BLACKSBURG — Whit Babcock is back home, he’s got his “dream” job and he’s making nearly half-a-million dollars a year.
Now, big-time challenges await the Harrisonburg High School graduate.
Virginia Tech formally introduced Babcock as its new athletic director Wednesday during a press conference at Lane Stadium, a venue that has become the face of the university for much of the nation thanks to the Hokies’ ready-for-prime-time football program.
“When those closest to me, my family and my mentors would ask, ‘Whit, if you could pick one place in the country, one place, your top place in the country to be the director of athletics, where would it be?”’ Babcock said. “That answer has been and is Virginia Tech. I’m humbled and blessed. Today is a dream come true.”
At 43 years old, Babcock will be the youngest athletic director in the Atlantic Coast Conference and inherit a job previously held by 68-year-old Jim Weaver, who was the oldest A.D. in the conference. Weaver stepped down at the end of December due to health reasons.
A search committee of 12 people identified 50 candidates for the job before interviewing eight in person. Three finalists were presented to outgoing president Charles Steger, who made the final decision.
“Whit was chosen from a very strong pool of candidates, but we recognized his substantial experience in managing what is a large business enterprise that is going to grow, his ability to identify and attract talented coaches and staff, and we were also impressed with his ability to energize the fan base, which is very important,” Steger said.
Tech will pay Babcock $470,000 annually through June 30, 2020. He has an annual retention incentive of $140,000, payable beginning Dec. 31, 2014. He also received a signing bonus of $325,000.
Babcock spent the last two-plus years as athletic director at Cincinnati, where he led several expansion projects, including an $86 million renovation of the football stadium. He also lured football coach Tommy Tuberville from Texas Tech to Cincinnati in 2012.
“Virginia Tech was particularly appealing to me for two reasons – fit and opportunity,” he said in front of a group of about 20 friends and family as well as media members. “My Virginia heritage certainly helps with fit and understanding the culture, and coming home is a very big component, but it’s more than that. It’s also the opportunity to compete against the best and join a championship-caliber program that is and will continue to be a leader both athletically and academically.”
He takes over an athletics department that had the eighth-biggest budget among the 14 current all-sports ACC schools in 2012, the most recent year for which figures were available, at $66.4 million (the University of Virginia had the largest budget, $84.1 million).
He also takes over an athletics department that appears to be operating in the black. Tech’s $4.3 million net gain was the second-highest in the ACC in 2012.
The Hokies do have several struggling teams, most notably the men’s basketball program, which has faded since the school fired coach Seth Greenberg in April 2012.
Babcock declined to go into detail when asked about his immediate plans when he takes over full-time on Feb. 17.
“I expressed this to our whole staff this morning: I’m coming in with my eyes wide open and a blank slate, no preconceived notions, no timetable,” Babcock said. “I will be meeting with every single staff member one-on-one as I get my hands around this.”
Football – Tech’s biggest moneymaker – is also of huge importance to Babcock. Coach Frank Beamer, 67, will enter his 27th season in Blacksburg next fall, and he is under contract through the 2016 season.
Babcock will likely be the man who hires Beamer’s replacement.
“I’ve done no succession planning for Frank Beamer at this time,” Babcock said. “I’d like to be on the job a lot longer than that. ... Pressure? Absolutely there’s pressure any time you replace a Hall of Fame, legendary coach, you’d feel pressure, too. But I hope he coaches for a long time, wins a lot of games. In many facets, he’s the brand of Virginia Tech athletics.
“I’m much more interested in finding out what I can do to support Coach Beamer than I am at this point of eventually having to replace him, whenever that time may be. He’s a legend, he’s a Hall of Famer, and I can learn a lot from him.”
Babcock is Tech’s youngest athletic director since 37-year-old Dutch Baughman held the job for six months in 1987. He also is the first of Tech’s 11 full-time A.D.’s since 1908 without a football coaching background. He never coached at any level, joking, “I proved the old adage or joke true that the Latin translation of the words athletic director really mean, ‘You couldn’t play a lick and you sure can’t coach.’”
Babcock played baseball at James Madison University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He has a master’s degree from West Virginia.
Before arriving at Cincinnati, he was executive associate athletic director at Missouri. He previously held jobs in college administration at JMU, Auburn and WVU.