Home Tony Bennett has two years left on his contract: What does this mean for UVA Basketball?

Tony Bennett has two years left on his contract: What does this mean for UVA Basketball?

uva bennett staff
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Alright, so now we know for sure, Tony Bennett is under contract to coach at UVA for two more seasons, and UVA Athletics hasn’t put a contract extension on the table that would keep him around beyond that.

I can see why the media-relations folks would make me file a public-records request to get a lead on this.

Why it took the FOIA office at the University of Virginia the full five working days to send me a PDF of the contract is another matter, though actually, thinking that one through, yeah, I can make sense of that one, too.

On the one hand, they were just kicking the can down the road, but on the other, making me wait a week delayed the news getting out, you know, for five working days, effectively, a full week.

Anyway, we are where we are.

Breaking it down …

All’s quiet on the extension front

Bennett has signed two extensions to the contract that he’d inked in 2015, that deal binding him to UVA through April 30, 2021, with an additional year automatically added on May 1, 2016, May 1, 2017, and May 1, 2018, so, in effect, as of May 1, 2018, that 2015 contract was to run through April 30, 2024.

The first extension was signed in 2017, bumping Bennett’s annual salary from $2.1 million to $3 million, and adding one more automatic extension year to the end of the deal, effective date of the addition being May 1, 2019, so that it would run through April 30, 2025.

The second extension, signed in 2019, formally set the end of the contract at April 30, 2025, with an additional year automatically added on May 1, 2020, which is how we get now that Bennett is under contract through April 30, 2026, basically, the end of the 2025-2026 basketball season.

For those keeping score at home, after the two sides agreed to new terms three times in the five years between 2015 and 2019, it’s been five years since the last extension.

What’s going on here?

Tony Bennett is Virginia’s all-time winningest coach, the guy who finally brought a national title to UVA Basketball, beloved by the fan base.

With that as the backdrop, this can’t be a matter of the athletics director, Carla Williams, the president, Jim Ryan, the UVA Board of Visitors, big-money donors, pulling a Calipari and saying, eh, you know, maybe we should think about moving things in a new direction.

Nor can it be about Bennett trying to leverage UVA for more money. Bennett had that opportunity in 2019 after cutting down the nets in Minneapolis, and all he asked for was an additional year.

That UVA, in its response to our public-records request, told us that there hasn’t been and isn’t currently an extension on the table has to be because Bennett hasn’t asked for one, because if he asked for one, it would be there, and it would be signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours.

This, in detail, is what we know.

Is this why Ron Sanchez came back?

tony bennett ritchie mckay ron sanchez
Photo: UVA Athletics

I can make a case for Bennett’s contract coming up at the end of the 2025-2026 season being the reason he brought back Ron Sanchez, his right-hand man since their days together at Washington State, last spring, and I can make a case for it not being the reason.

The case for: not that there’s any hint of there being a guarantee that Bennett will get to do what Dean Smith did when he stepped down at UNC, handing the reins to his long-time assistant, Bill Guthridge, or what Coach K did when he stepped down, giving control of the Duke program to his chosen replacement, Jon Scheyer, but, if Bennett has been told that he gets to choose, Sanchez would seem to be that guy.

Of all the possible heir apparents in the Bennett coaching tree, three have head-coaching experience – Brad Soderberg, Ritchie McKay and Sanchez.

Soderberg is 62, and his most recent coaching stint was in D2, and that dates back nearly a decade.

McKay is 59, and he’s been at Liberty for six years in his second stint there, after leaving the head job there to join Bennett’s first staff at Virginia in 2009.

Sanchez is 44, and he returned to UVA after a five-year run at Charlotte. It wasn’t what you’d call a remarkable tenure – three winning seasons, the best in his last year down there, in 2022-2023, when his team was 22-14 and won the CBI tournament.

If I’m choosing my replacement, I want a guy who can go for a while.

McKay, at 59, has a few years left in him, though you have to factor in, he’ll be 61 two springs from now, so there’s two of whatever years he still wants to be in college basketball right there.

Sanchez is 46 two years down the road from today. I’d assume he’d be inheriting at least some from among the younger coaches on Bennett’s current staff – Isaiah Wilkins, Ronnie Wideman, Johnny Carpenter, Larry Mangino, Orlando Vandross.

I’m not sure Jason Williford would hang around if he doesn’t get the big whistle, but there’s another great staff option there as well, obviously.

Now, to the case against Sanchez coming back to be the heir apparent: that unremarkable tenure at Charlotte.

Sanchez’s teams were 72-78 in his five seasons, which isn’t exactly the kind of record that screams, give him the keys to a program that regularly competes at the top of the ACC and has a fan and donor base that knows what it feels like to win national titles to a guy who couldn’t win in Conference USA.

All of this having been laid out as background, Sanchez gave up a decent head-coaching gig at a place that he had somewhat on the upswing for some reason.

It’s not like they were running him out the door down there in Charlotte, is what I’m getting at.

There is one other possibility: maybe he just missed Tony.

I don’t know Tony well enough, really at all, to be able to judge, but from what I’ve seen, he seems like he’d be a cool guy to be around, so, maybe.

Impact on recruiting

This should be a top concern, because you know head coaches at other ACC and power conference schools will use the news that Bennett isn’t signed past 2026 when they’re talking to recruits that our guys are trying to lure to Charlottesville.

It’s probably less an issue in the current environment than it would have been a few years ago, before the transfer portal made it possible for kids to transfer out and play immediately.

Coaches are recruiting and re-recruiting their rosters year-round now, so it’s not like a rival coach telling a kid, hey, he might not be there for all four years that you’d be there, rings quite like it did back when that mattered.

That said, it would be even less an impact if there was an unspoken agreement in place about who would be taking over if it ends up being true that Bennett is gone after two years, and that in fact the guy replacing him is one of the current assistants.

So, this is where we are, huh?

Yes, we’re reduced to reading tea leaves, smoke signals, the rest.

Part of me was hoping that the week-long delay that it took the FOIA people to get back to me was them playing four corners because there was a contract extension in the works, and they wanted me to write that story.


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].