Bo Ryan had said before the season that the 2015-2016 season would be his last at Wisconsin, so it’s odd that his surprise announcement last night that he is retiring effective immediately has Wahoo Nation on the edge of its seats about Tony Bennett.
There’s truly nothing to see here. Nothing new at all. What we’re seeing is Ryan trying to engineer getting his long-time assistant, Greg Gard, installed as his permanent replacement, by giving him the reins mid-season.
That’s what I want to believe, anyway.
And then I put myself in the shoes of folks at Wisconsin. First, let’s say I write big checks to the athletics department there. I stop writing them immediately and eternally if Barry Alvarez doesn’t at least inquire as to Bennett’s level of interest in the job.
And if I’m Alvarez, I expect to be sacked if I don’t make that ask. It’s just simple due diligence at a school that doesn’t have a reputation for being poorly run at all.
Now, putting myself in Bennett’s shoes. Is it a slam dunk, more appropriately for Tony, an open three, that I have no interest?
I’m a Wisconsin kid. Dad, Dick Bennett to the rest of you, took the Badgers to the Final Four in 2000. The next fall, he retired three games into the season to try to engineer the job full time for his top assistant, Brad Soderberg.
Didn’t work out. Soderberg took Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament, but after a first-round exit, Alvarez’s predecessor as AD at Wisconsin, Pat Richter, hired Ryan.
Good move, as it worked out, and there may be hard feelings on the part of Dick and Tony, who hired Soderberg as his top assistant this past spring, about how things went down.
Or maybe there aren’t hard feelings. We don’t really know that one way or the other. Knowing Bennett just a little from having reported on the program for a long time, it seems that Bennett isn’t one to carry around hard feelings.
So there may be interest, who knows? And it may be the case that the interest may be tempered by what Bennett has been able to accomplish at Virginia.
Back-to-back 30-win seasons and ACC regular-season titles have Bennett as the present and the future in a conference that has Hall of Famers riding the coaching pine, it’s so insanely deep in that respect.
He has the best facilities in the country, at a school that has more money than God, and a fan base that treats him as such.
And he and his wife, Laurel, have two children, a son and daughter, who are six years into their schools, their friends, their activities.
You don’t pack up a young family to go back home to a place that isn’t their home, to leave a good job for another good job.
Two words for you there: Bronco Mendenhall. Packed up his wife and three kids and left home for a part of the world that seems to them like a different planet to trade in one good job for another good job.
And actually, with Mendenhall, he left a good job for a job that right now isn’t nearly as good a job. Oh, and his dad and brother are alums of the school that he left, and his only tie to UVA is that his BYU team played a home-and-home with the Cavs in 2013 and 2014.
Mendenhall got more money, though I doubt it was money that was the lure. And he gets a chance to lead a team through a conference that has a tie-in to the College Football Playoff, which BYU as an independent doesn’t have right now, but that couldn’t be the lure, either.
The lure for Mendenhall was the challenge. At age 49, the window for him to make a move, if he was to ever make a move, was starting to close.
Bennett is 46. His window is still open for a few years, and it’s this that ought to scare the Virginia faithful more than the short term.
Think back to another legendary coach who engineered getting his top assistant the job when he stepped down. Dean Smith retired just before the 1997 season to ensure that long-time assistant Bill Guthridge would get the job, and left him a team that would go to two Final Fours in the next three years.
The plan was to have Guthridge be the interstitial coach so that the guy who would get the gig for the long haul wouldn’t have to be the one to replace Dean Smith.
The assumption all along was that Roy Williams, who had ventured out to Kansas and built the Jayhawks into a megapower, would come back into the fold when asked by Smith, but Williams couldn’t leave Kansas, and UNC turned to Matt Doherty, then the coach at Notre Dame.
The Doherty era flamed out in spectacular fashion, with the Tar Heels losing 20 games in his second season, and losing in the NIT in year three.
Williams couldn’t turn down Smith a second time, and he tearfully left Kansas in 2003, at the age of 53, six years after Smith had stepped down.
I think we can breathe easy in the interim. Unless Gard totally flames out in B1G play, Wisconsin is likely to retain him with the expectation that continuity with the Ryan era is what’s best for business.
But if things turn sour, and they often do in sports, Bennett has to be on any short list for Alvarez or his successors at least for the next decade.
– Column by Chris Graham