Justice says he wouldn’t lose concentration as governor with a second coaching gig

Gov. Jim Justice says he wouldn’t let a second basketball coaching job interfere with his duties as West Virginia’s chief executive.

The Greenbrier County Board of Education was deciding during a regular meeting today whether to accept Justice’s hiring to coach the boys team at Greenbrier East High School in addition to his ongoing gig with the girls team. The Charleston Gazette-Mail first reported Justice being up for the job.

After a lengthy discussion in executive session, the board wound up putting off the decision until its next meeting.

Justice says he can balance the ball teams, his business obligations and the bureaucracy without committing a foul.

“There’s no chance. There’s no chance it’s going to do that,” Justice said in response to questions by MetroNews reporter Carrie Hodousek at a vaccination lottery event today.

“That’s my first and foremost responsibility. I challenge anybody and everybody: Find something I’ve missed. I can tell you all the things that I’ve done. But find something I’ve missed — because I don’t miss every often. And I’m going to stay dead on top of that. That’s the number one honor and number one responsibility.”

Justice today said he was asked by the Greenbrier County superintendent, Jeffrey Bryant, to consider coaching the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball team. Jeff Bryant is also the entertainment director at The Greenbrier Resort, owned by Justice and his family.

“I thought a lot about it and everything, surely not to take away from the governorship at all,” Justice said. “The superintendent asked me; the principal, the vice principal, the athletic director all want me to do it. And I know I can do the job.”

Justice has coached the Greenbrier East Lady Spartans since 2000 and has continued to do so while serving as governor.

He coached the boys team at the high school starting in 2010 but announced his retirement from that team in 2017, his first year in office as governor. Former professional basketball player Bimbo Coles took over that year but now has departed.

To balance everything, Justice said he would need to rely on assistant coaches.

“At my age, I’ll have to have great assistant coaches. And to be perfectly honest, they’ll have to do the work. I’ll coach the game,” he said. “Nevertheless I love the kids. That’s all there is to it.”

As a coach and executive of state government, Justice already has had his duties cross each other on a few occasions.

In 2018, Justice called a press conference with union leaders to announce the end of a statewide teachers strike and then rushed off to coach a basketball game. The strike resumed the next day.

In 2020, at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, Justice canceled the state basketball tournament while his Lady Spartans were still competing.

This year, during postseason tournament play, Justice described  being stunned that his team had not gotten vaccinations. Justice has made an emphasis of pandemic response and has three briefings a week to encourage testing and vaccinations.

But his own team’s season ended because of an outbreak that caught Justice by surprise.

“My basketball team, from what I understand through my assistant coach, was offered to be vaccinated. And for whatever it was — I’m sure it was not presented in a way where kids would just jump on board. None of them decided to be vaccinated. This was a couple of weeks ago. You know it kind of dumbfounded me, the way one of my assistant coaches at the school presented this.”

In 2020, the governor generated national news in his coaching role when he called players from rival Woodrow Wilson “a bunch of thugs.”

Adding more coaching duties would expand Justice’s many current responsibilities.

As a businessman once considered West Virginia’s only billionaire, Justice is dealing with conflicts amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars with two financial institutions. One, Carter Bank & Trust, says the Justices have defaulted on more than $300 million in loans.

As governor, Justice continues to handle a pandemic that has started booming again, with more than 4,000 active cases now identified in West Virginia.

Coaching two basketball teams in Greenbrier County would mean spending multiple evenings a week there during the legislative session. Justice agreed earlier this year to a settlement that he would reside at the seat of government in Charleston, as the state Constitution requires.

Randy Smith

Just a few weeks ago, state Senator Randy Smith sent a letter to the governor suggesting his resignation because of the difficulty of balancing Justice’s business troubles with the needs of state government. Smith, R-Tucker, has been critical of Justice several times over the past few years.

Smith wrote, “With headlines appearing nearly every day outlining massive, widespread legal and financial problems encumbering nearly every single business entity of yours, I find myself very concerned that you no longer have the ability to give being governor your full attention. I don’t believe anybody in your situation could.

“Therefore, I am respectfully asking you to consider resigning as governor of the great state of West Virginia. While I appreciate your service and your vision for making West Virginia the best it can be, I do not believe it’s possible to achieve the best for every single man, woman and child in this state if we do not have a governor who can fully focus on tackling our challenges.”

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