Home Scott German: Could Tony Bennett benefit from having a fresh perspective on his staff?

Scott German: Could Tony Bennett benefit from having a fresh perspective on his staff?

Scott German
tony bennett
Photo: UVA Athletics

In 2022, while preparing for his 16th season at Alabama, Nick Saban filled the last of the four open assistant coaching positions on his staff.

With the four hirings, Saban employed more than 50 full-time, on-the-field assistant coaches during his 16-year tenure in Tuscaloosa.

That track record might indicate that it doesn’t matter if the staffing carousel slows down or spins faster, Alabama continued to win.

Change is inevitable, and change can be a good thing.

At Alabama, change was frequent, but the voice remained the same.

Saban, having recently retired, is heading for the TV booth, and soon thereafter to the College Football Hall of Fame.

And Alabama football will be fine.

Saban’s revolving door of assistant coaches got me thinking about Virginia’s Tony Bennett and his 15-year career as head coach of the UVA men’s basketball program.

Under Bennett, the assistant coaching carousel moves slowly, if at all.

Keeping in mind that college football teams have a full-time staff that dwarfs the staffs in men’s basketball, it is still interesting to see how both Saban and Bennett go about their business.

The UVA basketball sideline has seen some minor changes over the last 15 years, but the core of the staff remains intact, year after year.

Last spring, Virginia lost assistant Kyle Getter to Notre Dame. Bennett turned to a familiar face, former assistant Ron Sanchez, to replace Getter.

Sanchez had been with Bennett from his days at Washington State, before leaving for a five-year stint as the head coach down at Charlotte.

Associate head coach Jason Williford has been alongside Bennett since Day 1.

The NCAA increased the number of assistant coaches that schools can have on staff, and Virginia promoted Isaiah Wilkins and Johnny Carpenter, again, from within the staff.

And what about those 50 assistant coaching hires under Saban?

Thirteen former assistants became FBS or NFL head coaches, including the new Boston College head coach, Bill O’Brien, who said this about his stint under Saban: “When I came to Alabama, I fully understood, you’re running Alabama’s offense, Nick Saban was still the voice of the program.”

O’Brien, as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, was earning one of the highest wages in the sport, biding his time until his next move.

As the Alabama head coach, Saban was, according to one description, “hyper-focused on the micro, fully trusting that, in doing so, the macro will take care of itself.”

Tony Bennett’s success is unmatched by any other men’s basketball coach at Virginia.

That is news to absolutely no one.

I’m not suggesting that, because of some bumps in the road this season, Bennett needs to clean house, but instead, I’m thinking aloud about what bringing in some young and motivated assistant coaches occasionally could add to the program.

Now that the NCAA permits five full-time assistants, a fresh face on a regular basis could be a positive.

A former college basketball head coach and Power 5 assistant coach shared his thoughts with me about bringing in different ideas and experiences to your program.

The gist: in today’s quickly changing landscape of college athletics, it’s more important than ever to be cognizant on how to evolve, and evolving doesn’t mean having to change a program’s core existence from a leadership perspective.

Many head coaches believe that the best assistants are often those who desire to be in the leadership position, believing they can inspire their drive from not being comfortable in just existing, but driven for personal growth, and in the process helping the program to remain relevant and on an upward trajectory.

Again, this isn’t a commentary about Bennett being unwilling to make changes, because as early as last season, Bennett was making tweaks to his offense, adding high ball screens to take advantage of the perimeter shooting of Ben Vander Plas, using middle screens to get the ball into the post on some possessions, changing things up from his base mover-blocker sides offense.

Assistant coaches in basketball, like assistant coaches in football, are assigned to specific coaching responsibilities, like guard play, post play. The efforts of the assistants can often be seen in a player’s development from one season to the next, as well as throughout the season.

There are some players on this team that I’m not seeing making progress.

Is that on the player, or the position coach?

Coaches get the credit for developing players; it’s only fair to question why a player is not developing.

As fans, we get caught up in the latest results and fail to recognize that coaches see more than we do.

How does a player perform in practice?

How does his practice effort transition to gameday?

These are questions that only the coaches know the answer to.

In the age of the transfer portal, where roster turnover is inevitable, a fresh face on the staff from time to time might be a good thing.

You never know when that new face may evolve into the next Tony Bennett.

Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.