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February 17, 2014

Tech tabs Babcock as new AD

By: Jimmy Robertson

Native Virginian Whit Babcock returns to his home state to oversee the Hokies’ athletics program after a lengthy career in athletics administration at four different BCS schools

Whit Babcock was born and raised in Virginia, and he called
returning to the state as Virginia Tech’s new AD his “dream job.”

Whit Babcock’s first visit to the Virginia Tech campus came in the 1970s. His father, Brad, served as the head coach of the James Madison University baseball team and brought his team to Blacksburg for a game against the Hokies.

Whit tagged along with the team, and his father put him to work. He was the batboy.

Now, he’s back in Blacksburg, except he’s a skipper – this time, of the entire Virginia Tech athletics department.

On Jan. 24, Virginia Tech announced the hiring of Babcock as the school’s athletics director. Babcock takes over for Jim Weaver, who retired at the end of last year following more than 16 years at the helm of the Hokies’ athletics department. Sharon McCloskey, a senior associate AD and senior woman administrator, had been serving as the interim AD.

Babcock, 43, will be returning to his roots, as the fifth-generation Virginian was born in Lynchburg and raised in Harrisonburg. He attended Harrisonburg High School and later James Madison, where he lettered all four years as a member of the baseball team.

He’s no stranger to Blacksburg, having been to Tech’s campus with his father and the Dukes’ baseball team many times growing up as a child. In the 1980s, he came to Tech to watch Bruce Smith harass quarterbacks at Lane Stadium and to watch Dell Curry loft sweet jumpers at Cassell Coliseum. In the 1990s, he played at English Field as a baseball player for JMU.

Now, he returns, and he hopes for good.

“When those closest to me would ask, ‘Whit, if you could pick one place in the country to be the director of athletics, where would it be?’” he said at an introductory news conference on Jan. 29. “That answer has been and is Virginia Tech. I’m humbled and blessed. Today is a dream come true.”

Babcock’s hiring ended a two-month national search by a 12-member search committee. Ray Smoot, the former CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, served as the chair of the committee, working in the exact same role that he did when Weaver was hired in the fall of 1997.

Smoot and the committee received more than 50 applicants for the position. The committee interviewed eight in person and then suggested three names for outgoing university president Dr. Charles Steger and incoming president Dr. Tim Sands.

“The search process was broad, thorough and vigorous,” said Smoot, who would not reveal the other two finalists. “We had excellent candidates, and we’re delighted that it has come to the result we see here today [at the introductory news conference].”

Babcock met individually with both Steger and Sands, who begins his tenure as Tech’s president on June 1. Steger said that he and Sands quickly formed unanimity on the decision to hire Babcock.

Steger cited several things that worked in Babcock’s favor as the choice.

“We recognized his substantial experience in managing what is a large business enterprise that is going to grow, his ability to attract and identify coaches and staff, and his ability to energize the fan base, which is important,” he said. “We’re pleased to have someone who has this type of well-rounded ability and talent.”

Babcock, who started Feb. 17, agreed to a six-year contract that runs through June 30, 2020. He will make $470,000 per year and receives an annual retention incentive of $140,000 beginning on Dec. 31 of this year. He also receives a five percent raise each year beginning on Jan. 1, 2015. In addition, he receives incentive bonuses based on how teams finish and if teams reach certain standards in the classroom.

Babcock comes to Tech from Cincinnati, where he had served as the AD since October of 2011. During his tenure at Cincinnati, he initiated a new administrative structure within the department and proposed a comprehensive vision and capital campaign for facilities, including an $86 million renovation and expansion to Nippert Stadium, the Bearcats’ football home. He also set forth a scholarship enhancement plan for Olympic sports, crafted a three-year strategic plan for all facets of the program, hired six head coaches and implemented numerous external relations strategies to connect and engage with Bearcats’ alumni, donors, fans and students.

Babcock loved his position at Cincinnati. But he felt he could not pass up the opportunity at Virginia Tech.

It was appealing to me primarily because of two reasons – fit and opportunity,” he said. “My Virginia heritage – I’m a fifth-generation Virginian – certainly helps with fit and understanding the culture, and coming home is a big component.

“But it’s more than that. It’s also the opportunity to compete against the best and to join a championship-caliber program that is and will continue to be a leader in the ACC athletically and academically.”

Most of Babcock’s notoriety while at Cincinnati centered on the Nippert Stadium expansion and renovation project, which is scheduled for completion prior to the 2015 season, and for hiring football coach Tommy Tuberville, who guided the Bearcats to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Belk Bowl this past season. Behind Babcock’s leadership, the Cincinnati athletics department financed the stadium project with private funding and future premium seating revenues. No university funds were allocated toward the project.

Babcock’s ability to make large business decisions and his ability to identify and attract talented coaches and staff made him attractive to the Tech search committee, which worked with Collegiate Sports Associates, a consulting and executive search firm, during the process. Also, Babcock’s background in fundraising, marketing, promotions, ticket sales, licensing and multimedia partnerships helped lead to his hiring.

In fact, Babcock’s background in fundraising and marketing is extensive. Prior to arriving at Cincinnati, he worked for five years at the University of Missouri as the executive associate AD, overseeing all fundraising matters and providing directorial oversight of marketing and promotions, the athletics ticket office, game operations, licensing, Internet services, media relations and Mizzou Sports Properties (multimedia and corporate partnership rights). Under Babcock’s leadership, Missouri achieved all-time highs in donor participation, fundraising, season ticket sales and department-wide revenue generation.

Babcock worked for five years (2002-07) as an assistant AD and executive director of development for West Virginia University, where he oversaw the fundraising efforts for the institution’s Mountaineer Athletic Club. From 1997-2002, he worked at Auburn, serving as the assistant AD for development there.

Whit Babcock, wife Kelly and sons Andrew, Brett and Eli became a part of the Virginia Tech family when the university named Babcock as the athletics director.

He believes that creating memorable experiences and developing relationships is the key to fundraising success.

“A big win is a memorable experience, but I can’t control that. Or our staff can’t control that," he said. “But is a memorable experience the way they’re [fans] greeted by a parking attendant when they come in? Is a memorable experience that the restrooms are the cleanest they’ve seen in any stadium? I’m just using these as examples. Is a memorable experience the impression that a student-athlete or a prospective student-athlete gets when they come to campus and are greeted by everybody in the building? Is a memorable experience the way our student-athletes sit in the front row of classes with that faculty member?

From a fundraising standpoint and a fan standpoint, it’s about relationships. You have to show people a need. You have to build a sincere relationship. Your customer experience and customer service better be darn good because you can build a relationship for 20 years and screw it up in 20 seconds.

“People have to trust you, and you have to paint a vision for them and show them how they can make an impact. The reason we want to treat all of our fans well is because they are all important. There’s an old adage in our business that everyone’s first gift is their smallest. If you do things right, it moves on up the line. So we’ll look forward to engaging everybody and focus on that point of creating memorable experiences when they come in contact with us.”

As for the numbers, Babcock told media members that he has looked at Tech’s budget, which sits at around $65 million. Steger has said publicly that the athletics budget will go to $100 million in a few years.

But Babcock knows that big budgets do not always equate to success.

If it was all about the biggest budget, then Texas, Florida and Ohio State would never lose a game,” he said. “So we’ve got to ‘out-people’ people. We’ve got to hire very well. We’ve got to be financially sound with our resources.”

Arguably one of the biggest question on the minds of Tech fans centered on head football coach Frank Beamer, whose contract runs through the 2016 season. The Tech legend and Hall of Famer will be 70 at that point, and Babcock, in all likelihood, will be naming Beamer’s successor when Beamer decides to retire.

Babcock refused to get into speculation on Beamer or any other Tech coach, other than to say his job as an AD requires that he have succession planning in mind.

That shouldn’t make any of our coaches paranoid,” he said. “If you’re prepared for a coaching search, you should have a list close by or some people you can call on to do it. Hiring coaches is part of the job. Living in the household with one helped, and hiring a few along the way helped. But they’re [coaching searches] all different and a pressure cooker when you get into them.

“Right now, I’m more interested in supporting our coaches than replacing them.”

Babcock learned how to support coaches at a young age. His father, Brad, served as the baseball coach at JMU for 19 years.

Brad Babcock was at the news conference, along with several members of Whit Babcock’s family – most of whom still live in Virginia. Of course, his wife, Kelly, and sons Andrew, Brett and Eli sat in the front row at the news conference, wearing some form of maroon and/or orange.

They are all part of Hokie Nation now – and Babcock couldn’t be happier.

I will work tirelessly to represent that brand and all that it stands for and to represent Hokie Nation in a manner in which you all can be proud,” he said. “I can appreciate the heritage and traditions of what makes Virginia Tech so special. We will respect those traditions while also working to build a culture of continuous improvement and dynamic growth.

“Now is not the time to fall back or plateau. It will take all of us, all of the Hokie family pulling in the same direction to accomplish that. I’m confident we can do it together.”


Name Years
Whit Babcock 2014-current
Jim Weaver 1997-2013
David Braine 1988-97
Dutch Baughman 1986-87
Bill Dooley (1978-86)
Frank O. Moseley 1951-77
W.L. Younger 1935-50
C.P. “Sally” Miles 1920-34
post abolished 1911-19
L.W. Reiss 1910
B.B. Bocock 1909
R.M. Brown 1908