An offseason that already posed plenty of questions for the Virginia Cavaliers basketball program became a touch more daunting on March 19th, when associate head coach Ron Sanchez was named the new head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.
Sanchez had been with Bennett for the better part of two decades, starting as an assistant at Washington State in 2003.
So how does UVA go about filling the void left by Sanchez’s departure?
An approach that seems likely would be elevating one of the remaining assistants into the associate head coach role, then hiring to fill an assistant slot. The most obvious candidate for elevation would be Brad Soderberg: he was a head coach in his own right and was an assistant with Tony under Dick Bennett at Wisconsin, and Bennett has spoken openly about how much he relies on Soderberg’s advice and counsel already.
Here are three scenarios—with a suggested name to watch for each—for how Bennett might hire his next assistant coach.
Promote from within
A cascade effect within the current staff would maintain maximum consistency among the inner circle. Sanchez out, Soderberg up, then one of the myriad quasi-assistants up to fill Soderberg’s role. An internal promotion for someone who has proved their mettle in a servant’s role fits the Bennett mold in so many ways.
While at first glance this would seem to be the most conservative approach, it could actually open the door to the most adventurous hire. If Bennett were inclined to bring someone in with a totally different approach—to offense, to recruiting, etc.—it may be easier to put that person in a more peripheral position where they prove themselves (and the virtues of their perspective) than to immediately usher them into the sanctum sanctorum.
Name to watch: Orlando Vandross. Currently the director of recruiting and player development, Vandross has been a UVA assistant for three seasons. His recruiting ties are mostly in the Northeast, squarely within Virginia’s natural recruiting footprint. And as an ironic twist, Vandross’ last assistant coaching role was with the program now run by the man he’d be replacing: Charlotte.
Former Virginia great
UVA fans would certainly be comfortable with a name they already know. Having a guy like Jason Williford on staff has paid dividends for Bennett’s Hoos, as there is someone in-house to lean on for advice on being a student-athlete at Virginia, or handling the rigors of ACC play, or simply navigating the quirks and oddities of the University. Williford’s experience on some of the last great pre-Bennett Cavalier squads was referenced around the UVA win at Cameron Indoor this season, since Williford had been on the last team to win at Duke.
Name to watch: Curtis Staples. As the head coach at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Staples won two VISAA state championships in eight seasons and was the 2016 coach of the year in his division. He also coached blue-chip talent in Kentucky’s Sacha Killeya-Jones and four-star Princeton commit Jaelin Llewellyn. Who better to sell the prospect of a UVA education and an NBA career than a man who has had both? Plus, Staples already announced he was stepping down from VES to pursue college coaching opportunities.
Outside the program, within the system
When Bennett hired Soderberg, few people outside the program would have picked his name off a list. But Soderberg had what few other candidates did: an intimate familiarity with Bennett’s style, systems, and philosophy, thanks to playing for Dick at UW-Stevens Point and then coaching with Tony. Another coach like that, as the replacement for Soderberg among the assistants, would be taking a page out of a familiar book.
Name to watch: Matt Woodley. Formerly of the Pitt Panthers staff, Woodley is another former Bennett assistant from his Washington State days. Woodley oversaw recruiting for Bennett’s Cougars from 2006-09, which included landing Klay Thompson. Like Soderberg, he’s also been a head coach, both in the NBDL and in Division II.
While the assistant coaching search will likely take a backseat to UVA hiring a head women’s coach to replace Joanne Boyle, we’ll have full coverage of any breaking news here on Streaking the Lawn.