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June 17, 2009

Moves in the coaching ranks not the norm during the summer

By: Jimmy Robertson

In the athletics business, the month of June serves one of two purposes – it either provides time for camps or it allows for some vacation time for the staffs.

At Tech, though, this June has been the month for two rather important coaching moves.
And both came within a 24-hour span.

Arguably the biggest came when men’s soccer head coach Oliver Weiss surprisingly announced his resignation on June 2 following seven seasons as the Hokies’ head man. Weiss, who guided the Hokies to a 72-57-1 record and led the team to the NCAA’s College Cup in 2007, cited his pursuit of other opportunities as the reason behind his departure.

Tech AD Jim Weaver quickly filled the spot nine days later, promoting Weiss’ main assistant – and arguably the nicest guy in the athletics department – Mike Brizendine, who had been Weiss’ top assistant for five years.

The decision makes sense on multiple fronts. First, there was little time for Weaver and his senior staff to embark on a national search for a soccer coach. Recruiting has already started for future years and most in the coaching profession are wedded to their current positions. Those factors alone limited the pool of candidates.

Plus, Brizendine’s resume looks pretty good. He played at James Madison for four years and he dabbled in the professional ranks for a while before landing at Bridgewater College, a Division III school near Harrisonburg, Va. He worked his way into a head coaching position and his men’s team went 23-13 over his final two seasons. As a head coach at a Division III school, he certainly knows how to work.

Finally, he recruited a lot of players that helped Weiss to that 72-57-1 record. He knows them and the expectations of the program at Tech.

“Briz has been a pivotal contributor in the development of the program and I'm happy to see that he will be rewarded with such a great opportunity,” said James Gilson, one of the Hokies’ returning players. “He has been very dedicated since I have been here and I am confident he will be successful.”

“He possesses the skills we value in our head coaches,” Weaver said in a statement announcing Brizendine’s hire. “He has a great deal of experience in coaching, including three seasons as a collegiate head coach. Mike is respected as an outstanding recruiter and is proven to be an effective communicator.”

Twenty-four hours after the Brizendine announcement, Tech men’s basketball coach Seth Greenberg made an all-important hire, adding Bill Courtney to his staff to replace Stacey Palmore, who left to take an assistant’s job at Georgia. Courtney had just gotten a job at VCU under new coach Shaka Smart, but had spent the previous three seasons at Virginia under Dave Leitao before losing his job after Leitao was dismissed following this past season.

This, too, figures to be a good hire. Greenberg opted for some Division-I experience with this hire, as Courtney has coached at the Division-I level since 1995.

Courtney helped Jim Larranaga build George Mason into a big-time winner, recruiting most of the prominent players on Mason’s 2006 Final Four team. Courtney, who coached a season at Providence before moving on to Virginia, possesses a ton of contacts in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas from his days at George Mason, and that obviously appealed to Greenberg. Some of Tech’s better players, including current standouts Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney and incoming transfer Allan Chaney, all hail from those areas.

“We are very fortunate to have Bill joining our staff,” Greenberg said in a statement announcing Courtney’s hiring. “He is a seasoned veteran who understands recruiting at the very highest level. He assisted Jim Larranaga in building George Mason into an elite program in the CAA [Colonial Athletic Association] and everyone that I have spoken with has the highest regard for his ability to coach, teach and mentor. He will help us to continue to build the Virginia Tech brand in college basketball.”

You rarely see these types of important hires made in June. It’s usually a month for other tasks of less serious note in the athletics world.

Usually, that is.

Looking ahead

The next issue of Inside Hokie Sports will be the football preview issue and it will be mailed around mid-August. No issue will be mailed during the month of July.