BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Buzz Williams says he’s taking over “a sleeping giant” as Virginia Tech’s men’s basketball coach.
The former Marquette coach was introduced Monday at Cassell Coliseum at what was part press conference and part pep rally with the cheerleaders, the dance team, the band, blaring music and much more fanfare, as well as free pizza to entice roughly 2,000 Hokies fans to turn out and celebrate the day.
“I think it’s a sleeping giant. There’s a lot of work to be done,” Williams said of a program that has taken up residence in the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings recently. “… What I can tell you without promising anything other than you’ll have my heart, you’ll have my soul. I’ll work at it every single day and I’ll do right by the institution, I’ll do right by this department, I’ll do right by our program and I’ll also do right by alumni and those that are in the community that support Virginia Tech.”
Williams compiled a 139-69 record in six seasons at Marquette, leading the Golden Eagles to five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before they fell short this season, finishing 17-15.
He said there was no hidden reason for why he decided to leave Marquette and that he had nothing negative to say about his time there, but he likes the challenge of rebuilding the Hokies’ program.
He received a seven-year contract and will be paid $2.3 million in his first year and receive $100,000 raises in each subsequent season. His budget also included $725,000 for his top three assistants.
He takes over a program that has finished last three years in a row in the ACC and won six of 38 games in league play during the last two seasons under James Johnson– but is not without amenities. The school opened a $21 million practice facility in August 2009, and the team’s home arena, which seats 9,847, can be an imposing place for opponents with fans close to the court.
“I think it’s been done here before. I think it’s time to do it again,” Williams said of winning.
Williams is in the process of trying to assemble a staff, getting to know his returning players, reaching out to recruits who have previously committed to the Hokies, and handling other issues.
“I think the first 100 days on any job are what sets the foundation and lays the groundwork,” he said. “I want to be thoughtful, but yet I want to be ruthless in how we go about that.”
The hiring and introduction of Williams ended a whirlwind week for new Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock. He announced the dismissal of Johnson last Monday and had Williams in the fold by Friday.
Babcock, who said he borrowed the idea for the pep rally-like atmosphere in hopes of infusing the program with excitement heading into the offseason, said he first met with Williams on Thursday night, a meeting that lasted into Friday morning and resulted in an agreement before anyone else was considered.
Williams’ pay, Babcock said, is near the upper edge of what the Hokies can afford, and an anticipated spike in ticket sales from getting a proven winner as the coach will help pay it, as well as the end of continuing payments owed to Seth Greenberg, who was fired after the 2010-11 season, and Johnson.
“My style is I like to try to hit a home run pretty early,” Babcock told the crowd to wild applause. “… I’m grateful to Buzz and to (Williams’ wife) Corey for believing in what we’re selling.”
Babcock, hired away from Cincinnati, took over the position on Feb. 17.
Williams said the Hokies’ style will depend in large measure, especially early, on the team’s talent, but that he’d eventually like to get to a place the Hokies play up-tempo on offense and stingy defense.