Home Mailbag: A different subset of AFP readers weighs in on the Tony Bennett story

Mailbag: A different subset of AFP readers weighs in on the Tony Bennett story

Chris Graham
tony bennett uva acc tournament
Photo: ACC

With a guy like Tony Bennett, he would be one of the last people in the sport that sticks to his contract, instead of the norm where they sign a new one a month before being announced at another location. 


^This^, right?

There’s a reason Coach Bennett signed three extensions in a five-year period, from 2015-2019, tying him to UVA through 2026, and hasn’t signed one since.

It isn’t because Carla Williams doesn’t want Tony to be coach-for-life.

Tony’s last extension was signed in 2019. That one gave him six more years at Virginia.

He’ll be one month and one day shy of his 57th birthday on April 30, 2026.

Tony doesn’t seem to me to be the type to want to coach, like Coach K did, like Jim Boeheim did, into his mid- to late-70s.

I’ve read the speculation (from Scott German on our website, from Jerry Ratcliffe on his) about Tony being tied to the San Antonio Spurs job.

Maybe he has an NBA itch to scratch; I can’t be sure that he doesn’t.

I don’t know that I see that, personally – Tony wanting to try to corral an NBA roster into playing defense and controlling tempo 48 minutes a night, 82 games a year.

I’ve always said of Bennett that he seems to me to be the kind of guy who would be just as happy being a teacher and high-school coach.

college basketball money NIL
(© zimmytws – stock.adobe.com)

It must have been difficult for a coach adjusting to recruiting for the student-athlete to now hiring the players with promises of money and the threat of the transfer and need to bring in players on the portal every single year.

It is now professional sports without rules. I cannot imagine the stress of it all. If national legislation does not occur in the next five years, it will certainly hurt most if not all college sports. 


Addressing Rob’s final point first, he is absolutely on target there.

I’m not one who wastes time lamenting that college sports will never be the same, because what has happened in the past few years with the advent of the transfer portal, immediate eligibility for transfers, NIL, the newly agreed to House settlement that will lead to student-athletes being paid directly by schools, it was not only inevitable, but it all needed to happen.

The reason we are where we are is that the NCAA fought what needed to happen for years instead of preparing itself for as seamless a transition as possible.

That’s why we have, for now, at least, pro sports without the rules – basically, student-athletes being free agents at-will, which is why we have the roster flux across the landscape.

Now, as I wrote above, Bennett signed his last extension in 2019 tethering himself to UVA Basketball through 2026, and I can’t say it’s the case that in 2019, he foresaw all of what is happening today.

Now, was he thinking in 2019 that he’d reconsider his 2026 end date in a couple of years, as had been his wont to that point, and then, by around 2021 and 2022, looking around, seeing what was going on, decide, you know, I don’t know?


tony bennett
Photo: Chris Graham/AFP

The time will come when Tony hangs it up and chooses to go down another road. And when he does, the fan base (if they are able to show gratitude) will be well-served to have had time to prepare. Maybe it’s hard for them to fathom a guy who they’ve elevated to god status would leave after rebuilding the program. But all things must come to an end. 

Bryan Paul

People forget – OK, so, some aren’t old enough to be able to remember – that Terry Holland stepped down as UVA’s first all-time winningest coach at the tender age of 48 way back in 1990.

Nobody saw that coming, because if anybody had, Dave Odom would have been the heir apparent. (More on that in a moment.)

Coach Holland was the first guy that UVA fans elevated to god status for what he did to build a UVA Basketball program that Tony Bennett could later come in to rebuild.

Holland was the head coach at Virginia for 16 years.

If Bennett finishes up his run at Virginia in 2026, that would be 17 years.

George Welsh, the most successful football coach we will ever see, was at UVA for 19 years.

Don’t underestimate how hard it is to be a coach at the University of Virginia, trying to recruit players who can get into a top academics school who can also win games in the ACC and compete for national titles.

There seems to be a shelf life, is what I’m getting at here.

ron sanchez
Photo: UVA Athletics

When it was first reported that Ron Sanchez was returning to the “Bennett team,” my thought was hmmm, why? Now, the answer is pretty clear. He is obviously destined to be the next head coach at UVA. If this is actually the way it goes down, I like it. “It” being hiring within.

I hope I speak for many UVA basketball fans when I say to coach: Please stay as long as you want, but if it is time to move on, we wish you the best. You belong in the Human Race Hall of Fame. (Yea, and basketball, too….)


My reporting has things moving in the direction of Sanchez being the guy, much like Coach K was able to hand the keys to the Duke program to Jon Scheyer, and Jim Boeheim was able to elevate his long-time top assistant, Adrian Autry.

Technically, Jeff Jones was a Terry Holland assistant when he got the UVA job in 1990, but Jones only got the job after Rick Barnes accepted it, then backed out – and Barnes had been among a group of finalists including Mike Montgomery, Bruce Parkhill and Pete Gillen, who would eventually succeed Jones in 1998.

Dave Odom would have been the successor, if things had happened following any kind of succession planning, but as it worked out, Odom had left Holland’s staff in 1989 to take the head coach job at Wake Forest, where he went 240-132 in 12 seasons.

Notably, Odom, ahead of taking that Wake job, had only a brief three-year run as a head coach, at ECU, from 1979-1982, in which his teams compiled a meh 38-42 mark.

One of the knocks I’m seeing on Ron Sanchez as a Tony Bennett successor is his meh 72-78 record in his five-year stint at Charlotte.

And I mean, OK, that’s fair, but his last team there won 22 games, and the pieces he left behind went 19-12 in 2023-2024, so, he rebuilt the program, and left it better than what he found it, at least.

Sanchez not only has all those years at Bennett’s side from the basketball perspective, he also has years of experience recruiting basketball student-athletes to UVA.

This is the underrated part of having an internal candidate as an heir apparent.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].