Littlepage gets his man


        Washington State’s Tony Bennett is the next head basketball coach of the University of Virginia Cavaliers.  He will make $1.7 million a year and start with a five-year contract.  (Link) 

        Bennett is a 39 year-old former Charlotte Hornet who compiled a 68-30 record in three seasons at Washington State, one of which included a trip to the Sweet 16.  Bennett matched a school record for wins by leading his FIRST Washington State squad to 26 wins (26-8 record) and a second-place finish in the conference with a 13-5 mark after being selected LAST in the preseason Pac-10 poll.  That was good enough to get WSU into their first NCAA Tournament in 13 years.

       I saw some people on Pack Pride talking about Bennett in the framework of Herb Sendek because of the unimpressive production of Bennett’s Cougars’ offenses.  For those of you who need a little benchmarking to help frame your perspective – in 2007-08 – only Bennett’s second year after taking over the worst team in the Pac-10, Washington State was ranked in the AP preseason poll (10th) for the first time in school history and was ranked a school-record No. 4 for six weeks during the season.  They held a Top 10 ranking for at least eleven weeks of that season.  By comparison, Herb Sendek has coached college basketball for sixteen years and has never held a Top 10 ranking in a single week.  Bennett’s offense may have been comparative to Sendek’s, but the results of the two men certainly don’t have much in comparison.

        I tend to believe that Virginia fans should be more thrilled than they seem to be.  This guy can downright coach!  Just last year Bennett turned down the Head Coaching job at the University of Indiana!  Think about this – when Indiana – who ultimately got a great coach in Tom Crean – identifies you as the guy they want then you can’t be a bad choice.  That doesn’t stop some from already asking if Bennett is a fit?

       A poster on one of the message boards made a comment that akin to something that I said while speaking with friends — ‘Herb’s job just got easier (in the Pac-10) and Coach Lowe’s job just got tougher (in the ACC).

       Kudos to for running this excellent analysis.

        ACCNow has an entry introducing Bennett to the Conference. (Link)  It is quick and entertaining. JP Giglio has added some perspective of why Bennett is a good hire.

      Regardless of the hire, I tip my hat to Virginia’s AD, Craig Littlepage. They kept this out of the media, no one tipped hand, no crazy rumors really escalated. In the end, they got a guy that the national media will swoon about hiring, a tireless worker, a great character guy.  And, they managed to do it all under two weeks and without having a nervous breakdown causing him to lose 30 pounds.

On a related note, The ACC Area Sports Journal’s Jim Young has put together a great analysis of the performance (to date) of coaches that took their positions in 2006 (including Tony Bennett at Washington State). You can see Young’s work clicking here.

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45 Responses to Littlepage gets his man

  1. ryebread 03/31/2009 at 4:02 PM #

    Good for UVA and this will ultimately be good for the league. As we’ve discussed before, the coaching in the ACC recently hasn’t been what it should be. UVA will quickly jump up — maybe not next season, but as soon as they get a legit guard or two.

    Great hire if you ask me. Think about this in the context of the Lateito hire.

  2. GAWolf 03/31/2009 at 4:05 PM #

    Herb to Memphis.

    In all seriousness, I like the hire. Did Sid and Bennett ever cross paths while journeying through the NBA?

  3. codebrown 03/31/2009 at 4:10 PM #

    Again, I’m not saying Pac-10 is a pushover conference. But this ain’t the Pac-10 and Leitao found that out the hard way, only 2 years removed from being labeled as a “good hire”.

  4. wufpup76 03/31/2009 at 4:12 PM #

    I agree SFN, I think this is a great hire UVa’s program.

    I said this on an earlier thread:

    “Great hire for their program. Can’t say I saw that one coming though, I never really heard his name come up for that position.

    I am really impressed with the younger Bennett. He’ll probably do well at UVa, and I know Wazzu hates losing him.

    And you’re right about him being a good defenisve coach. Tony was an assistant under his dad Dick at both Wisconson and Wazzu … get ready for some 40 point games. Slow down offense and tough, grind it out defense. Can’t say I like watching that style of ball, but the league really needs some upgrades at the coaching positions.”

    For UVa fans not thrilled, I say give him a chance and at least see how he recruits. You’re guaranteed to have a good defensive team, and I watched Wazzu enough under Bennett to know that the offense is not entirely “grind it out”. Maybe with some recruits it opens up a bit … ?

    Regardless, this is a coaching upgrade … one that the conference as a whole needed (and more is needed).

    And dead on about Littlepage and the search – this was professionally done.

  5. wufpup76 03/31/2009 at 4:14 PM #

    “Again, I’m not saying Pac-10 is a pushover conference. But this ain’t the Pac-10 and Leitao found that out the hard way, only 2 years removed from being labeled as a “good hire”.”

    ^Fair point … we’ll find out soon enough.


    Related, you think Calimari likes all this attention right now? It seems like grandstanding now.

  6. choppack1 03/31/2009 at 4:15 PM #

    I think it’s a solid hire. It’s always good if you can find a coach who has succeeded in a major conference w/out a hint of scandal and whose results didn’t wear off w/ time.

    If I was UVa the only thing I’d be worried about is the ceiling of the perspective hire. He’s proven that he can flat out coach, especially on the defensive end. However, he hasn’t proven he can do this w/ his own players. Oddly enough, this year, when the Pac 10 was pretty weak, he didn’t make it to the NCAA and lost in the first round of the NIT.

    Still, this is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that you make your decisions based on the best information possible. In this case, you’ve got a coach who has proven he can win at a major conference. It’s really a shame that UVa’s AD didn’t throw out all of those original requirements and just hire Othell Wilson or Harold Dean or Curtis Staples or Brian Stith.

  7. tvp1 03/31/2009 at 4:18 PM #

    I think it’s a good hire, but not a slam dunk. His team wasn’t very good this year and they were losing their best players – next year may have been worse. He did not appear to be recruiting well either (though recruiting to UVA should be much easier than recruiting to Washington State). It remains to be seen whether he can build a long term success.

    UVA fans I know up here in DC are not happy.

    $1.7M is a lot of coin for a guy with his resume.

  8. buttPACKer 03/31/2009 at 4:33 PM #

    Littlepage OBVIOUSLY used our last coaching search as a big flaming example of what NOT to do.

    regardless of the outcome, the search was done well. . . Kudos.

  9. Wolf Dog 03/31/2009 at 4:35 PM #

    Heard Billy Packer today talked about the hire. He liked the hire but felt Bennet would have to upgrade his recruiting and open up his offense to compete in the ACC. I agree and I do think its a good hire for the ACC.

  10. Wolf Dog 03/31/2009 at 4:41 PM #

    For Future reference and I hope our AD is keeping an eye on this Bball coach. Elon hired Davidson Assistant Matheny as its Head Bball coach. People say fantastic things about this guy. He most likely will be a star one day. Lets keep our eye on him.

  11. SaccoV 03/31/2009 at 4:44 PM #

    I listened to Packer’s interview also Wolf Dog, and I agreed with much of what Packer said, but he was quick to note that there is no certainty that Bennett will be successful. If Littlepage hired him knowing that he would pretty much run the same slow-down offense, then it will not have been a great hire. Also, did you notice how Packer mentioned that if UK got turned down twice, then the university should fire the President and AD? Pretty interesting given our ad nauseum responses about Lee’s ability to find a new coach.

  12. choppack1 03/31/2009 at 5:01 PM #

    SaccoV – There are no sure things. Heck, all indications were that Billy Gillespie would at least equal the success he had at Texas A&M at UK.

    The closest you can get to a sure thing is a coach who succeeded in college, then left for the pros – then came back. I don’t think any of those guys were available.

    Wolf Dog – I was thinking the same thing about Elon’s new HC. It will be interesting to see how he does.

  13. Noah 03/31/2009 at 5:22 PM #

    Damn good hire by the Wahoos.

    I tell ya…I see Alabama get their man, UVa get theirs, and then I hear about UGa throwing $2 million at the guy from Missouri and I wonder just what the hell Lee Fowler’s effing problem is.

    (hope that doesn’t derail this conversation)

    Congrats to UVa. Good hire.

  14. old13 03/31/2009 at 5:28 PM #

    Yipee! We’re #12 now! We’re #12 now! We’re #12 now!

  15. wufpup76 03/31/2009 at 5:31 PM #

    cbssports .com is reporting Calimari to UK as official …

  16. rtpack24 03/31/2009 at 5:48 PM #

    Cal to UK posted on Statefansnation on March 26th @2:24pm.

  17. RickJ 03/31/2009 at 6:15 PM #

    Bennett’s first two years at Washington State made him a star. He went 26 – 8 (13 – 5 in PAC 10) and 26 – 9 (11 – 7 in PAC 10). Indiana offered him, Marquette and LSU were close and may have actually offered. He was as hot as you could be. This year he went 17 – 16 (8 -10 in PAC 10). His two best players, point guard Taylor Rochestie and center Aron Baynes were seniors.

    Basically, he made a move while the iron was still hot. He is clearly a terrific game coach and may turn out to be a great hire for UVA but he may be a Lee Rose in the making. Rose was as good a tactician as you could ever have in college basketball – he coached UNC-Charlotte for three years and Purdue for two and took both to the Final Four. He also couldn’t recruit, knew it and never stayed around long enough to coach what he did sign.

  18. whitefang 03/31/2009 at 6:34 PM #

    My 2 cents:
    1. This was a coaching search conducted in secrecy as it should be as far as I can tell. Just got back from a weekend at frat parents day at UVa where I have 2 good friends in the athletic/foundation dept that I talked to. Both gave me their lists of who they thought the top 5 were. Bennett was on neither. But both said “Craig is really close-mouthed about this.”
    2. They are not afraid to pay the money they feel is necessary. Both my contacts said “the money will not be the problem. That is already worked out.”

    Bennett may ultimately end up as a failure there, but they did this the professional way it appears. Congrats.

  19. 61Packer 03/31/2009 at 6:51 PM #

    ANYBODY that UVA hired would make Sidney Lowe’s job harder.

  20. Wulfpack 03/31/2009 at 7:17 PM #

    What a tremendous, well executed hire. This will strengthen the coaching void in the ACC.

    It will be interesting to see if Tony can hang on to Landesburg. He’s quite a player and the slow pace may not be the right fit for him. Certainly there will be suitors. We shall see.

    Congrats to UVA.

  21. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 03/31/2009 at 7:27 PM #

    We will have to wait and see if it turns out to be a good hire but I agree the search was handled well. Once again an ACC school has proven that the conference is not to be able to bring in a big name to a historic program. Roy and K seem to keep away the top coaches.

    For those that remember these kind of things, what ACC school as been able to attract a top tier coach other than UNC’s second attempt to get Williams over the last 20 or so years?

    Why can’t ACC schools bring in names like Patino, Tubby, Calipari, Knight? Hell even UNC went with Gut and D’oh before getting Williams. Is there a problem with the league? Do coaches understand that UNC and Duke are favored by the league and know the ACC doesn’t give the other schools a level playing field? Do coaches look at schools other than Duke and UNC as second tier jobs in the ACC? Has the ACC done permanent damage by allowing these two teams to get away with just about anything? Can the ACC survive as a basketball conference without promoting 12 teams instead of just two?

  22. Classof89 03/31/2009 at 7:41 PM #

    this is a bit of a straw man argument…when has the ACC EVER attracted “top tier” coaches? Wasn’t Everett Case (pre-ACC) and Norm Sloan unknowns when they were hired here? How about Valvano…Iona College? (remember the joke he’d always tell on the rubber chicken circuit?)

  23. transylvania 03/31/2009 at 7:45 PM #

    Tony went to my church when I lived in Charlotte. Before she married, I actually dated his wife’s roommate for a while. Great, great guy.

  24. Noah 03/31/2009 at 7:49 PM #

    You’re awfully young to own a college.

    There just aren’t that many big-name coaches out there. Those that are, rarely leave their posts. NO conference regularly gets big-name coaches.

  25. Greywolf 03/31/2009 at 9:15 PM #

    Bennett went 26-8 & 26-9 the first two years at Washington State with players brought in and coached by his predecessor then went 17-16 his third year. And this is suppose to be good news for UVA and bad news for Sid? I don’t follow west coast bb, so help me out here. Did this guy win his regionals or get in the Sweet Sixteen?
    At the bargain basement rate of only 1.7 million a year?
    You guys are shitting me, right?

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