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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Virginia Tech replaces Seth Greenberg with his top assistant

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James Johnson (US Presswire)

The only thing more surprising than Virginia Tech's decision to fire coach Seth Greenberg last week is the man the Hokies have apparently chosen to replace him.

James Johnson, Greenberg's top assistant, has accepted the job, multiple media outlets reported Monday.

It was Johnson's departure from Virginia Tech to Brad Brownell's staff at Clemson that helped trigger athletic director Jim Weaver's decision to get rid of Greenberg. Not only was Johnson one of three members of the Virginia Tech staff who left for other jobs this spring, he opted not to stay even after Weaver offered to match the raise Clemson was offering.

[Related: Virginia Tech pulls tacky move before firing coach]

What's most unusual about the hire is Weaver seemed adamant about wanting to make a clean break from Greenberg's regime. Johnson has a less abrasive personality than the energetic, high-strung Greenberg, but he was also a member of the Virginia Tech staff for the last five seasons.

"I want to change the leadership such that the person at the top of the program has the same kind of family environment our other programs have," Weaver said last week. "It became crystal clear to me last week we didn't have that."

The upside to the hire of Johnson is that it should diminish the potential of any major roster turnover.

Uncertainty regarding the coaching situation left Virginia Tech's current players and signed recruits unsure whether to ask for their release with only a week to go before spring semester final exams. Judging by forward Cadarian Raines' reaction Monday afternoon, the players are pleased that the new hire is someone with whom they're very familiar.

"Throwing a party tonight," Raines tweeted. "It's a great day to be a #hokie."

[Related: A look at college hoops' offseason coaching moves]

Keeping the roster intact and adding Greenberg's final recruiting class should give Virginia Tech the opportunity to contend for an upper-division ACC finish and an NCAA tournament berth next season. The question in the long term about Johnson is whether he's prepared for the position despite a lack of head coaching experience.

What would probably benefit Johnson is to hire a veteran assistant with head coaching experience. Johnson is very familiar with the challenges of winning at Virginia Tech, but a trusted assistant who has been a head coach might ease the transition even more.

While many schools have fired their coach and hired an assistant on an interim basis, it's extremely rare for an athletic director to make the fired coach's top aide his permanent hire right away. Now it's up to Johnson to prove that Weaver's unusual decision was the correct one.

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