BLOOMINGTON – It looks like we're back where we started.
IU fans woke this morning to the news that Washington State Coach Tony Bennett had been offered the Indiana coaching job. That story was called into question hours later when a second national report said Bennett hadn't spoken with any IU officials and thus hadn't been extended an offer.
Now, a third report – this time from CBS Sportline's Gary Parrish – connects the dots. Parrish reported late Saturday afternoon that Bennett has been offered the IU job through some third-party intermediaries and he's expected to say yeah or nay within 24 hours.
Of course, there's some uncertainty over where the 24-hour time frame came from. Is that an IU deadline or a self-imposed time limit? Did the clock start ticking when Jeff Goodman's report first surfaced last night on Fox Sports? Was it when Parrish ran with his story late this afternoon?
Like much of the day's news…only those directly involved in the process really know the answers.
But through it all, one thing has become clear.
Indiana wants Tony Bennett.
There's plenty of reasons to like the 38-year-old second-year Cougar coach. He's 52-17 in two seasons at the Pac-10's version of basketball purgatory, having won a National Coach of the Year award one season and leading the program to its first-ever Sweet 16 this year. His WSU team established a new school mark for wins a year ago with 26, and then matched it this winter.
He has Midwestern roots, having grown up in Wisconsin and before starring at UW-Green Bay from 1989-92. After a three-year stint in the NBA and a couple of years playing and coaching overseas he returned to the U.S. to join his father's staff at Wisconsin. In seven years as an assistant at UW and then at Washington State he built a strong reputation as a recruiter, having lured the likes of Devin Harris, Kirk Penney, Alando Tucker, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver to their respective schools.
Some will argue that he's not a "home run candidate," lacking the rock star status of Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, John Calipari or Bruce Pearl. But I'd counter that a couple of those big names were nothing more than wishful thinking, while others would have included some baggage that IU officials didn't want to see on the luggage carousel considering the variety of faux pas' committed by Kelvin Sampson and Co.
While Indiana wants Bennett, Washington State doesn't want to see him go. A year ago Washington State unveiled the "A.D.'s Fund for Basketball Excellence," a plea to donors to pony up some money to improve the Cougars' facilities and other amenities. More than anything, it was an effort to show Bennett that the department was committed to being more than an afterthought in the Pac-10. That effort resulted in $600,000 of pledged donations which reportedly went to video equipment and locker room upgrades.
With Bennett a hot coaching commodity again this spring the WSU department is sending the collection plate around a second time to some 50,000 alumni and donors. This time the goal is to raise the funds that will allow the basketball team to charter some flights to some hard-to-get-to locals. For road trips the team has to bus either 30 miles to Lewistown or 80 miles to Spokane to catch a commercial flight, which then often includes at least one layover.
These are all issues that aren't issues at IU, where basketball reigns supreme. Heck, IU raised $500,000 in a matter of hours to rid itself of Sampson last month.
All things for Bennett to ponder tonight as he sleeps on IU's offer. Chances are final word on his decision won't come until sometime tomorrow.
That means it's likely safe for IU fans to go to sleep tonight knowing the basketball coaching position will be vacant for at least one more day.
I'd recommend getting up pretty early tomorrow.
DECKER: Let's Sleep on It
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