Buzz Williams leaving Virginia Tech for Texas A&M

Buzz Williams, who coached the Virginia Tech men's basketball team to three straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history and this season led the Hokies to their first region semifinal appearance since 1967, is leaving Blacksburg to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M, Virginia Tech announced Wednesday morning.

Texas A&M will introduce Williams as its new coach Thursday afternoon, the school said in a news release.

Williams, who grew up in Van Alstyne, Texas, and was an assistant at Texas A&M from 2004 to 2006, had been rumored to be the Aggies' top (and perhaps only) target since the school fired Billy Kennedy one day after their season ended last month. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports has reported that the school was willing to pay Williams at least $3.5 million per season, more than the nearly $2.7 million he made this season. Williams will have to pay Virginia Tech $500,000 to break his contract, according to Norm Wood of the Daily Press.

Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock, in a conference call with local writers Wednesday afternoon, revealed the first time he and Williams had discussed the possibility of Williams taking the job at Texas A&M was immediately following the ACC tournament last month.

"We talked about a number of things we wanted to do for Buzz," Babcock said with regard to a contract modification, "and I think the pull of Texas, his home state, was pretty strong in the end."

Babcock declined to identify specific coaches who may be included in his search, but multiple people with knowledge of the situation have indicated Marquette's Steve Wojchiechowski is a target.

Wojchiechowski, born in Severna Park, Maryland, got his start in coaching in 1999 as an assistant to Duke Mike Krzyzewski for whom he played from 1994 through '98. He served as an assistant to Krzyzewski until 2014, when he took over the Golden Eagles program, coincidentally, from Williams.

Another coach of interest, according to people who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the search, is Seton Hall's Kevin Willard. The former assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino has guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances

Texas' Shaka Smart, according to sources, is another potential successor, although his status is complicated by a reported $12.9 million buyout in his contract. In four seasons under Smart, the Longhorns twice have missed the NCAA Tournament, including this year, and twice lost in the round of 64.

Texas is playing in the National Invitation Tournament championship game on Wednesday night.

"Getting it right is the most important thing," Babcock said of the hiring process. "Three, four or five years down the road, nobody asks, 'Did you hire him in two days or seven or 10.' Hopefully it will go quickly. I guess just as soon as responsibly possible is when we'd like to do it."

Earlier Wednesday, Williams posted a note to Virginia Tech's fans on Twitter that said, in part, "We absolutely loved our time here, and will always cherish all of the lifelong relationships we built & memories we had while here."

Tony Benford, who took over as interim coach at LSU after the school suspended Will Wade toward the end of the season, is expected to join Williams at Texas A&M as an assistant, according to Stadium's Jeff Goodman, as will current Virginia Tech assistant Jamie McNeilly. Benford was one of Williams's top assistants during his previous stint at Marquette.

"Coach Williams made a very positive impact on the culture of our basketball program at Virginia Tech," Babcock said in a school-issued statement. "We appreciate all that Buzz and his staff did for our students and our program. We wish Buzz, [wife] Corey and their family the very best as they return to their home state of Texas."

Williams quickly turned around a moribund Virginia Tech program upon his arrival in 2014, winning 20 games in his second season and leading the Hokies to their first NCAA tournament in 10 years in his third season. He found similar success at his previous stop, Marquette, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament in five of Williams' six seasons, including Sweet 16 runs in 2011 and 2012 and an Elite Eight appearance in 2013.

This season, the Hokies weathered the loss of senior point guard Justin Robinson for the second half of the regular season to reach their highest ranking in 23 years and finish fifth in the top-heavy ACC. After scoring impressive wins over No. 13 seed Saint Louis and No. 12 seed Liberty, Virginia Tech's NCAA Tournament run was ended by top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16 when Ahmed Hill's layup attempt at the buzzer just wouldn't go in.

Now, Williams's departure comes with the Hokies' roster headed for significant turnover.

They are certain to lose three starters in Robinson, a senior, and graduate guards Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw. Sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard who led Virginia Tech in scoring (16.2) and total assists (139), is expected to declare for the NBA draft.

Kerry Blackshear Jr., the fifth starter and the Hokies' top interior player, was selected second-team all-ACC this season as a redshirt junior. He has not indicated whether he plans to declare for the NBA draft.