You Can Exhale Now

It’s official.

It shouldn’t come as a shock now, but Tony Bennett has released a statement confirming he will be back as WSU head coach next season. We’ve heard reports claiming this for a few days, but this is the first time we’ve heard it from the coach himself.

I didn’t write this earlier, because I didn’t want to jinx it, but let’s take a moment to recognize what this decision means:

Tony Bennett chose WSU over Indiana, LSU, Marquette, and any number of other schools that could have thrown a lot more money his way.

Most shocking, or at least it would’ve been if you had heard it ten, or even five years ago, is this part:

Tony Bennett chose Washington State over Indiana.

Indiana, one of the most storied college basketball programs, in the heart of Big Ten country and a stone’s throw away from Wisconsin. That is huge.

It shouldn’t surprise those of us that are in the know – I came to Pullman at the exact same time as the Bennetts in 2003. The community, the administration, the students, and the team supported them from the start. We were excited just to see the team compete. We were blown away when they actually started winning. And they won a lot.

Pullman is a special place. An outsider drives 5 hours out into the middle of nowhere from Seattle and sees Pullman on the surface – the dated concrete “Pullman – Washington State University” sign that greets you coming down the hill. They see a tiny downtown and a modest campus. They see the blue heart and the towering architectural monstrosity that is Webster Hall. They see wheat fields and tractors. But they don’t see Pullman for what it really is.

They don’t see Lawson Gardens, they never make the drive to Wawawai and the Snake River, they may overlook Sella’s, they don’t have a clue which building is actually The Coug, and they don’t realize you can have twice the house for half of the money one would pay in Seattle. They see dated Beasley Coliseum and 30,000-seat Martin Stadium and can’t believe that top level Pac-10 teams can play there. What they don’t realize is how special the atmosphere is on the inside. How loyal Coug fans are to their teams, and how once you get roped in to being a Coug you end up one for life. It’s not like anyone forces you to watch the teams or go to games, but you want to. And you still want to after you graduate.

Someday I might bolt for the (literally and figuratively) greener pastures of the West Side, but I’ll always come back. I’ll dress my kids in Coug gear and remind them that UW is only an acceptable choice if they are going to med schoool or law school (even then, there are plenty more options out there).

And someday Tony might leave as well. When and if he does, however, he’ll make sure that the program is in a position to remain strong. He can pass it off to a Ben Johnson or another assistant ready to make the jump to head coach. Plus, he’s happy here. That’s what this decision is about. He’s not ready to go yet. His family isn’t ready to go yet. I always thought Mark Few would bolt Gonzaga with the right offer, but he’s stuck around Spokane for 9 NCAA tournament seasons. Let’s hope Tony finds the same reasons to keep coaching in the inland northwest.

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