Virginia hires Wazzu's Bennett as Leitao's replacement

RICHMOND, Va. -- Washington State coach Tony Bennett, who led the Cougars into the postseason in each of his three years at the school, has been hired to revive a Virginia basketball program that just posted its worst record in more than 40 years as earlier reported by Senior Writer Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com on Monday.

Jim Sterk, the athletic director at Washington State, announced the move Monday evening. Bennett replaces Dave Leitao, who resigned after four seasons.

Bennett, 39, posted a 68-30 record in three seasons with the Cougars. His first two teams made the NCAA tournament and posted back-to-back 26-win seasons, but this year's squad was eliminated in the first round of the NIT. He was the AP college basketball Coach of the Year in 2007.

Leitao resigned after the Cavaliers finished 10-18 this season, their poorest showing since they went 9-17 in 1967-68. Leitao was 63-60 in four years.

Bennett succeeded his father, Dick Bennett, after serving as his assistant at Washington State for three seasons.

"Dick and Tony Bennett have elevated the men's basketball program at Washington State to an unprecedented level of success," Sterk said. "We will begin a national search for a coach immediately with the goal of finding someone with the integrity, experience, and values that Dick and Tony brought to the program."

Sterk said Virginia asked for permission to speak with Bennett last Friday. Monday afternoon, Bennett told Sterk and Washington State President Elson S. Floyd of his decision to accept the position at Virginia, then met with his players on the Pullman campus.

"I was so shocked," freshman guard Klay Thompson told the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. "I'm disappointed, I'm really disappointed. Shoot, I don't know. But it's life. I'll adjust."

Bennett did not return telephone messages left at his home on Monday.

Virginia officials planned an official announcement for Wednesday.

The news of Bennett's hiring was not warmly received on an Internet message board for Cavaliers fans, where the possible job candidates mentioned over the last several days included Tubby Smith of Minnesota, Jeff Capel of Oklahoma and Rick Barnes of Texas. Many fans posting on the board were dismayed by the selection of a lower-profile coach.

Bennett's first Washington State team lost to Vanderbilt in double overtime in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The next season, the Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to a team Bennett will face regularly in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- North Carolina.
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