Two factors behind Tony's rebuff of Indiana

SOURCES KNOWLEDGEABLE WITH the Indiana-wants-Tony Bennett saga say the Hoosiers, through third-party intermediaries, were floating huge numbers - in the $2.5 million per year range - to lure the Cougar coach to Bloomington. Why Bennett would turn down such an offer - at a college basketball mecca - speaks volumes about the man.

Indiana formally contacted Bennett over the weekend and Bennett made his turn-down public on Sunday, saying: "Last night I had an exploratory conversation with Indiana. They went through the proper channels by contacting Jim Sterk and then earlier today I let Indiana know I am not going to pursue the position."

What that statement doesn't talk about are two factors that drove the decision – a decision that no doubt is sending tidal waves of disbelief through the basketball world.


Factor No.1 is that Bennett, who has been immersed in the game literally since birth, is a basketball junkie. He loves the game and he loves coaching. Put emphasis on the word coaching. At WSU, alums and the media have their demands, but generally leave Tony free to do what he loves: coach basketball and shape the lives of young men.

At Indiana, the Xs and Os almost take a back seat to the publicity requirements of the job. Alumni gatherings, fundraising chores and a nonstop media glare devour huge amounts of the coach's time and attention at Indiana. In short, the head coach of the Hoosiers is second only to Peyton Manning as the state's most recognizable citizen.

The pomp, the circumstance, the time and the attention help make Indiana the special basketball school that it is.

But for a guy who loves the heart of the game – the time on the court and the time in the office dissecting and strategizing – all that other stuff is a distraction.

Fact No. 2 is that Bennett is his father's son. Dick Bennett was a builder. He spent 11 seasons coaching high school ball and nine years each at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin-Green Bay before resurrecting the Wisconsin Badgers. He inherited problems and turned them into consistent winners.

Tony Bennett is a builder who gets a charge out of waking up in the morning and figuring out how many ways he's going to outwork his competition. That's the mentality that made him a star guard at WGB. That's the mentality that got him to the NBA.

He thrives in the role of underdog. There are no underdogs at Indiana. You don't build at Indiana. If you're lucky, you might meet huge expectations.

Tony is an underdog who is building a consistent winner in Pullman. He is doing so on the five core value his dad taught him were the cornerstones of success: Passion, humility, unity servanthood and thankfulness.

That's not lip service. They're road maps into the man's character.

Indiana offers him a king's ransom and he asks WSU to counter with more money for his assistant coaches and more charter flights than commercial ones for his team's travels.

Tony is no Dennis Erickson.

He's loyal to his players and to the people who took a chance on him. He knows that two years isn't enough -- to himself, his player, his university.

If there were any doubts before this weekend that Bennett was a special guy, they're torn asunder now.

We'd be fools to think Tony will stay in Pullman forever. When Bo Ryan retires at Wisconsin, I'd say we're in trouble. But the fact is, he and his family love living in Pullman. They're not making $2.5 million a year, but for a guy not motivated by money, $800,000 a year ain't all bad.

There's any easy way for Cougar fans to show their gratitude to a guy who, like them, sees the uncommon spirit and beauty of Pullman and Washington State. Whether it's $100 or $25,000, help him keep the momentum going by making a donation right now to WSU's basketball excellence fund.

Click here to make it happen -- to send a message to Tony Bennett that we appreciate him, and his character, more than he'll ever know.

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