Tony Bennett, who engineered one of the greatest eras in Washington State University's basketball history, is leaving to accept the head-coaching job at Virginia.
Tony Bennett, who engineered one of the greatest eras in Washington State University’s basketball history, is leaving to accept the head-coaching job at Virginia.
Bennett, 39, is expected to be introduced today on the Virginia campus in Charlottesville. He compiled a 69-33 record in three seasons at WSU, having inherited the job from his father, Dick, who came out of retirement to coach the Cougars for three years starting in 2003.
“I’m disappointed, not betrayed,” WSU Athletic Director Jim Sterk said on a telephone conference with reporters Monday night. “This comes as no surprise. He was a national coach of the year [in 2007], and a lot of people spoke to him over the past couple of years.
“He’s a heck of a coach and a great person.”
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With 52 victories in his first two seasons — three in the NCAA tournament, half of WSU’s six in program history — Bennett had seen his salary bumped to $1 million annually, making him the highest-paid coach in school history.
Sterk said Bennett was paid $100,000 as part of an annual retention bonus due March 15, and that Virginia will pay WSU a $400,000 buyout.
Sterk said none of Bennett’s current assistants is being considered to replace him. The Oregonian newspaper reported that the WSU athletic director has asked for permission to talk to Portland State coach Ken Bone, who has taken two consecutive teams to the NCAA tournament, and Sterk confirmed that he plans to talk to San Diego coach Bill Grier, a longtime assistant at Gonzaga.
Virginia called Sterk on Thursday, indicating interest in Bennett. He flew to Virginia to meet with officials, returned and met Saturday morning with Sterk and WSU President Elson Floyd.
Sterk said Bennett was offered the Virginia job Saturday. The athletic director said he spoke Sunday to Bennett.
“I felt he was going to stay,” Sterk said. “He also spoke to the president, and he got the same impression. We received a call today that he had basically changed his mind.”
Sterk said he asked Bennett if there was anything WSU could do, and the coach “did not ask for anything.”
Asked whether WSU had tried earlier to sweeten Bennett’s deal, Sterk said Bennett already had offered $100,000 of his salary for facilities upgrades.
“It’s tough to sweeten his personal deal when he’s giving you $100,000 back,” Sterk said.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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