COMMENTARY: Bennett's move is breathtaking

TONY BENNETT SAID today what really matters is the promise over time and commitment. What a crock. Passion, humility, unity, servanthood, thankfulness. Those were the five tenets of Cougar hoops that Tony Bennett consistently espoused. Then in one fell swoop he betrays his own credo, turning his back on his assistants, players and recruits, not to mention fans and administrators. What a hypocrite.

It isn't that a coach left a program after too short a time. That's commonplace. It's that Tony Bennett told us he was different. And we believed him.

Those five tenets that Bennett claimed as his own, they were supposed to be road maps into the man's character. They turned out to be more like cul-de-sacs off some god forsaken dirt road.

What an empty surprise, reaffirmed today in stunning fashion during Bennett's press conference at Virginia, to discover that Bennett was just another common charlatan, so adept at weaving an intoxicating brand of disguise and deception.


Say one thing. Do the other.

Truth be told, the Cougar Nation's idolatry of Bennett has tended to mask what, in retrospect, were clues to his true colors.

Bennett left WSU hanging after his very first year as head coach, with weeks of unanswered speculation following the Cougars' first NCAA Tournament run in more than a decade. Cougar fans answered the call, raising $600,000 for the Athletic Director's Fund for Basketball Excellence in an all-out effort to keep Bennett. Eventually, Bennett said he would stay in Pullman and waxed poetic about it's allure.

Last year, he was back at it. During the final month of his second season as WSU's coach, reports of a possible move surfaced, and Bennett angrily proclaimed he wouldn't say one word about his future until after the season.

Well, the season ended, but Bennett refused to say anything more for six long weeks. He was headed to Indiana, said one breathless report. The next day, Stanford. Then Marquette, Cal, LSU. Bennett would neither confirm nor deny -- He kept WSU and its fans twisting in the wind. Those fans, by the way, ponied up another $200,000 for the excellence fund and Bennett got a pay raise to more than $1 million a year. He signed a new 7-year contract.

A contract he broke less than 12 months later.

How exactly does all that fit into those five tenets, if we may be so bold as to inquire. Tell us again. And be sure to use the word "integrity" a few times, just like during the press conference today.

Jim Sterk gave Virginia permission to talk with Tony. Big mistake. But then again, if you listened to the way Tony talked about integrity, loyalty and appreciation over the last year you'd have felt confident he was staying put at least until DeAngelo Casto and the gang were old enough to shave.

When Virginia came calling, the response from Sterk should have been clear ...

No, Virginia, you most certainly do not have permission to speak with him and here's why: He just signed a new 7-year contract. The Cougar Nation has gone through this circus two straight years and there most assuredly will not be a third. The Cougar Nation has contributed mightily -- over $800,000 in two years -- to keep Tony Bennett in Pullman. So no, Virginia, you can't talk to him.

But in the final analysis, all that shouldn't have mattered. Bennett should have just said no.

Abandoning nine freshmen -- including two with hardscrabble pasts that demand adult stability --is more than irresponsible. It's cruel.

Abandoning four incoming recruits -- including the son of a family friend who lives on the other side of the country -- is beyond callous. It's self-indulgent and dishonest.

Tony has made no secret he's a devout Christian. He doesn't flaunt it like one of those cheap made-for-TV preachers, but he insists it's central to his life.

One response: Actions speak way louder than words.

MYCHAL THOMPSON, father of Klay Thompson, says anyone criticizing Bennett is a hypocrite, that jumping ship is simply part of the game. Others agree, saying Cougar fans should be appreciative Bennett stayed for three seasons.

They're wrong.

Moreover, the fact Bennett spit in the face of his assistant coaches as he beat a trail out of town without them speaks volumes about his integrity, or lack of. The head coach gets all the credit and blame while his assistants spend countless days on the road recruiting, innumerable hours on game planning and devoted service to the head man.

After three years, and much, much longer in some cases, Bennett turned a cold shoulder toward the people most devoted to him and his success. Indeed, he slapped his assistants full in the face in telling them, as CF.C has learned, that they don't have the East Coast ties he needs in order to recruit at Virginia. (Ron Sanchez will go to Virginia with Bennett but not as a full-fledged assistant coach.)

But what the hell, it's but a few more bridges blown up on the way out of town. Just one more example that all was not as it seemed when it came to Tony Bennett.

Bennett and Virginia held a press conference today. Bennett spoke of his integrity. He talked of loyalty and passion, of how he will foster a family atmosphere there. Virginia fans no doubt gulped it down like magic waters.

Cougar Nation knows better.

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