Bennett left some WSU players in tears Monday afternoon when he told them he was leaving. Bennett spent three seasons as WSU’s head coach after three seasons as the top assistant under his father, Dick.
Two of Washington State’s top recruits – high school stars Xavier Thames of Elk Grove, Calif., and David Chadwick of Charlotte, N.C. – said they are not sure they will come to WSU with Bennett gone.
“There are a lot of things I really loved about the school besides Coach Bennett,” Chadwick said.
The WSU sports information department ordered current Cougars players not to talk to the media. Before the ban was enforced, reserve forward DeAngelo Casto told KREM-TV of Spokane, he will not transfer.
Julie Thompson, the mother of starting freshman guard Klay Thompson, said her son was “upset” that Bennett left, but “likes it a lot” at WSU and “hasn’t said anything” about wanting to transfer.
WSU athletic director Jim Sterk said Monday night that Bennett told him Sunday afternoon he had decided to stay in Pullman and planned to give $100,000 of his salary back to the school to help the basketball program. Sterk said Bennett told him Monday morning that he had changed his mind.
Sterk said Bennett seemed excited about next season and was pleased with recent improvements in WSU’s basketball facilities and travel arrangements. Virginia presumably offered Bennett more money than the Cougars, but Sterk said he did not know the terms of Bennett’s contract with the Cavaliers.
Asked why Bennett changed his mind about staying, Sterk said, “You’d have to ask him that.” Bennett did not respond to phone or e-mail requests for an interview.
“He’s a heck of a coach and a great person,” Sterk said.
Bennett, whose $1 million annual salary made him the highest-paid employee in school history, signed a seven-year contract last year. Sterk said Virginia will pay Bennett’s $400,000 buyout fee for leaving early.
“I’m not bitter,” Sterk said. “I think we’re in a heck of a lot better place than we were six years ago when I first talked to Dick and Tony about coming to Washington State, so I’m thankful for what they have done.”
Sterk said the Cougars have already contacted Portland State regarding Bone, a former Washington assistant and Seattle Pacific head coach.
Sterk was associate athletic director at Seattle Pacific when Bone coached the Falcons.
Sterk said the Cougars have yet to contact San Diego in regard to Grier, but plan to do so. Grier was a longtime Gonzaga assistant before spending the past two seasons as head coach of the Toreros.
Asked if WSU has contacted Saint Mary’s about Randy Bennett (no relation to Tony), a former Idaho assistant, Sterk would only say, “No comment on that.”
Saint Mary’s athletic director Mark Orr said Monday night he has not heard from the Cougars.
Sterk said the hunt for a new coach “is going to be short and quick.” He said candidates must have NCAA Division I head coaching experience.
Sterk said he is uncertain if any assistants will follow Bennett to Virginia or remain at Washington State as assistants. None has Division I head coaching experience.
Bennett, 39, has drawn suitors after each of his three seasons as WSU’s head coach. In his first college head coaching job, Bennett compiled a 69-33 record as the only basketball coach in school history to guide the Cougars to three consecutive postseason tournaments.
Bennett’s first two teams tied the school record of 26 wins, and the Cougars made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
A far less experienced team finished 17-16 this season, losing to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Bennett replaces Dave Leitao at Virginia. Leitao resigned, possibly under pressure, after a 10-18 season. The Cavaliers finished 11th in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference with a 4-12 conference record.
The top six scorers are set to return. Neither of Virginia’s two seniors were regular starters.
THE NEXT WSU HEAD COACH?
Heres an early list of potential candidates to succeed Bennett at WSU, their current employers, and their resumes:
Randy Bennett, St. Marys: One of the hot coaches in the NCAA, Bennett has made St. Marys a perennial WCC title contender. No relation to Tony.
Dan Monson, Long Beach State: The coach who helped build Gonzaga into the power that it is today.
Ken Bone, Portland State: A former UW assistant, Bone has made PSU one of the top programs in the Big Sky.
Larry Krystkowiak, unemployed: One-time head coach of Milwaukee Bucks and University of Montana, helped lead the Griz to NCAA first-round upset of Nevada in 2006.
Billy Grier, San Diego: Former top assistant at Gonzaga got USD to tourney and a win over UConn two years ago.
Matt Woodley, Washington State assistant: Hired when Tony Bennett became head coach, hes a respected recruiter.
Bobby Knight, ESPN: Someone most likely someone named Dick Vitale will bring Knights name up.
Ryan Divish, The News Tribune