There has been chatter around the internet today and yesterday that Virginia men's basketball head coach Tony Bennett might be looking to make a move to ... Utah? Over the weekend, Utah head coach Jim Boylen was fired after leading the Utes to a 13-18 overall record (6-10 MVC), their second consecutive losing season (14-17 the year before).
Block U, an SB Nation site, suggests that Tony Bennett is Utah's ideal pick, but admits that it's all just rumor at this point. Utah fans have posted in various forums that Bennett is actually in Salt Lake City today, and that it was Bennett who reached out to Utah, not the other way around. Bennett's name also comes up in ESPN's rumor central, as a distinct possibility.
I'm not sure how much truth or untruth there is to this, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it. Here are my thoughts right now:
1. Utah is set to join the PAC 10, where Bennett was head coach of Washington State following in his father's footsteps. He proved himself to be successful in the PAC 10, and a return to that conference would mean a possible return to the postseason (in his first two years of coaching there, he made the second round and the Sweet Sixteen, respectively, and followed that up with a first round NIT appearance his third year).
2. Bennett does do a great job recruiting out west (Joe Harris is from Washington, and Class of 2011 3-star Paul Jesperson is from Bennett's home state of Wisconsin) and might be able to wipe the recruiting socks off the other PAC 10 coaches. But how much of this is a factor of (a) he probably already had contacts and relationships with these kids from his WSU days, and (b) most ACC schools are probably not recruiting out west all that strongly?
3. Aside from that, does Bennett really have any other west coast ties? Granted, he doesn't have much east coast ties aside from his present situation, but I have a hard time classifying him as "a west coast guy" as many of the Utah fans already have.
4. Bennett is on the record as loving competing in the ACC. It's the best conference (4 bids notwithstanding) and it's one of the top reasons he chose to leave Washington State for Virginia to begin with. Remember, he had an offer from Indiana (a storied program) while at WSU, and he chose to turn that down. Indiana is certainly more midwest territory than either Virginia or Utah is.
5. Have you seen Bennett get compared to Duke's Coach K? The man will blush, every time. You think you're going to get that by going out west? Doubtful. He knows that he's among an elite level of coaches by being in the ACC, and he knows that people are expecting him to break into that circle. He touts rebuilding this program to become an elite in the conference; rebuilding a Utah program simply won't give him the reward and recognition as doing the same at Virginia.
6. Tony Bennett knows he's on the verge of something special here at Virginia. He knows that he's on the cusp of a breakout season for the Hoos, and if nothing else, I think he will want to stick around to reap the benefits before bolting elsewhere. As a Virginia fan, I want to believe that Bennett will stay here for life, but I'm not ignorant of the realities of the industry. Still, I think that if Bennett does plan on heading elsewhere, it's entirely too early for this. Win some games, maybe even get a conference title, and certainly make some respectable runs in the NCAA tournament. Then consider a move elsewhere. Simply put, I don't think Utah is the "ideal job" that would be worth his while in leaving Virginia.
The above points are what I'm thinking as it relates directly to Utah. There are also all the other reasons that Virginia remains to be an attractive school -- top academics, one of the best facilities in the country, the abundance of athletic talent in the area, and serving as the host for the NBA Top 100 High School Basketball Camp, which basically serves as a free on-site recruiting day for the University. I'm curious to know what Utah has to offer in response to this.
Of course, we from the outside don't know the politicking that may be going on backstage. There haven't been any public reports about this, but maybe Bennett and athletic director Craig Littlepage are at odds with each other? Maybe Bennett is upset that Debbie Ryan is stepping down, since the two of them had a great relationship together and knew each other before being under the same program roof. Maybe the luscious greens and blue mountains of Charlottesville are just too nice.
We'll never know whether these mysterious background factors actually exist. All I know is that, from a rational perspective, I'm having a hard time seeing why Tony Bennett would leave Virginia for Utah.
A hat tip to @dah_doo_bah for trolling the Utah forums!