When Pat Mason was promoted to being the Hokies’ manager after the departure of Pete Hughes to become the manager at Oklahoma, the hope was that the continuity would help the Hokies continue to build after a banner year that included Virginia Tech hosting a regional. Of course, a decline the next year seemed likely given the large amount of talent leaving from that 2013 team, but VT was prepared to preserve some continuity and give Mason a chance in his first major managerial job.
However, the move hasn’t worked so well for the Hokies and entering his fourth season in charge, there likely isn’t a manager in all of college baseball that is on a hotter seat than Mason with many fans surprised that he survived a dismal 2016 season.
Many expected that 2014 would be a rebuilding year for the Hokies, and Virginia Tech struggled as anticipated going 21-31-1 overall including a disappointing 9-21 in conference that kept them out of the ACC Tournament. Virginia Tech did make some progress in 2015 with a 27-27 overall record including a 13-16 conference record that was enough to get the Hokies to the ACC Tournament in what brought some progress, but was also another year where the Hokies were set to lose some talented players.
Year 3 for any manager is when you really see how well a manager is building a program and hopes were that 2016 could be a year where the Hokies could make a push to get back in the NCAA Tournament despite losing some talented players after getting to the ACC Tournament and going .500 overall the previous year. However, that would end up being far from the case.
Pat Mason and the Hokies tanked in 2016 to one of the worst years in program history with a 19-36 overall record and a 6-24 ACC record that included an awful 17-game losing streak during March and April that destroyed all hopes. The Hokies also failed to win a single ACC series as Virginia Tech was the worst team in the ACC by a lot.
During last season, the Hokies’ struggles seemed to make it clear that the Hokies’ program was clearly headed in the wrong direction under Mason’s guidance with lots of pressure mounting throughout the season and fans become frustrated and many becoming disinterested. I’m usually someone to believe that the earliest you make a coaching change at the collegiate level is after four seasons but midway into last season, it seemed clear that a major change was needed as I wrote in the midst of the 17-game losing streak.
However, Virginia Tech surprised a lot of people when they announced that Mason would be retained though it became less of a surprise when it was realized that he still had two years left on his contract and after having to buyout Dennis Wolff with one year left, Virginia Tech wasn’t prepared to shell out a buyout for Mason and spend to bring in a new manager.
Now, Pat Mason enters his fourth season in charge of the Hokies on the hottest seat in college baseball with most surprised to see him back after a terrible third year that showed a program in the wrong direction.
Mason did make a notable change this offseason bringing in veteran assistant Jamie Pinzino who had been an assistant under Pete Hughes for the past three years and has Virginia connections with two years at William & Mary before that. Bringing in a fresh assistant that many around college baseball see as a quality young coach is a good move, but that doesn’t do much to take any pressure off of Mason entering this season.
Mason only has one more year left on his contract after this season so a decision will be made to either fire or extend him after this season with no athletic director wanting a head coach to have to recruit with uncertainty that he’ll get a new contract.
On top of that, VT athletic director Whit Babcock grew up around baseball and played baseball at JMU and has a big desire to see Virginia Tech have a major collegiate baseball program while Virginia Tech is also in the midst of a major renovation of English Field that will be complete in time for the 2018 season with VT having box seats to offer on sale for fans. For that season, Virginia Tech will want some sort of momentum whether that’s coming from a breakthrough season from Mason or a new manager running the show.
For Mason to at least have a chance at saving his job, he’ll have to make the ACC Tournament as missing out for the third time in four years will also certainly lead to him being let go even if the Hokies were the worst team in the ACC by far in 2016. Simply making the ACC Tournament likely won’t be enough as the Hokies will likely need to be on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament likely being enough to save Mason’s job for another year.
At this point, Pat Mason is on the hottest seat in college baseball and with a well-regarded young assistant as his number 2, a poor start and lost season for Mason could even mean a mid-season change to give Pinzino a chance to see how he could do. Mason has a mountain to climb if he wants to keep his job and with a team full of his recruits, 2017 will be a test to see if Mason has built a program that can win or if the Hokies need a new direction ahead of the completion of renovations to English Field.