This is Why We Love Tony Bennett

I cannot tell you how refreshing it is, soon after going on a mini-tirade about why character is important, to see Tony Bennett give this response on his chat this afternoon:

Pullman: Character seems incredibly important to you, if not, the most important aspect of an athlete: would you sacrifice raw talent w/out character for an athlete who has less athletic ability (still a good athlete), but impeccable character? Why? Why not? Please explain.

Tony Bennett: No I wouldn’t. When you are building a program you cannot take a short cut on character. When you do, more times than not, it will end up hurting your program in the long run.

Read the whole chat; there’s lots of goodies in there, although TB skirts the questions regarding playing time and the starting lineup (c’mon Tony, we already know Taylor and Baynes are locks).

I would’ve liked to see Tony address the who-gets-the-last-scholarship question, but it’s from a selfish standpoint, so that I can update the scholly chart (see links above). I still think Enquist gets the scholarship, and Rochestie and Allen are the “walk-ons” for 08-09.

The great thing about Tony is that even in his chats he has a grounded, humble attitude. There are no pleas for financial support (mainly thanks for what has already been given), and he is repetitively thankful for the support WSU gives him. And he’ll need it as the Cougars enter the upcoming season with one of the youngest squads in the nation.

Side note: only 66 days until football season.

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More Buzz, Palouse

Back on Cougfan this week, with a wide-ranging look at Jeshua Anderson’s Olympic chances, the basketball scholarship situation, Kyle’s draft position, baseball commit Rusty Shellhorn (who happens to attend my old high school – Go Bears) and more.

Buzzin’ the Palouse: Is Jeshua Beijing-bound? (subscription only this time – just think of it like Peter Gammons’ blog)

Regarding Bennett’s comments – which were great to hear, by the way, I thought I would point out one thing in particular. There have been plenty of superlatives all around for Tony finally opening up to the press – see Jim Moore here for an example. Still, I thought I would point out one phrase that may come back to haunt Cougar fans someday, if we’re not careful:

“The special thing about being a Coug is that when things go well it’s appreciated and celebrated more than anywhere else,” Bennett said. “And I think when you’re struggling and trying to rebuild the program, Cougs are more patient and understanding. That’s what makes this place great.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Bennett, Johnson, Talk to LSU

This shouldn’t bring about any panic, but it is news, not rumor: Tony Bennett and Stanford coach Trent Johnson talked to LSU during the final four, most likely as a way for the Tigers to gauge either coach’s interest in the position.

Vince Grippi, my go-to Coug reporter at the Spokesman, makes it clear that he thinks Tony will not accept any offer.

Speaking of LSU, there’s an interesting article from lsubeat.com writer Glenn Guilbeau on how the firm LSU hired to find their new athletic director seems more than a little shady. This is the same search firm that will be “aiding” the Tigers in the search for their new basketball coach, now that the time-consuming search for their new athletic director has come to a close. LSU hired Joe Alleva, the Duke AD, who was assigned the unfortunate task of presiding over the lacrosse scandal and subsequent fallout.

Tony Bennett to… Washington State?

Howie Stalwick, through the PI, reports that a new contract may be on the way for Tony Bennett at WSU. Note that despite the title of the article, there is nothing definitive – yet.

On the women’s front, Katelan Redmon, the former June Daugherty recruit who played at UW last season (and was denied her request to be released from her LOI with the huskies), has transferred to Gonzaga.

For the Chronically Concerned

Bud Withers in the Seattle Times clarifies those conversations that Tony had with the recruits. Withers is quick to point out, however, that this was before the Marquette job opened.

So let’s try to sum up the Tony Bennett rumor situation in one sentence. Tony has said no to Indiana, will most likely return to Pullman, but has not specifically addressed any other job openings. There, I did it.

Meanwhile it looks like LSU is going to take a hard look at UMass’ Travis Ford. I still think Anthony Grant should be their guy.

Update (12:40) – Grippi is reporting LSU plans to interview a Pac-10 coach in San Antonio. This basically means either Tim Floyd or Bennett, as no one else has been linked to the list of candidates (although if I were LSU I’d take a look at Sendek). Floyd because he may have already been contacted by LSU, but then again he also told the OC Register USC is his “last job”. So there’s a chance it’s Bennett. Then again, it may not be an “interview” as much as a “gauge your interest” kind of talk. Who the heck knows. Get Andy Katz on the phone post-haste. (By the way, I hear from a reliable source Katz is interested in a FSN job)

If you follow these rumors closely, and I don’t know why the heck I am, you’ll have noticed it’s been back and forth from the start. One day Tony is “expecting to leave”, the next day he turns down Indiana. One day he’s going to Cal, then Marquette, then LSU, then Wisconsin-Green Bay, depending on the source. I’m getting tired of it all. We need what I’m calling the “exhale statement”. In other words, a press conference with Tony saying “I’m not going anywhere” – then listing specifically the 500 schools that are pursuing him and taking his name out of the running.

Bennett Not Interested in Indiana

Tony Bennett is not going to Indiana; reported now by two sources.

Vince Grippi, here.

And Andy Katz, here.

The latter article bugs me a little as Katz implies that Bennett “might” be “interested” in the LSU job. Baton Rouge, LA, happens to be the hometown of Tony’s wife, Laurel. What bugs me about Katz’s article is that one can’t tell whether those words about LSU came out of Tony’s mouth or from Andy Katz himself. The nature of modern-day coaches says there is no certainty that Tony is staying in Pullman, but this is a very good indication. No other school could offer Bennett what Indiana could in terms of money and resources. Scratch that silly Cal rumor, too: Vince Grippi already stated earlier this weekend that Bennett had told him he would absolutely not move within conference. There’s also this remark from Grippi in his blog comments:

Folks:

I think what I’ve posted will answer most of your questions, though not all. I will try to flesh it out before tomorrow morning, but this is what I can come up with from SeaTac. It seems to me Tony is staying, no matter who calls. At least till next year, when we’ll probably have to go through this insane exercise again.
(Author’s note: WordPress is being stubborn and won’t let me insert a space here) And what an insane exercise it’s been. For the time being, we can breathe a little easier. But I wouldn’t say it’s a 100% done deal that Tony will be in Pullman through 2008-09. At least not yet.