Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tony Bennett rides into town

The moment Tony Bennett agreed to become the head coach at the University of Virginia, several items appeared on his to-do list:

- Win over the team.
- Win over the '09 signees.
- Hire assistant coaches.
- Get busy recruiting.
- Win over the fans.

Don't mistake the final item for a self-serving, what-about-us complaint. The fans can help a coach with a lot of that stuff. And more importantly as far as the AD is concerned, the fans are your revenue source. They buy tickets, they buy merchandise, and they also just hand over money because they like to, though this last stack of cash is wrapped in feel-good terms like "donation."

This post is the last one in which I'll compare Bennett to Tubby Smith. Promise. It's time to let go of that. But this needs saying: Tubby would not have had to worry about item #5 on that list. Tubby is Tubby, and his grace period would have been such that he could have blocked Tristan Spurlock's phone number and fans would shrug and say we don't need Spurlock. But the diehards have a couple years worth of emotions invested in Spurlock thanks to his rather long recruiting process, and absolutely zero emotions for Bennett other than the shock of seeing his name in the headline, and Bennett does not have the luxury, as far as fan relations go, of losing Spurlock.

(Neither Tubby nor Bennett has the luxury of losing him as far as actually playing basketball goes, by the way. If Spurlock and/or Jontel Evans, but especially Spurlock, decide not to come, the lack of any substantial talent in the graduating class of 2013 will be painful down the road.)

Bennett, for his part, is acting like the basketball coach at the University of Virginia in every aspect entailed by that title. Spurlock is important? Yes, Bennett thinks so - he was in touch less than 24 hours after the news broke of the hire. Evans, too. He's met with the players, who are saying the things you hope to hear from them after such a meeting. He's hiring his assistant coaches - the first is Liberty's former head coach Ritchie McKay. (McKay, by the way, should be a plus on the recruiting circuit. Anyone who can convince a big-time talent like Seth Curry to come to a school with a curfew and a prohibition on R-rated movies is a recruiter in my book.)

Right, so he's got the basketball coach part down. What about "at the University of Virginia"? I said the other day that Bennett has to be a Wahoo, not just be employed by the school. This is essential, and something that Dave Leitao admittedly fell a little short on. How about a guy who makes sure to wear an orange tie and knows the difference between a campus and the Grounds? This here WCAV interview displays both.

(OK, actually, I really don't care about the color of the tie. Somebody probably coached him up on that, or sent an intern down to the Fashion Square mall to pick one out for him, same way they coached him up on "Grounds" vs. "campus." I always thought people were way too fixated on the color of Coach Leitao's bloody damn tie. That doesn't help win games. I do like that he's making a clear effort to fit in. He talked about UVA being the right fit in that WCAV interview, and it's great to see him put in the effort to make sure that not only is UVA the right fit for him, but he's the right fit for UVA.)

Verdict: In just two short days, Bennett has brought UVA fans around from dismayed shock to "hey we need to give this guy a chance" to fairly well impressed. The steady stream of ringing endorsements have helped with that too.

There's a dissenting view, though - there always is. Adam Gottschalk is nitpicking the press conference. I dunno - I didn't get to watch the press conference because I have a job which requires me to do job-related things. I did watch that interview above though and I got the distinct impression Bennett is perfectly comfortable talking with the media. Others that saw the presser didn't come away with any such impression as, "forced, bereft of substance, and a little uncomfortable….he didn’t always sound like a guy with a lot of confidence in his system or philosophy." So I think we can safely file away Gottschalk as a minority opinion here.

Couple other notes: The ACC Sports Journal's Jim Young compiled the list of BCS-conference coaching hires in 2006, which would be when Bennett took over at WSU. Fourteen coaches on that list and none of them have more wins in that time at the school where they were hired than Bennett. One is tied, and you might recognize that other name if at any point you heard that Virginia was looking for a coach. Safe to say that very few if any of those schools were as happy with their choice as WSU was with Bennett.

Lastly, anyone who might look at the daily hit count for this blog would have no trouble at all guessing when UVA hired a new basketball coach. Monday set a new record for hits and page views. Tuesday laughed at Monday's puny little number. Gee, are you people interested in this coach stuff?

1 comment:

RawHoo said...

Hey Brendan,

First time checking out your blog. Good stuff. You can thank Kris for the link in the Good 'Ol Blog. I like your style and you certainly know your stuff.

Like your insight on the Bennett hire. I actually watched his Wazzu team beat UCLA for the first time ever in Pauley Pavilion back in Feb. Never thought in a million years that he'd be our coach, but, such as it is, I wish him nothing but success.

I don't think we can count the Groh factor out here. Let's face it, we're going to be looking for a football coach in Dec. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it's easier to take a risk on a b-ball coach than a football coach. I think Bennett will get the most out of his players and make us competitive again fairly quickly. I think the football rebuilding will be a longer term project.

BTW - I have some UVa football and basketball game tapes going back to 1995. I've not burned DVDs for all of them yet, and the resolution is crap, but I can probably contribute to the video project, if you're interested.

Keep up the good work.

SEAS '92 & '01