THE SPORTS DOC- Contractions: VT's Greenberg should follow through

Can Greenberg and his players stick with the no-sass contract?

When I read a Virginia Tech basketball player was forced to run sprints after mouthing off to an assistant coach during practice, I was overjoyed– smackdown time in Blacksburg. As the Sex Pistols would say, "Don't you give me no lip, child." Read the fine print, sassafras!

The as-yet-unnamed sprinter was punished for violating the terms of Coach Seth Greenberg's player contract. Tech players told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that, among other things, the contract addressed "listening to the coaches in practice without talking back." The details of the contract aren't public, but the message is clear: violators will be punished swiftly and decisively.

This year is Greenberg's fourth as head basketball coach at Virginia Tech. The fourth year is a watershed: it's the first time a coach can boast a team entirely of his/her own making, the first time a coach is totally responsible for a team's success or failure. In many ways, the fourth year is a coach's most telling.

So why, in his fourth season, is Greenberg having to punish his players?

It's a fair question considering these are not his first player contracts. Tech players signed a similar one last year after losing to North Carolina. Rumor has it Greenberg tosses a contract at his players every year, usually after a loss. With 11 returning players on the 15-man roster, one has to wonder about the coach's willingness to go the distance.

Forward J. T. Thompson, a sophomore from Monroe, North Carolina, led Tech in scoring in last year's win over Boston College. At the end of the 2007/2008 season, Thompson boasted eight double-figure scoring games, 13 points in his first career start, and a fourth-place overall finish in rebounds. Those numbers constitute a pretty memorable season for any freshman, but something doesn't jibe in the long-term memory department. 

Last week Thompson told the Times-Dispatch that, having witnessed the punitive sprint drill, he "realized Greenberg was serious about the contract he gave to his players." 


Has Thompson forgotten Tech's game against North Carolina last year? He shouldn't have; he tied his career high in steals in that game, not to mention that it provided Greenberg the impetus for last year's player contract. 

Senior wing A. D. Vassallo, last season's leading scorer and All-ACC player, must be running low on the ginko as well. Why else would the coach bench him for the last 6:22 of last week's Duke game? 

Greenberg said Vassallo "didn't play with enough sense of urgency." Considering that, according to the January 10 Washington Post, last year's contract commanded players to "practice harder, play tougher," it's incriminating that senior Vassallo and sophomore Jeff Allen, who led the Hokies in rebounds last season, were both called out after the Duke game.

The coach needs to learn a little something about follow-through.

There are all sorts of adages about getting it right the first time: a stitch in time saves nine; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; measure twice, cut once. If Greenberg didn't have Bartlett's Quotations on last year's gift list, he might want to request it for his birthday. He could learn a little about sowing and reaping and the paving on the road to hell.

I don't doubt Greenberg's good intentions; I wish more coaches had them. Whatever his contracts entail, they seem to have some short-term benefit: Tech won four consecutive games after last year's loss to UNC, so he must have done something right– initially at least. But when returning players are the ones getting called on the carpet for not holding up their end of the deal, something ain't gelling.

My guess is that Greenberg, like a few of his players, starts strong but fizzles when the going gets tough. Sure, sass may earn a runner some extra sprints today, but what about in two weeks? Bringing a cell phone to a team meeting may get a player benched for the first quarter on Monday, but what will happen on Friday?

Again, I turn to an old adage: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. If Greenberg had been serious about his earlier player contracts, he wouldn't have had to issue one in this, his fourth year at Tech. A little less talk and a lot more action, Seth– and don't give me any lip.