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February 17, 2014

Babcock the perfect fit to be Tech's AD

By: Jimmy Robertson

The minute the word came out about Whit Babcock being named the new athletics director at Virginia Tech, many in Hokie Nation expressed the same reaction. Or in other words, “Who?”

Only the most educated of fans and those who toil in the day-to-day operations of athletics enterprises know the names of various AD’s around the country. Many have probably heard of Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick or USC’s Pat Haden, but how many know the name of Florida State’s AD? Answer: Stan Wilcox – and the Seminoles just won the national title in football eight weeks ago.

But Tech fans are going to get to know Babcock rather quickly. And they’re going to like him – because he’s a lot like them.

Taking a step back for a minute, by nearly every account, the Tech search committee, led by Ray Smoot, nailed it again. Smoot chaired the committee that hired Jim Weaver more than 16 years ago and that worked out quite well, and there is every reason for Tech fans to feel confident that Babcock’s hiring will be just as successful, if not more so.

Yes, Babcock sports an impressive resumé. He has sat in the big chair (as the AD at Cincinnati). He has worked at four prominent schools over the course of 20 years, and a background in fundraising and marketing – critical components in leading an athletics department these days – made him attractive. He brings a fresh perspective in areas of utmost important to the future of the Tech athletics department.

Those represent reasons enough for Tech fans to cheer his hiring. But for Tech fans, they can relate to Babcock’s story.

Like many Tech fans and alums, Babcock grew up in Virginia. He served as the batboy for his dad, who was the baseball coach at JMU. He came to Tech many times, first with his dad’s team as a batboy in the 1970s and then as a player in the early 1990s. As a teenager in the 1980s, he came to Blacksburg and cheered on Dell Curry and Bruce Smith – just like many Tech fans used to do.

Babcock has blue-collar roots. He readily admitted to being an “average” baseball player during his introductory meeting to athletics department personnel, but he wanted to stay in the sport after college. So he took a job starting at the bottom – just like many Tech fans have done when starting out their careers.

He landed a job in Nashville working for the Triple-A baseball team there. His task consisted of selling tickets – not the easiest of jobs.

He then moved on to Huntsville, Ala., and worked for the minor league team there. He made less than $20,000 per year, but came away with something much more valuable – his wife.

After working in Huntsville for a year, he came to the realization that he liked college sports more than pro sports.

“I quickly realized that I missed the college experience,” he said. “That’s in my heart.”

Babcock’s career then took him to Auburn (as an administrator). Then West Virginia. Then Missouri. Then Cincinnati. Through hard work, determination and persistence, he gradually worked his way into the job he wanted – just like many Tech fans have done.

He said he obtained his dream job when Tech presidents Dr. Charles Steger and Dr. Timothy Sands, who takes over on June 1, offered him the position. All cited Babcock’s experience as to what sold them on him, but he’s more, much more, than a numbers cruncher and a boss who knows how to fire coaches and hire good replacements. His experience as a student-athlete enables him to relate to student-athletes and their needs and wants, and having lived with a head coach gives him the perspective of a head coach.

Where else could Virginia Tech have gotten a native Virginian, someone with experience as an AD, someone with a background in fundraising and marketing, and someone who understands the life of a student-athlete and a coach?

“We’re pleased to have someone who has this type of well-rounded ability and talent,” Steger admitted.

Babcock inherits a good situation. Weaver left things in good shape. But there are looming issues, and there will be others.

He is ready.

“I’ve been working in it [athletics] for 20-some years,” he said. “So directly or indirectly, I’ve been preparing to sit up here [as the AD at Tech] for 43 years. I’m not intimidated by the job, but I’ll need some help. We all learn, and we all need good people around us.”

He’s got good people, and a nation of orange and maroon. He’s about to become a household name to them. And once they get to know him, they’ll provide him with as much help as he needs.