Bender resigns as head basketball coach

Athletic Director Barbara Hedges addressed the media today to announce that Bob Bender, UW Head Coach of men's basketball, resigned his post yesterday. Bender will step down and be paid in accordance with the provisions of his contract for the remaining three years. Bender was not present at the press conference and no statements were issued on his behalf.

"Bob Bender resigned yesterday. I regret that he will no longer be the head coach of men's basketball at the University of Washington," said Hedges.

' "Bob is an exceptional person and has served this university well. It was a decision that I agonized over, but ultimately I decided to make a change. Sometimes change is good and this was probably the right time for it."

Although it is officially a resignation, it was a case where Hedges went to Bender and proposed that he resign and the coach accepted.

"I wanted to provide as much integrity as I could. He and I agreed that he would resign. I told him what I wanted to do. We did an amendment to his contract to allow for his resignation," explained Hedges.

Per the language of his contract, Bender will receive 100% of next year's base salary of $172,000, 50% of the second year, and 25% of the third year remaining on his contract, which is a total of $298,000. However, if Bender lands a coaching job elsewhere, the UW is only obligated to pay the first year's salary in liquidation damages.

Bender's nine-year tenure matched Tippy Dye (1951-59) as the third longest in school history. Only Hec Edmundson (1921-47) and Marv Harshman (1972-85) had longer stints as a Husky head coach. Bender was also third in terms of seniority among Pac-10 coaches, behind only Arizona's Lute Olson (19 years) and Stanford's Mike Montgomery (16 years).

Hedges had a 90-minute meeting with Bender last week where they evaluated the current situation and assessed where the program was going in the future. That was followed by a 20-minute meeting yesterday where Hedges and Bender agreed on the resignation.

No coaching candidates were named at the press conference, but Hedges wants to fill the position as quickly as possible. "Time is critical. With the NCAA tournament going on right now, it's an interesting time."

"It is in everyone's best interest that we do this as quick as possible. Rick Neuheisel was hired in 11 days."

One clear goal that the school hopes to accomplish with a new coach is to fill the newly refurbished arena with fans. "To fill the Bank of America Arena with 10,000 screaming fans would excite me," said Hedges, who realizes that the basketball program has some catching up to do in terms of fan interest when compared to the football program.

"We need to get the Seattle area excited about Husky basketball. You can't sit back and say, ‘It will never change.' I believe we can be successful at it (men's basketball). We've done it in every sport and basketball is no different."

When asked if the school had enough money for a big name coach, Hedges smiled and replied, "That's a good question." She continued, explaining, "I will not place any limitations on who we will speak with. Certainly, I'm aware of the dollar figures that are out there and of the salaries of the Pac-10. I know where we are and probably where we're going to have to go."

No dollar figure was given as a target, but Hedges said that she "wanted to make enough of a statement to where people understand that basketball is very important to the University of Washington."

Men's basketball reportedly earned a net profit of $473,000 last year and this year was expected to be about the same. Those figures are low in comparison to the rest of the Pac-10. "I would like it to be significantly more," said Hedges. "That would tell us that we are filling our arena and that people are excited about Husky basketball."

Hedges had not spoken to the team at the time of this press conference but intended to meet with each player and seek their input. Of the most interest to Husky fans will be how her meeting with Doug Wrenn goes. Wrenn, Washington's leading scorer and all-Pac 10 performer, was quoted on KJR 950AM earlier this year as saying that if Bob Bender were to leave, he would seriously consider entering the NBA draft.

"I don't know what Doug's plans are but that is part of my plan. To sit down with Doug and the rest of the team and talk to them. Their input is extremely important to me."

Hedges quashed some speculation about Bender possibly being asked to fire his assistants as a stipulation for staying. "I've never asked a coach to make a coaching staff change."

Hedges didn't say how the search for the next Husky basketball coach would be conducted, but she did outline how her past searches have gone. "Usually, I put together a very small group of people and I have been the person that has gone out and identified candidates and have brought them back to campus. I don't know if that's exactly the way that I'll do it, but that is how we've done it in the past and it does work."

Some in the media feel that Mark Few, the current coach at Gonzaga, could be the top candidate for the job should he choose to throw his hat in the ring. Hedges, when asked about it, replied, "Honestly, I have not gotten that far. Certainly, I'm aware that Mark Few is an outstanding basketball coach."

Bob Bender compiled a 116-142 record (.450) at Washington, including a 63-99 Pac-10 mark (.389). He led the Huskies twice to the NIT and twice to the NCAA tournament. His high water mark came in 1998 when his team went 20-10 and reached the sweet 16, losing on a last-second shot by Connecticut's Richard Hamilton. Top Stories