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December 17, 2013

Success should be the mark of Jim Weaver’s legacy

By: Jimmy Robertson

We’re four months into the academic year, which means four months into college sports’ playing seasons, and already, it’s been a bit of a bizarre fall/early winter in Blacksburg.

Consider the following: the football team won six of its first seven games, reached No. 16 in the rankings and then lost to Duke, BC and Maryland down the stretch. The Hokies went into late November needing a Duke loss, which tells you how crazy the ACC was this season.

Also, no one outside of Blacksburg expected much of the Tech women’s soccer team heading into the season. After all, the league’s coaches picked the Hokies to finish ninth in the ACC in the preseason poll. Yet, behind a wonderful collection of young ladies guided by a pretty sharp coach in Chugger Adair, the Hokies made the ACC championship game and went to the College Cup and came pretty close to becoming the first team at Tech to win a national championship.

But the big news of the fall came when AD Jim Weaver announced his retirement because of health reasons. The AD with the second-longest tenure of any AD in Tech history decided the pain just kept him from putting in the time to do the job the way he wanted to do it.

Weaver’s retirement announcement in early November dominated all storylines this fall. It’s necessarily not because he retired, but because of the overwhelming legacy he leaves behind.

Weaver took nearly every area of Tech athletics and made it better. His best moves were his most visible ones – helping to get Tech into the BIG EAST for all sports, helping guide the school into the ACC, constructing all the facilities and upgrading the football schedule with additions like Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Nebraska.

Yet he also made important moves that never garnered public spotlight. He fought for additional staffing in the Student-Athlete Academic Support Service office to help student-athletes with academics and ultimately increase graduation rates. He expanded auxiliary units such as sports medicine and strength and conditioning. Of course, he kept the department running in the black, a rarity in college athletics these days.

“When I left there, I didn’t think anybody could do any better than we did,” former Tech AD David Braine told David Teel of The Daily Press. “But he [Weaver] obviously has.”

Weaver led with an unmatched work ethic and impeccable organizational skills. He once showed me his folder on football scheduling, and it was a couple of inches thick. It contained all his hand-written notes following every conversation with an opposing AD on the subject. He dated his notes and kept them in chronological order within the file. He used different colors of ink, too, so as to not get confused.

Though he had the final say on matters, he valued others’ input. He often signed off on additional staffing and pay increases for those who received offers from rivals. With facilities, he solicited the input of those who were going to be using the facilities. For example, he let Mike Gentry and his staff design the new Olympic sports training facility, and he let Lester Karlin design the new equipment room.

Weaver’s path to such a tremendous legacy wasn’t always a stroll down Spring Road. It took people within the department some time to adjust to Weaver’s businesslike approach, which contrasted with Braine’s patience and charm.

Maybe that goes back to Weaver’s Pennsylvania roots. The son of a high school football coach, Weaver played at Penn State under legendary Joe Paterno. Toughness and work ethic are just parts of a player’s DNA and never exit a player’s blood.

But people came to respect and like Weaver because they saw his moves making a difference. And Weaver softened some as the years went on, becoming more comfortable in Southwest Virginia, and in particular, after he and wife Traci had their son, Craig.

Now, the thing Weaver will miss most about being the AD at Tech is the people.

“I am most proud of the people we have,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right kind of people to make facilities work, so it’s not just making the facilities. It’s getting the right kind of people who philosophically believe what you believe and can handle the issues that need to be taken care of to move forward.”

Weaver and his family plan on staying in Blacksburg. He’s invested a lot in Tech athletics and wants to see where the programs go in the future. Those in the department want to see him around, too, knowing the role he played in getting the department to this point in its history.

A lot of people respect Jim Weaver not for the position he held, but for the person he is.

Count this writer among those who hold that same view.