Home Mailbag: Bitter UVA Basketball fans take aim on Tony Bennett contract news

Mailbag: Bitter UVA Basketball fans take aim on Tony Bennett contract news

tony bennett uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Some things that I learned about myself today: I “hate” and “envy” UVA Basketball coach Tony Bennett, who “lives rent-free” in my head, and the negative articles that I write about the coach is why I got my credentials pulled.

My unforgiveable sin: reporting on Bennett’s contract status, and the contract status of his two top assistants, based on public-records requests.

“So much bs. I understand you dislike Coach, but on and on and on and on,” reader Michael Angelo wrote on our Facebook page on the most recent story on the topic, “Sanchez, Williford contract language appears to spell out Bennett departure from UVA,” published on Tuesday.

The notion being imparted here by this Angelo guy: that I have to dislike Tony Bennett, because otherwise, why would I go to the trouble of filing multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to try to determine if the rumors that have been going around on the interwebs about his contract status were true?

The answer to that one: um, it’s kinda my job.

I mean, I get it that everybody else on press row is there because it’s loads of fun to hang around big-time college athletes and millionaire coaches, and that regurgitating what they say in press conferences is what too many people in the media nowadays think is the hard work they do to justify the access.

I’m not a stenographer for UVA Athletics.

I also have no opinion one way or the other, personally, on Tony Bennett. I’ve covered his program for 15 years, but I can’t say that I know him any better than I could get to know somebody who uses the media-relations folks at UVA to keep the media at arm’s length.

Which, I’m not being critical there, because he is perfectly within his rights to keep us at arm’s length.

And for what it’s worth, I totally get it, and admire him for not wanting to have to pretend to be friends with people he doesn’t want to be friends with.

Me personally, I don’t pretend to be friends with people that I don’t want to be friends with.

That would be one thing the coach and I would seem to have in common.

Next up:

“They hate Tony Bennett and just won’t come out and say it. Every single week CTB lives rent-free in their heads. Their paper would literally cease to exist if he were fired,” reader Scott Shuler wrote on our Facebook page.

Actually, this “paper” – which has never been in print, but whatever – literally only exists because of its local and regional news coverage.

The UVA sports coverage didn’t get added on until we’d already been in business for a while, and all these many years later, it’s still just something fun for me to do, and the thing that, by far, costs us more than it brings in, when you factor in the cost of the road trips to the Final Four, the College World Series, the Orange Bowl, the rest.

“Anytime I see any negative headline about UVA hoops, it typically comes from Augusta Free Press. It’s not even worth a read,” wrote a guy named John Fridley, who was nonetheless commenting on a story that he’d just read, so, we have that going for us.

More from this Fridley guy: “Sometime along the line Tony or UVA must have broken someone’s heart to trigger this long line of negative and toxic views of the program, like that of a scorned girlfriend.”

I’m a 1994 alum of the University of Virginia. My wife and I have basketball and baseball season tickets. I have an orange-and-blue basketball court with a V sabre logo in my backyard.

The only heartbreak for me involved in any of this was not seeing the 2016 UVA hoops team go to the Final Four.

“How in the world did this page go from solid work and always saying the right things, to constantly and only reporting on Tony Bennett’s contract. Seems to me that business is slow in the office,” reader Ben Coffey chimed in.

Even just on the sports front, my man Big Ben is off-base here – I was on a Richmond radio station yesterday talking UVA Baseball and UVA Football, and had a deep-dive analysis of the UVA Basketball roster for 2024-2025 on Monday; and then on the news side, I’ve been quite busy lately writing about two controversial hires by Waynesboro Public Schools.

If all you’re reading is the Bennett contract reporting, maybe that’s because you see that there’s something of value there that you’re not getting from the other reporters who wouldn’t touch this story with a 39-and-a half-foot pole, for fear of …

“This is why dude got his credentials pulled,” reader Brandon Mullins opined.

I’d say “bingo,” but truth be told, the story that rankled the media-relations folks last spring wasn’t about Bennett, but rather, another Tony, last name Muskett, and as fate would have it, not only were we later credentialed for the Super Regionals, but I was the only reporter from Virginia not employed by UVA Athletics to travel to Omaha to cover the College World Series.

But if you want to know why no one else reports on topics like this Bennett contract situation, the depressingly-low UVA Football season-ticket sales numbers, the embarrassing pittance that UVA Athletics spends on football relative to its ACC peers, really, anything else that doesn’t emanate from a press release, Brandon Mullins has your reason why.

The other folks are afraid to rankle the powers-that-be, which, hey, I’m not trying to cast myself as some sort of journalism hero here or anything, because there’s some cold, hard calculus to me being willing to do hard news on UVA Athletics.

One, that no one else has the, er, gumption, works in my favor.

Two, I’m pretty sure the folks over there are well-aware that the dumbest thing they could do would be to publicly rebuke me or anybody else because of hard-news reporting.

Seriously, if you think we get a lot of clicks now, and we do, wait until they make me the heel.

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].