After an extremely disappointing 2016 baseball season that was one of the worst in Virginia Tech baseball history, most were surprised when Pat Mason was retained for the 2017 season when the program appeared ready for change after a disastrous season. However, with the Hokies hiring new football, women’s basketball, and women’s lacrosse coaches along with Mason still having two years left on his deal, Whit Babcock kept Mason for his fourth season in Blacksburg.
In 2017, Mason and the Hokies have improved from easily being the worst team in the ACC last year to finishing tied for last with 9 conference wins this season. Despite the improvement, it’s hard to see Pat Mason returning in 2018.
First, while Mason has made some improvement with the program, the Hokies struggled down the stretch of the season going 3-14 in a 17-game stretch after sweeping Boston College before VT went 1-5 in their final 6 ACC games to finish 9-21 in conference and 23-32 overall though they were also able to pick up two wins over ranked teams in UNC and ODU over the final two weeks of their season.
Mason is also entering a contract year next year and recruiting in the last year of a contract is almost impossible so for Babcock, he will have to make a decision as to whether to retain and extend Mason or let him go. With the Hokies being likely to finish below .500 this year and not being significantly better than last year, that hurts Mason’s chances as well.
Four years is usually a good gauge of the direction of a program for a collegiate coach with just about every player on the team being guys that were recruited by Mason. For Babcock, seeing that a team of mostly Mason’s players finish tied for last in the ACC with only 9 conference wins and a 23-32 overall record will make it hard for Babcock to retain him.
On top of that, Virginia Tech will also be completing their major renovation of English Field next year and will be looking to find ways to build momentum and interest around a baseball program that doesn’t have a lot of that right now. Making a coaching change is a way to do that and unfortunately for Mason, that hurts his chances of keeping his job more.
Mason also seems to be in similar situations to two other former Virginia Tech coaches that were fired by Whit Babcock; former men’s basketball coach James Johnson and former women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff.
In the case of Johnson, Babcock had just arrived in Blacksburg and even though Johnson had only been at Virginia Tech for two years, Babcock was ready to make a change but before making a change, he definitely gauged the market and found that there was significant interest with Babcock then making the change letting Johnson go, and hitting a home run with Buzz Williams that has Virginia Tech men’s basketball at the best the program it may have ever been. Similar to Johnson’s situation, Babcock has likely been gauging potential interest while the fact that he was a baseball player at JMU may help increase interest in the job along with the significantly improved resources with the stadium renovations.
The case of Dennis Wolff is even more similar to Mason as Wolff had what was his best year with the Hokies’ women’s basketball program in the 2015-2016 season leading VT to the WNIT. However, Wolff only had one year left on his contract and while VT had improved, Babcock didn’t see the improvement as being enough with Babcock deciding to move on for Wolff and poaching Kenny Brooks from JMU.
Similar Wolff, Mason has seen his VT baseball program improve this year but with the Hokies just missing out on the ACC Tournament, Mason doesn’t have that to help boost his argument for being retained.. Mason also only has one year left on his contract with most programs usually letting a coach go or extending them when they enter a contract year to avoid having a coach try to recruit when his contract doesn’t go beyond that season. In Mason’s case, it’s very hard to see Babcock giving the fourth-year manager an extension and it also seems unlikely that he would allow VT baseball to have a manager in his contract year leading the charge.
Pat Mason has definitely made some improvement as a manager but right now, he doesn’t seem to be the guy that can get Virginia Tech to not only consistently making the ACC Tournament but also get back to where Pete Hughes had the Hokies when they hosted a NCAA Tournament sub-regional before he left for Oklahoma.
There’s no doubt that a smaller program should definitely look at giving Mason a shot as a manager if Mason is let go, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as a pitching coach at a major collegiate baseball program. No one should also be surprised if we see Mason at a major program again as a manger in several years given his age, but change seems best for the baseball program at this point with it being extremely likely Babcock makes a change especially with VT finishing tied for last in the ACC and missing out on the ACC Tournament.
Pat Mason has given himself a small chance of survival that was hard to imagine even being possible entering 2017 after his struggles in 2016 but with the Hokies missing the ACC Tournament, he will have an almost impossible case to make for keeping his job.