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December 18, 2013

Smoot finds himself in a familiar role

By: Jimmy Robertson

Former head of the Virginia Tech Foundation Ray Smoot chaired the search committee that led to Jim Weaver’s hiring and will do so again

A little more than two years ago, Ray Smoot decided to retire from his leadership position at the Virginia Tech Foundation and remain on only in a part-time role to help the university and the foundation.

The longtime Tech employee, who had served in many roles during his 30-plus years on campus, planned on watching the trains roll past his house – he loves trains – and to do as much fishing as possible.

Yet instead of fishing these days, he finds himself casting for a successor to Jim Weaver, Tech’s AD who announced his retirement effective at the end of the year. Smooth now chairs a committee that is conducting a national search for Weaver’s replacement.

“I’m finding that I’m not as retired as I hope to eventually become,” Smoot laughed.

In tabbing Smoot to chair the search committee, outgoing university president Dr. Charles Steger couldn’t have picked a better person. After all, Smoot possesses experience in this sort of thing.

In 1997, then-AD David Braine left Virginia Tech to become the AD at Georgia Tech. A search committee headed by Smoot hired a search firm, and the committee later forwarded Weaver’s name and those of a couple of others to then-president Dr. Paul Torgersen, who hired Weaver.

This time, Collegiate Sports Associates has been tasked to help find Tech’s next AD.

“This is typical in AD searches and other positions in the university,” Smoot said. “They’re [search firms] knowledgeable about people around the country – they tend to have people who were AD’s themselves. They’ll receive applications from people who are interested and quietly seek out persons who may be a good fit here based on the profile of what our committee is looking for in an AD.

“After some time, they’ll bring to the committee some people to consider. We’ll reduce that number to around six and interview each one separately. We’ll check references, and after that, reduce the number to two or three and submit those names to the university president.

“It is not our function [as a committee] to choose the AD. That will be up to the president.”

In 1997, the stakes were high for the search committee, as school searched for someone to guide it toward a home for all its sports – Tech played football in the Big East and wrestled in the Colonial Athletic Association, while the rest of the sports were in the Atlantic 10. Weaver helped the school get into the BIG EAST for all sports and later played a role in getting Tech into the ACC.

But the stakes are high this time around, too. The new AD theoretically will be making the biggest hire in the history of Tech athletics – the hiring of the replacement for football coach Frank Beamer when Beamer decides to retire. Beamer’s contract runs through 2016, but he has left the door open to coach beyond that point. Yet no one coaches forever.

“Obviously, one of the attributes we’re looking for is an AD who has made successful appointments where he or she was previously,” Smoot said. “That’s just one of many things that are important.

“We’re also looking for someone who has shown a strong record of compliance. We’re looking for academic successes, financial stability, competitiveness in all sports and fan and donor relations. All those things will be looked at and analyzed.”

Smoot understands the challenges that an AD faces. He once sat in that chair, serving as the interim AD for eight months following Dutch Baughman’s abrupt resignation in June of 1987.

He expects to be interviewing the cream of the crop among ADs in intercollegiate athletics. Much has changed since Smoot and his search committee recommended Weaver in 1997. The school resides in the ACC, the athletics department is one of the few nationally in good financial shape, the graduation rates are among the best in the nation, the facilities are outstanding and the sports programs are winning (16 ACC championships in nine years).

“I think we’ve got one of the premier jobs in the country,” Smoot said. “I think we’re going to be highly sought after by the best talent.”

Steger, Smoot and the other power figures on Tech’s campus know the value of athletics to the university landscape. Thus, this decision will command the utmost of attention.

“Athletics is of great interest to high school students and their parents, and doing well in athletics provides great attention to the public,” Smoot said. “If you have a competitive athletics program, you’re going to attract the interest of prospective students.

“Athletics also connects alumni and fans in a way that few other things on campus do. Many donors who support athletics also support academics. The relationship with the donors spills over.

“So not having a successful athletics program is not an option.”