because everybody is texting me about it right now and I’m like, ‘What is that? I don’t know what that is.’ Bubba was telling me that it’s like the coolest thing ever. I’m like, ‘Ok. Good.’ I don’t even know what’s going on, but good for Josh.
On why he is, ‘the least used cog in the wheel’…
The best leaders produce better leaders. I don’t know that I would be considered the best leader, but one thing that I’ve really tried to work at is making sure that everyone in our organization grows. As they grow, as they #getBETTER, their responsibilities have to grow in order for them to continue to evolve and improve. As that happens, it’s human nature to grab a hold and say this is mine, relative to a responsibility, but as a leader, part of your example has to be how to be a great teammate. As our guys have grown and evolved and their responsibilities have increased, that’s forced me to let go of some of those things.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not involved, it doesn’t mean that I’m not aware, but I think the contentedness of our team has been a portion of the example that the contentedness of our staff has set. I remember when we had the staff changes, seeing some of the comments and reading some of what was said, and it really caught me off guard. I know that’s part of the business and that’s part of how things play itself out, and maybe I shouldn’t have an edge, but those were my people and I’m excited for them. That does not take away from the fact that I’m excited for their replacements and their growth.
I think that’s all a part of the process of a program growing and improving. Ernest Eugene literally tripled his money to be one of thirty in the world doing what he does, and he was with me for a decade, he’s one of my favorite people ever, I talk to him nearly every day even now. Jeff Reynolds doubled his money at 61 years old and had a distinct title change. That changes he and his wife’s retirement. I’m so excited for him. Rock [Steve Roccaforte] was the first Division I coach I ever met. The first T-shirt I ever got for free as a manager working for Coach Orr, it had the Pizza Hut logo on the back and on the front it said ‘Centenary Gents Basketball Camp 1990.’ He’s my favorite person ever, I’m so excited for him. I can’t believe we were able to work together for four years. I grew up thinking I was going to work for him, but that doesn’t mean that Lyle [Wolf] who has been with me for seven years now, got a double promotion, Devin [Johnson], who was a manager for me at New Orleans, got a double promotion, I’m excited.
I think that’s good, and not to throw water in everybody’s face, I think it’s worked out just fine. I think that’s part of being a leader is allowing that to evolve, allowing that to grow, allowing that to blossom. I think that’s what has happened within our organization. You guys see it in a completely different way, but how we went about things in year one, culturally they’re the same, but we have evolved as a program relative to how we go about things in year five. If what you’re going to be is having a lifestyle of getting better, then what you are in year five should be different than what you are in year one. It should turn into something different, that doesn’t mean the results will.
I think who I was upon arrival is completely different than who I am now. As a husband, as a father, as a coach, I think I am completely different, but I think I am better for the experience. I feel the exact same way for the players and coaches, regardless of their role, for the experience they’ve had, no matter how long it was, from being a part of our program.
On the celebration for his 100th win…
I was just giving everybody a dap and I thought everybody was just excited that we won. I didn’t know everybody was already working. I didn’t know there was going to be those plastic card 100 emojis, I didn’t know there was going to be a cake, I didn’t know any of that. What I heard first was Five and Devin saying, ‘Med, you were a part of all of that.’ Yeah, Med was a part of all 100.
Ty [Outlaw], who has my brain, is near my right shoulder and he’s about to give me a hug and he says, ‘What’d they say?’ I say, ‘Med was a part of all 100.’ He goes, ‘Why wasn’t I?’ I go, ‘Ty, you’ve only been here four years, I know it’s your sixth year of college, but you’ve only been here four years. You’ve been a part of 89.’ He goes, ’89 of the wins?’ I go, ‘Yeah, you’ve been here for 89, but Med’s been here since the beginning, he’s at 100.’
I turned to Med. Now Ty is saying, ‘Yeah we’ve won more since I’ve been here.’ That’s what they’re wanting to giggle about. I say to Med, ‘Why don’t you tell them how hard those first 11 were?’ This isn’t me, this is a byproduct of what all of us have been through, regardless of what portion of those wins they were a part of. I think that scene captures the culture of our program. It was something that I’ll remember forever. Not just the game, not just the Sweet Sixteen, not just 100. What I’ll remember is all of the people.
I told our guys, and I know this will lead to a commercial break. I told our guys when we beat Saint Louis, ‘Guys listen, the coach at Liberty used to work for Coach Layer. Do you remember when we were at Queens College last week and we took the picture on the floor? Then, I worked for Coach Layer when I was a kid. Then, when I got the job at Marquette, I hired Coach Layer. Then, after one season, Coach Layer became the coach at Liberty. Then, by the time I got to Virginia Tech, Coach Layer was still at Liberty and we played against him.’ Med goes, ‘Yeah!’ I go, ‘Liberty fired Coach Layer, so listen, the story is not going to be Lynchburg and Blacksburg out in San Jose. The story is not going to be Liberty vs. Virginia Tech. The story is not going to be Buzz Williams, Dale Layer, Ritchie McKay. We’re not answering those questions. The story is going to be the opportunity that we have in front of us and all of the work that led to this opportunity by all of the people involved. We’re not going to give the bad media an easy storyline, because that’s all they know to look for.’
I thought they handled it perfectly, but in the locker room after we beat Liberty, they’re pouring water on me because of 100. The coolest part in the locker room, and I’ve been thinking about how to tweet this out, was after they were done with me, they all started pouring water on Coach Layer. That scene is the scene you saw an hour later when we got back to the hotel. The next scene that I want to talk about, and I took a picture of it, if the flight is over five hours, it’s a long way from where you live. Corey has to take help drugs to get on a plane. Five hours of help drugs after two games, that’s about all I can endure with our four kids.
We land in Roanoke and there are 100 people in line at the ramp of the baggage. I go, ‘That’s our program.’ Nickeil [Alexander-Walker] is pulling the equipment bag to the bus, KJ is getting other people’s bags. Both of you guys are in the picture standing there, radio guys, waiting on the bags. What ends up happening is, everyone is drawn over there like a magnet and I’m thinking, ‘those band kids and those cheerleaders, they’re wondering what we’re doing standing outside waiting on the bags.’ There’s 100 people, not 100 bags, but we’re all standing there thinking this is what we’re supposed to be. I think those three scenes, the one you mentioned and the two I just mentioned, encapsulates our culture.
On how much they can take from the win over Duke earlier in the year…
That’s why I’ve tried to enjoy this conversation with you guys because the rest of my time, everything is going to be about Duke and Zion [Williamson]. I probably will say some things I shouldn’t say with the rest of those guys. Obviously, we’re thankful, that was a huge win for Virginia Tech. We could not control that Zion didn’t play, we could not control that Five didn’t play.
I don’t know that, schematically, anything has changed for Duke. Obviously, I still need to study some more. When we played them, I believe that was his third game out. He got hurt against North Carolina, they played at Syracuse, then us. I don’t think schematically things have changed, they just added the best player in the country in college back to their team. Schematically, a lot has changed for us since we played Duke because we didn’t have Five. Having the two games in San Jose was healthy for Five. We had two practices leading up to those games, and we’ll have two practices this week leading up to Friday’s game. It’s kind of incorporating schematically what we were doing without Five in addition to what we did with him.
I think his comfort level continues to improve, but so does the comfort level of the other kids on the floor with him. They have multiple lottery picks on their team. They have the best talent, maybe not the most talent on the team, but the best talent of any team in the country and maybe the best coach to ever coach in college. So, that we have an opportunity with our player back and their player back, I think that is fitting for both kids and both teams. We’ll have our hands full, as I would always say when playing Duke, no matter who is uniform for those guys.
On if he is ready for the ‘low-hanging fruit’ questions he is going to receive…
I think having a break will be good for me. I think the reps of round one and round two are healthy for me because I forget that the world is full of top water. Being able to be around it, it’s good for me because it kind of calms me down. I’m glad it’s in DC because of all of the people that live in that area, or it’s a lot closer than San Jose for people, whether it’s in a sports bar or whether they’re able to make it to the game. It will kind of feel like this part of the country and hopefully we perform well, but that will end up being a great experience for all of those people that support the Hokies.