It’s official: WSU’s Bennett retires

  • By Mike Allende / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, February 28, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

A year ago, Dick Bennett said this probably would be his final season as the head men’s basketball coach at Washington State. Tuesday he made it official.

The 62-year-old Bennett announced he would retire at the end of this season and pass the head-coaching reins to his son, Tony.

“This was a chance to get Tony in front of people, and any recruits he might have been dealing with will now know he’s the man,” Bennett said.

Tony Bennett has been his father’s top assistant and primary recruiter since Dick Bennett replaced Paul Graham three seasons ago.

Bennett said there were several reasons for making the announcement now rather than waiting until the end of the season. The 11-14 Cougars end the regular season in Arizona this week and then head straight to Los Angeles for the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament rather than returning to Pullman. He said if he waited until after the Pac-10 tourney, it would run into the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t want to do it last week because it would have interfered with Senior Day.

“I just wanted to get it done,” he said.

Bennett was a surprise hire when Washington State named him the head coach on March 29, 2003. From 1995-2000, Bennett led Wisconsin to a 94-68 record and reached the NCAA Tournament three times. But after leading the Badgers to the 2000 Final Four, Bennett retired, citing exhaustion.

However, when he was hired by WSU, he said he felt rejuvenated and hoped to turn around a Cougars program that was one of the worst in the Pac-10. And it didn’t take him long to do so.

In his first season, Washington State won seven Pac-10 games after winning just seven of its previous 50 conference contests. The program broke a 27-game road losing streak and a 22-game Pac-10 road losing streak.

Still, the Cougars never gained the success that Bennett had hoped for when he took over. Washington State is 36-46 in Bennett’s three seasons, and have not reached the NCAA or NIT tournaments.

“I did what I set out to do,” Bennett said. “What I wanted to do might have been a little more. We got what we expected, not necessarily what we hoped for. Three hard years, three losing years, three struggling years. But still three years that had to be served.”

Known for his ability to teach a stifling defensive style to go with a deliberate offense, Bennett took over rebuilding programs at all four of his college stops. The Pittsburgh native had a successful high school coaching career in Wisconsin before taking over NAIA Wisconsin-Stevens Point then moving on to Wisconsin-Green Bay and then on to Wisconsin. Despite taking on programs that were down, Bennett compiled a 490-303 career record.

“I coached my first game in 1965 in a junior high gym in West Bend, Wisconsin,” Bennett said. “And now likely my last game will be in the Staples Center. I’ve got to figure out what happened in between.”

Bennett said he came to Washington State in part because WSU administration showed how much they wanted him, but he realized that basketball was down at the school and Pullman is not an easy place to recruit to.

“I was starting from scratch,” Bennett said. “I don’t know how else to do it. … I realized it was going to be hard.”

The Cougars are just 4-12 this season in the Pac-10, but have lost five games by two points, and twice defeated No. 14 Washington. Washington State is again one of the nation’s top defensive teams but have struggled to find players who can consistently score in Bennett’s deliberate offense.

Bennett, though, said he thinks that his son may be able to improve WSU’s’ offense. Tony Bennett, who will be Bennett’s second child coaching Division I basketball (daughter Kathi is the women’s coach at Indiana), was a talented scorer for his dad at Wisconsin-Green Bay and had a three-year NBA career.

“Tony’s always been his own man,” Dick Bennett said. “He’s always had very creative ideas offensively. He was a very creative player. He has the ability to think like a player, which is helpful. He’ll bring some wrinkles offensively. I predict he’ll be a better offensive coach than I’ve been. I hope he holds on to the defensive stuff.”

Bennett said he has been too focused on his job to get too sentimental, though he admits there have been moments when it’s occurred to him that this would be the last trip he’d be taking to a particular place. He does expect that the realization will hit him in the Pac-10 Tournament. But he said he will continue to coach his team the same way until the season is over, rather than give Tony more responsibility.

“I’m going to go right to the end,” he said.

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