Everyone's got advice for Tony Bennett

It seems everyone has an opinion on what WSU basketball coach Tony Bennett should do with his newfound fame as the next big thing.

WSU fans, perennially paranoid, fear the worst: That Bennett will bolt after just his one successful season for the greener -- and by greener, we mean greener with dollar bills -- pastures of Minnesota or Michigan or wherever. After all, that's been the track record of every successful coach that's come through Pullman (Marv Harshman, George Raveling, Dennis Erickson and Kelvin Sampson, to name a few).

Of course, the fans want him to stay. Some industrious individuals even started a fundraising campaign to help the athletic department give Bennett a raise on his paltry (by NCAA standards) $350,000 annual contract.

And, just as predictably, there’s no shortage of advice in the professional media. Today alone there were three columns in Seattle-area papers ranging from speculation on what Bennett would do (Dave Boling, The News Tribune) to outright advice (Ted Miller, The Seattle P-I) to a mixture of the two (Steve Kelley, The Seattle Times).

My line of reasoning on the subject closely mirrors that of Bud Withers -- who, as the Cougars’ beat writer for The Seattle Times, is as familiar with the program as anyone outside Pullman.

Bennett is too solid, too old-school, too steeped in Midwestern values -- too principled -- to cut and run after one season.

Remember that story of how his father Dick gathered high-school recruits -- Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill, Daven Harmeling -- around the foundation of his home under construction in September 2003 and asked them to come and be the foundation of a program then in ashes?

Are you going to go to those kids now and say, gee, thanks for coming, fellas, but you're going to have a new coach for your senior year?

I’ll take Withers even one step further. While I don’t pretend to know Bennett personally, I do know what I’ve read about him and heard about him from people who do know him. I know he is a principled man who once moved with his wife to New Zealand to start a church. I know part of the reason he has been successful is because he’s always been humble, honest and forthright with his players.

Not that those values go hand in hand with a permanent stay in Pullman. But they suggest that Tony Bennett may not necessarily be just another “grass is greener” kind of guy.

Some coaches revel in always being the hot commodity; they love the attention that moving on to a new place automatically brings – guys like Larry Brown and Rick Pitino come to mind. They are egomaniacs who thrive off of being wanted.

Then there are certain people who understand the value of being appreciated where they are, content with what they have. I believe Bennett is one of them. It’s something that Mike Price failed to grasp when he left WSU after his second Rose Bowl appearance, only to be ambushed in Alabama by a bunch of good ‘ol boys who would rather die than have a Yankee carpetbagger run their beloved program.

Price could have been the king of Pullman, the kind of guy they name stadiums and streets after when they retire. Instead, he’s rehabilitating his image at a WAC school in El Paso, Texas, as the butt of stripper jokes.

Not to say that anything like that would happen to Bennett. But when he does decide to leave Pullman, it won’t simply be because some big school with seemingly endless resources wines and dines him before lavishing him with an eight-figure contract. It’ll be for the same reason you and I change jobs: Because the time is right to move on, to take on a new challenge.

That time isn’t here yet.

He loses only one senior from the team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and gains three players who are believed to be able to make an immediate impact: two recruits reported to be the as talented as any to come on campus in years, and guard Thomas Abercrombie, a physical specimen so prized the staff guarded his redshirt like it was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He’s even secured a verbal commitment from a 14-year-old phenom in Eastern Washington -- lofty territory previously reserved for Gonzaga.

The point is, Bennett’s got a good thing going. And he knows it.

While WSU has traditionally been the doormat of the Pac-10, it’s still the Pac-10. It never will be North Carolina, Duke or UCLA, but if Mark Few can manufacture a nationally known program in Spokane, you better believe Bennett can do the same in Pullman. Remember, this isn’t football, where weather and stadium size play a major factor in filling a 85-man roster; this is basketball, where quality 12-man rosters aren’t as difficult to assemble.

And while a coach never knows when his shooting star is going to flicker and fade – hence the reason so many jump ship so quickly in an effort to strike while the iron is hot – he also never truly knows if the situation he runs to is going to be better than the one he’s already in. Many are ready and willing to take that chance, figuring the security of the money will outweigh any potential pitfalls.

Bennett doesn't strike me as the kind of guy consumed by money. He'll want his deal to be fair, but who wouldn't? WSU owes him that much for the exposure and revenue he's generated for the university, and Athletics Director Jim Sterk is smart enough to give it to him.

Bennett is the kind of guy to embrace a certain quality of life. He already is beloved in Pullman, and I believe he genuinely likes it there. He’s got a new house, which he opens up to Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. He’s got a lot invested in the program – it’s not like his dad was the only one doing the building those first rocky years – and I believe he wants to see it through until it truly is time for a change.

Thankfully for Cougar fans, the time for change hasn’t come. When it does, it'll be at a time that's right for everyone.

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