On March 31, 2009, the future of Virginia Basketball changed forever. Anthony Guy Bennett was formally announced as the head coach of the men’s program on this day 11 years ago, and what an incredible 11 years it has been. It was hard to give Bennett’s 10-year anniversary the proper attention it deserved last year, as we were a little preoccupied with the whole GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR thing.
For a lot of Virginia fans, the initial reaction to the hire was, “who?” Some wanted Tubby Smith, and some just knew little-to-nothing about the defensive-minded coach from out west. His introductory press conference was literally an introduction to the majority of the fan base, and it’s fascinating to look back at his opening press conference and where we are today.
Then-Athletic Director Craig Littlepage and University President John Casteen each spoke before introducing Bennett. Casteen emphasized Bennett’s stellar abilities in “building teams and winning with the teams he’s built,” and highlighted his success at Washington State.
Integrity, excellence, and work ethic were among the characteristics of Bennett’s that Casteen praised before letting the man of the hour take the mic for the first time.
Everything that followed for the next 45 minutes or so was the Tony Bennett we’ve grown to know and love. His message has stayed consistent from moment one, whether about his coaching philosophy or emphasis on developing players and people. He spoke glowingly of his wife, Laurel, and his children, Anna and Eli. He talked about what he wanted to do at Virginia and what drew him to the school.
Bennett started with a strong opening statement, saying, “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. That’s something I want people when they watch our teams to see it all over: passion and integrity. That’s the way I know how to do it.”
Looking back at the program Bennett has put together, he has done that without a doubt. The Cavaliers went 31-31 over his first two seasons in Charlottesville, going 12-20 in the ACC. Only Bennett’s first season (15-16 overall) ended in a losing record, and Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal put his ACC record over the first two seasons in good context (or good context for the Cavaliers...not so much for Wake Forest):
Went 12-20 in the ACC in his first two years. Is 124-38 since.— Conor O'Neill (@ConorONeillWSJ) March 31, 2020
Fun fact: 12-20 (.375) is still a better 2-year stretch than any of Danny Manning's six seasons at Wake Forest. https://t.co/C4etf2N4nP
“You better play in a way that gives you a chance to compete with the best,” Bennett stated when asked about bringing his style of play (which some had called “boring”, even at that point) to Virginia. It’s difficult to listen to Bennett discuss his defensive philosophy 11 years ago and not smile knowing what was to come.
[eyes glaze over thinking about the 2019 postseason]
Let’s just break it down. Since taking over the program, Tony Bennett has accomplished quite a few incredible feats:
- 277-96 (74.3%) overall record
- 136-58 (70.1%) ACC record
- Two NABC Defensive Players of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon-2016, De’Andre Hunter-2019)
- AP Coach of the Year (2018*)
- Naismith Coach of the Year (2018*)
- Four ACC Coach of the Year awards (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019)
- Four ACC regular season titles (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019**)
- Two ACC Tournament titles (2014, 2018)
- One National Championship (2019)
*Also won AP and Naismith Coach of the Year in 2007 at Washington State
**tied with North Carolina
Oh, and of course, Bennett donned a tie at the press conference (and first eight seasons) at the behest of Littlepage. “He even tied it himself,” Littlepage quipped. “I did,” Bennett laughed, “that’s why it’s messed up.”
It’s been a wonderful 11 years full of peaks and valleys that have helped Virginia become one of the strongest and consistent programs in the country. Here’s to at least 11 more.
Check out the full press conference...it’s worth a watch: