Mark Wiedmer: Hiring Will Wade continues roll for UTC AD David Blackburn

Mark Wiedmer: Hiring Will Wade continues roll for UTC AD David Blackburn

May 14th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Virginia Commonwealth University assistant coach Will Wade has been named new UTC head basketball coach.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Every Dec. 24, the Wade family gathers for Christmas Eve services at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville.

Sometimes Will Wade even pulls the cell phone from his ear long enough to join in singing a carol or two.

"He never takes a day off," said cousin Geep Wade, the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football player and current Middle Tennessee State offensive line coach.

"If Will's home for Christmas Eve, he's gone by Christmas night. He's a serious, driven, self-sufficient human being who lives and breathes basketball like no one I've ever known. He's at the office by 5 in the morning."

And you wonder why new UTC athletic director David Blackburn has chosen the 30-year-old Wade to become the 18th head coach in program history.

Not that it's on the same planet in terms of shock value to Blackburn naming Hall of Fame coach Jim Foster to run the Lady Mocs. Those hires arrive with the frequency of Halley's Comet or a Chicago Cubs world championship.

But since neither Bob Knight, Phil Jackson nor Jerry Tarkanian figured to walk through McKenzie Arena's doors as a replacement for former coach John Shulman, Wade seems more than capable of delivering the program the kind of juice it's lacked since its 1997 run to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

For proof, just ask the coach of that UTC team, Mack McCarthy, who said of Wade during Final Four weekend: "If I was the AD, he'd definitely be on my short list. He's a really bright guy."

He's apparently a really bright guy who can recruit really bright guys, as witness his ability a few years ago to land a Top 25 recruiting class (according to ESPN.com) during his time at Harvard.

But it's his work during his past four years at VCU under Shaka Smart that almost certainly most intrigued Blackburn.

Wade was the first assistant Smart hired when he got the job, and he's generally credited with playing a major role in the Rams' "Havoc" defense, which has led the nation in steals the past two years.

A single quote from Wade in the school's Monday press release to excite Moc Maniacs enough to instantly buy season tickets to watch what the new coach has already labeled Chattanooga Chaos:

"We will employ a fast-paced, pressing style of play similar to VCU."

That would also be a fast-paced, pressing style of play similar to NCAA champion Louisville.

This doesn't mean the Mocs are headed for the Final Four any time soon, though Wade certainly had a big hand in helping the Rams reach college basketball's biggest weekend two years ago, when they lost to Butler in a national semifinal.

What it does mean is that Blackburn is 2-for-2 on his first two hires, though that hardly seems a strong enough description. Maybe the headline should read "David lands two Goliaths." Or "Blackburn's Beauties."

Yes, they still have to win. And Wade is yet to win a single game as a head coach, having spent the entirety of his career as someone's aide, whether it was to Oliver Purnell at Clemson, to Tommy Amaker at Harvard or to Smart at VCU.

That single fact, his complete inexperience as a head coach, is almost assuredly the reason Blackburn waited so long to pull the trigger on this hire despite rumors for more than a month that Wade was his guy.

But everyone starts somewhere, whether it's Louisville coach Rick Pitino -- whom Boston University first took a chance on at the age of 25 -- Smart, whom VCU promoted at 31, or Wade.

To further underscore the intelligence of this hire, Smart -- one of the two most coveted young coaches in the game along with Butler's Brad Stevens -- said of his reason for first reaching out to Wade: "There's that saying, 'Don't work harder. Work smarter.' Will works harder and smarter."

Another quote from Geep Wade: "If you can recruit, you can win. And Will will recruit nonstop."

Wade's bio in the VCU media guide contains the following quote from the Mocs' new coach: "I'm always thinking about [basketball]. ... I keep a pad next to my bed, and I might wake up at one in the morning and write something down."

If that doesn't make UTC fans hit their beds with smiles on their faces, nothing will.