Washington State and Tony Bennett Move On

Lew WrightSenior Writer IMarch 31, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 27:  Head coach Tony Bennett of the Washington State Cougars looks down during the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Semifinal at Bobcats Arena on March 27, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Late Monday night, Washington State Athletic Director Jim Sterk held a phone conference to answer the myriad of questions surrounding the departure of Tony Bennett.  

The surprising news wasn’t limited to Cougar Nation. President Elson Floyd and Sterk were both stunned by the change of heart by Bennett.

Sterk began his remarks by confirming that he was called on Monday afternoon by Coach Bennett to inform him that he’d decided to accept the head coaching job at Virginia.

Virginia called Sterk last Thursday to say they were going to speak with Bennett. Coach Bennett made the trip back there and returned Friday night.

Saturday morning President Floyd and Sterk met with Bennett.

Saturday afternoon Virginia offered their head basketball position to Coach Bennett.

Sterk then spoke with Bennett around noon on Sunday. At that time, he felt like he was going to stay. Bennett also spoke with President Floyd who was left with the same impression.

As testimony to Coach Bennett’s commitment to WSU, he was going to give back a $100,000 of his contract to invest in program enhancements. Hardly the action of someone who is all about the money.

By Monday afternoon, Bennett had changed his mind and decided to go to Virginia.

Certainly, the Virginia job is attractive because of loyal supporters, a new arena, and playing in one of the top college basketball conferences, the ACC. That didn’t change overnight.

What a difference a day makes.

Details on what persuaded Coach Bennett to move to Virginia and the ACC will be forthcoming, but it doesn’t take a genius to determine that this is a very sweet deal.

Virginia will happily cover the $400,000 buyout on Bennett’s contract presently in force through March 31, 2015, as part of the package.

Passion, excellence, pride and integrity.  Those are the core values Washington State has rebuilt their basketball program on. Sterk was clear those core values are expected from the choice to replace Coach Bennett.

“That’s what we’re looking for and we’ll try to do it as quickly as we can,” Sterk stated regarding the selection process.

There were a number of universities clamoring for the services of Tony Bennett at the end of last season. That was no secret. The media enjoyed speculating where the bright star of Bennett would shine next.

Despite numerous universities looking to upgrade their basketball programs with a change of coach, Bennett’s name wasn’t one be tossed around.

Jim Sterk knew better.

“I felt more of a threat this year than last year even”, said Sterk about the possibility of Bennett being lured away.

Coach Mike Heidemen, director of player development and operations, will ensure that the program doesn’t skip a beat while the search for a new head coach is conducted.

One of the thoughts on the minds of Cougar Nation is a concern about the direction of the basketball program.

Sterk was clear that substantial investment has been made to get Cougar hoops to the present level of play. The search will be for someone capable of continuing that direction for the university.

Sterk was equally clear that none of the assistant coaches will be considered as Bennett’s replacement. WSU only plans to talk to candidates with Division I head coaching experience. That’s the deal.

Harking back to the search process to replace WSU football Coach Doba, there was assistance from a select committee. That won’t be the case this time around.

Sterk maintained that candidates will be considered over the coming days with a decision being made in the next week or two.

Let’s look forward.

When Jim Sterk was looking for a basketball coach six and half years ago, the situation at WSU was a program in rough shape.

Many of the coaches who might be a good fit to turn things around in Pullman were put off by the fact they would have to add significant losses to their resume.

That isn’t the case today. The current roster of players is loaded with talent that has grown with a year of experience which included key victories down the stretch of the schedule.

Washington State is an attractive situation for most quality, experienced, Division I head coaches to consider.

Let the speculation begin.

Coach Mark Few? Coach Randy Bennett? Coach Ken Bone? Coach Steve Fisher?

The choice is unclear but the options are exciting to consider.



Originally published on Examiner.com

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