Wow…what an unexpected story to surface today…Tony Bennett is gone. A year ago Washington State was coming off a Sweet Sixteen season. A lot of my friends asked me if Tony would leave Washington State. I said no. I said next year is the year you have to worry. I didn’t think he would leave before Taylor Rochestie and Daven Harmeling were done. Harmeling was the last player off the original recruiting class with Weaver, Low, and Cowgill that turned the program around. And I honestly think by watching the interaction, and listening closely to the comments Tony made about Taylor that he was one of his favorite players…and I think Taylor reminded Tony of himself.
That was a year ago..I thought Tony Bennett would leave well, pretty much right now. However I also thought WSU would make it to the NCAA tournament again this year and his stock would never be higher as WSU was about to take a step back with such a young team. When the Cougs stumbled a bit more than I had anticipated, I forgot all about my thinking that Tony would leave. So, with that being said, today came as quite a shock to me. I know I’m not the only one that was blindsided by today’s news that Tony Bennett will be the next head coach at Virginia.
I would like to publically wish the best of luck to coach Tony. In his time here he has been nothing but a pleasure to deal with personally. He not only did anything and everything I needed to get my job done right, but he also took the time to talk to me when the camera’s weren’t rolling. He would ask me how things were going. He would tell me stories from his past, or about a fun thing that happened with the team that we would never put on the air, and it was better that way, because he was just talking with me. Not saying what everyone wanted to hear while the camera’s were on, but just talking to me like a long time friend from Wisconsin. There were a few times I will never forget that in the heat of battle, in a big game, we would make eye contact and he would give me the guy head nod, as if to say hi. Tony Bennett was a great guy to be around, and I will never forget his time here.
Now as for how things went down today. I was very disappointed to hear that his coaching staff would not be joining him in Virginia. I was even more disappointed to hear that they were surprised by the decision. I hoped that Tony would have included them in the process. I do understand that the more people that know about something, the better chance there is that the story will get out in public. However, these were coaches that stuck with him from the beginning, some of which have been friends with Tony since his childhood. It was very disappointing because I hoped better from Tony. I don’t know all the details of how this went down…but from what we’ve learned it sure appears that this is the case.
Tony Bennett has quickly gone from hero to goat in the city of Pullman and I wish this weren’t the case. I understand the lashing out, because Cougar fans were hurt today. When we get hurt, we want to blame someone for making us feel this way. A lot of people really bought into coach Tony and his ideals that he brought to this program. Apparently a lot of people don’t think he lived up to those ideals because he is leaving. I’m not one of those people. I think a lot of people feel that Tony Bennett is a liar and fooled all of us. I really am not one of those people. I’ve always said, and I will continue to say, that people in this area can see through a fake person. I don’t think a person could fool all of us that way…I just don’t. I think Tony Bennett is the real deal. He’s had too many opportunities to show his “true colors” to me off camera or in public, and every time he was a great guy. He didn’t need to be, but he always was. The last time I interviewed him was at the airport as the Cougs were leaving for the NIT. I hadn’t seen him in months as Dennis handles most of the Tony Bennett interviews throughout the season. He still met me with a smile, and a handshake before the interview…and the standard off-camera chat and handshake after the interview. I will miss Tony Bennett because he treated me like a friend, not a media guy.
The Cougs have a big decision to make as they have to replace a coach that got the University to new heights in basketball. And coach Bennett now enters into a whole new bag of challenges at Virginia. I hope for Cougar fans that the University make the right hire. And I wish Tony Bennett the best of luck, and thank him for his time here.
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