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UVA tabs Tony Bennett as men’s basketball coach

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Associated Press
March 31, 2009
— Washington State coach Tony Bennett, a Wisconsin native who led the Cougars into the postseason in each of his three years at the school, has been hired to revive a Virginia basketball program that just posted its worst record in more than 40 years.

Jim Sterk, the athletic director at Washington State, announced the move Monday evening. Bennett replaces Dave Leitao, who resigned after four seasons.


Bennett, 39, posted a 68-30 record in three seasons with the Cougars. His first two teams made the NCAA tournament and posted back-to-back 26-win seasons, but this year’s squad was eliminated in the first round of the NIT. He was the AP college basketball coach of the year in 2007.


Leitao resigned after the Cavaliers finished 10-18 this season, their poorest showing since they went 9-17 in 1967-68. Leitao was 63-60 in four years.


Bennett succeeded his father, former University of wisconsin coach Dick Bennett, at Washington State after serving as his assistant with the Cougars for three seasons.


“Dick and Tony Bennett have elevated the men’s basketball program at Washington State to an unprecedented level of success,” Sterk said. “We will begin a national search for a coach immediately with the goal of finding someone with the integrity, experience and values that Dick and Tony brought to the program.”


Sterk said Virginia asked for permission to speak with Bennett last Friday. Monday afternoon, Bennett told Sterk and Washington State president Elson S. Floyd of his decision to accept the position at Virginia, then met with his players on the Pullman campus.


“I was so shocked,” freshman guard Klay Thompson said. “I’m disappointed. I’m really disappointed. Shoot, I don’t know. But it’s life. I’ll adjust.”


Virginia officials planned an official announcement for Wednesday.


The news of Bennett’s hiring was not warmly received on an Internet message board for Cavaliers fans, where the possible job candidates mentioned over the last several days included Tubby Smith of Minnesota, Jeff Capel of Oklahoma and Rick Barnes of Texas. Many fans posting on the board were dismayed by the selection of a lower-profile coach.


Bennett’s first Washington State team lost to Vanderbilt in double overtime in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The next season, the Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to a team Bennett will face regularly in the Atlantic Coast Conference — North Carolina.


Bennett was an assistant for four years at Wisconsin before joining his father at Washington State. He also played for his father at the UW-Green Bay, where he finished as the Mid-Continent Conference’s all-time leader in points (2,285) and assists (601). He still ranks as the NCAA’s all-time leader in 3-point percentage (.497).


After his collegiate career, Bennett played three years for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.


Bennett, who is married with two young children, has said his family is comfortable in Pullman, a town of 25,000 people 75 miles south of Spokane. But Cougar fans had feared for some time that he would be snapped up by a more prestigious program.


After his first season as head coach, Bennett agreed to a seven-year contract that paid about $600,000 a year. That was still relatively low by Pac-10 standards, as Pullman is the smallest market in the league.


Bennett helped recruit a core of players who turned the Cougars into defense-oriented competitors in the Pac-10.


With a team sporting nine freshmen, the Cougars finished 17-16 this season, but the future seemed bright as Thompson and DeAngelo Casto were named to the All-Pac-10 freshman team.


Under the Bennetts, attendance at WSU basketball games nearly tripled.



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