In addition to media personnel, many others were in attendance including John Paul Jones , Coach Al Groh, and Howie Long.
The Tony Bennett era began with a bang Wednesday afternoon as the new coach was formally introduced to Wahoo Nation by UVa Athletics Director Craig Littlepage and University President John Casteen. In front of a packed house of media members, donors and friends of the Virginia basketball community, Casteen and Littlepage enthusiastically welcomed Bennett to the Cavalier community.
“This is a day of celebration for the University of Virginia because I’m here and I’m honored today to be able to introduce to you the newest member of the University community, our new basketball coach,” Littlepage said in his introduction.
Littlepage, the main man behind the search efforts, detailed the process behind the decision. He said that while it was imperative to find a coach with a high basketball IQ, the intangibles were also key component.
“I knew we needed to have a teacher-coach, someone who besides being a great court tactician and a great recruiter also embodied all those character traits that would make each and every one of us eager and proud to call him our leader, our coach and our representative to take us into the national arena of competition,” Littlepage said. “That coach joins us today and is seated right next to me. That coach joins us because he has a proven plan to bring about consistent winning results to the University of Virginia men’s basketball program.”
Bennett comes adorned with Pac-10 coaching awards, including a National Coach of the Year award in 2007. His Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament in 2 of his 3 seasons at the helm, sporting 26-win seasons twice. Everyone including Casteen, Littlepage and Bennett himself repeatedly spoke about an ideal “fit” between Bennett and Virginia. That “fit” was what helped Bennett make the ultimate decision to leave a comfortable situation at WSU and come to Virginia, he said.
“After my wife and I came here and toured the grounds and were in this facility, we were ready from an impulsive standpoint, ‘This is it,’ we were certain. And then we went back and just waited. Then, you have to think about the things that are hard, talking to the team that you recruited, saying goodbye to the people who gave you your first chance. That was hard,” Bennett said. “We just took some time. As we kind of stripped everything away, we really felt led in this direction. There really was a peace about it. Not many places could have pulled me out of Washington State at this point in my career but as the president said, this fits. This fits. It’s what I believe. It’s a place where I believe wonderful things can happen.”
Bennett made it clear that he wanted to come to Virginia and to the ACC. But what made Virginia the place even after turning down places like Indiana and LSU following last season?
Tony Bennett said Virginia just seemed to “fit.”
“The timing is everything,” Bennett said. “Not many this jobs, this year, last year whatever, made me think of leaving a place that is very unique and very special in Washington State. It would take and as I mentioned in my remarks what is so special about this. There are very few that would. I thought this was an opportunity that was right. And I think “fit” is kind of what my wife and I talked about and felt about it and prayed through it. That’s why I’m here.”
In the short term, Bennett said he has two primary goals, filling his staff and contacting the players who have signed letters-of-intent (Tristan Spurlock and Jontel Evans ). Bennett elaborated on filling the staff vacancies saying he felt he had a good chance at luring Ritchie McKay to Virginia. It appears he has been successful as Liberty reported late Wednesday afternoon that McKay had officially resigned from the school. In the long term, the new coach repeatedly stressed the idea of “building a program” as one of his main goals here at Virginia.
“I came here to build a great team but more importantly I came here to build a program that lasts. I think the way you go about that is you have great integrity and you have great passion and that’s something that I want people when they watch our teams to see it all over, passion and integrity,” he said. “That’s the way I know how to do it.”
Building a program is sort of like getting married, Bennett said, a metaphor that evolved during talks with his wife, Laurel, on the plane to Virginia.
They talked about “how the press conference is like a wedding day, there’s a celebration, a lot of promise, a lot of excitement. But what really matters quite honestly is the marriage,” Bennett said. “That’s the daily investment. It’s the promise over time. That commitment. I think that that is what it takes to build a program. I am so excited to do that at the University of Virginia.”
Speaking of marriage, joining him at the press conference were his wife Laurel and children Anna and Eli. In addition to answering serious questions about his offensive and defensive plans for the Cavaliers, Virginia’s new coach showed a refreshing level of charisma and excitement in his first public appearance, even cracking jokes about his daughter’s negotiating skills.
“She said, ‘Dad, I’ll be sad but can I get a bigger room?’ and I said ‘Sure,’ and she said ‘Can I get a puppy?’ and I said “We’ll talk about that later.’ She’s a negotiator. (laughing) She knows what’s up,” Bennett joked.