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It's Unusual, But James Johnson Hire For Football Could Work...

Facing an issue with the light switches in your house, you’re probably not going to call the poolboy.

In this world of specialization, each of us have different skill sets that we can offer others. I’m not going to walk into Tesla and tell Elon Musk how to make his cars more affordable, just like I wouldn’t expect Mr. Musk to tell me how to write a game recap on an 11 p.m. deadline.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Musk couldn’t teach me a thing or three when it comes to time management, task organization and more. He’s a pretty smart guy, regardless of how you view him.

That’s the closest analogy I can think of when considering Virginia Tech’s hiring of James Johnson.

Mind you, this is 2023, not 2012. Almost 10 years ago, Whit Babcock and Virginia Tech dismissed Johnson as head basketball coach after an abysmal 22-41 record over two seasons. Johnson bounced back at Miami as the director of basketball operations and eventually as an assistant coach for NC State.

Johnson reportedly stepped down from his post in May 2022. Since then, it’s unclear what Johnson’s been doing in the professional world. One thing is for certain — I never expected him to return to Blacksburg.

Brent Pry’s decision to hire Johnson as the second Director of High School Relations turned more heads than a hire for such a position should. But Johnson, a basketball lifer, is now worried about a completely different sport. He’s a fish out of water.

Pry justified the move by praising Johnson for his “infectious personality” and desire to be in Blacksburg. Even without a position on staff, Johnson was apparently helping the Hokies put together their Class of 2023 Signing Day ceremony.

What kind of impact can Johnson potentially have? How big is his network of connections? These are the questions that matter.

As a Director of High School Relations, Johnson’s primary role will be fostering productive relationships with high school coaches and teachers, as well as other power players in different areas. And as Pry continues to emphasize recruiting within Virginia Tech’s regional footprint, I dug deeper into Johnson’s recruiting in the Virginia and North Carolina areas.

At NC State, Johnson unsurprisingly focused on the Tar Heel State for incoming talent. From 2018 through 2023, which are recruiting classes that Johnson likely had the largest impact on, NC State signed 19 recruits and transfers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey all the way down to Florida. That includes 13 players from Virginia and North Carolina.

Even at Miami, the ‘Canes pulled a recruit from the DMV in both 2016 and 2017. Johnson was only handling basketball operations but given his experience I’m sure Jim Larranaga took Johnson’s recruiting opinions under advisement.

Starting with the Class of 2013 at Virginia Tech, James Johnson’s programs have signed recruits from 13 different high schools within the DMV and 23 different high schools within the Hokies’ historical recruiting footprint.

That’s not an insignificant number, considering the smaller roster sizes in basketball. But Johnson has been around the block long enough to create those relationships with the people that matter. Pry is counting on it.

Hopefully, Virginia Tech will not rely on James Johnson to evaluate players. He’s not qualified for that, at least not when it comes to skills and talent. Johnson’s role is much different, and that’s what makes him somewhat qualified to do the job.

No normal Director of High School Relations would require this much analysis, but Johnson is a one-off case. It’s admittedly a weird fit — Johnson has never coached or recruited for a football team, at least not collegiately. Regardless, he still has a skill set that is desirable for a position like this.

Johnson’s arrival likely will play an incredibly small role in how Brent Pry’s tenure at Virginia Tech goes, good or bad. But it is a case study in how Pry makes personnel decisions. For that reason alone, it’s worth following Johnson’s performance closely.


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Thursday, 01 June 2023

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