Coaching carousel in full swing

March, 31, 2009
Maybe the recession isn't hitting the University of Virginia as hard as the rest of the country.

The Cavaliers paid Dave Leitao $2.1 million to go away, and on Monday, during a late-night conference call with reporters, Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk said Virginia will pay Tony Bennett's $400,000 buyout. The Cavs will likely be offering Bennett a multiyear deal that would have to exceed the $1 million he was making with the Cougars.

The move to Virginia was the shocker Monday during an eventful day that kept the fan bases at Kentucky and Memphis in a holding pattern.

Rumors had been circulating for more than a week that the Cavs were focused solely on Oklahoma's Jeff Capel and Minnesota's Tubby Smith. Capel made it clear that he wasn't going to Virginia while talking to during the NCAA tournament, and Smith publicly reiterated his desire to stay with the Gophers. Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi told that Smith hadn't given him any indication he was leaving.

Bennett then suddenly came into the picture, a year after he withdrew his candidacy at Indiana and wasn't the choice at LSU.

Sterk said on Sunday that Bennett told him he was leaning toward staying. He said Bennett offered to give back $100,000 of his salary to the cash-strapped university, a few weeks after a contractual $100,000 retention bonus had kicked in for him.

Bennett, whose contract with the Cougs went until 2015, slept on the Virginia offer Sunday night, though. He told Sterk on Monday that he had changed his mind after he and his wife, Laurel, had sleepless nights.

"He said he felt this is what he should do at this point [in] time," Sterk said. "He said the package at the ACC school was an attractive one and felt it was the best fit for him."

Bennett played professional basketball in ACC country in Charlotte but had coached college basketball only in the Midwest (Wisconsin) and the Northwest (Washington State). Bennett was the national coach of the year three years ago in his first season after replacing his father, Dick.

Sterk said he felt a Bennett departure was more of a threat this season than last year, even though the Cougars were coming off consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and failed to make the tourney this season.

Sterk is going to act quickly. He admitted a few of the names on his short list: Portland State's Ken Bone, Saint Mary's Randy Bennett and San Diego's Billy Grier. He said he can't say if he would look for a coach with a similar style since the Pac-10 has evolved into a more half-court-oriented league recently, with Ben Howland (UCLA), Mike Montgomery (Cal), Tim Floyd (USC), Herb Sendek (Arizona State), and you can toss in Craig Robinson (Oregon State).

"We've invested a lot in facilities and million-dollar salaries and travel," Sterk said. "I don't expect to go backwards. I expect to pay competitively and market value."

• Missouri is working on a new deal to try to keep Mike Anderson with the Tigers. The Tigers are expected to bump his salary up from $850,000 to $1.3 million, according to a source close to the situation. But's Mark Schlabach has learned that Georgia has targeted Anderson as its top choice and could offer over $2 million to get him. If that happens, Anderson might go. Missouri athletic director Mike Alden hasn't been given any indication that Anderson will leave, but the Tigers can't go that high in salary if Anderson wants to go strictly on the money. Anderson has won over the fan base with his frenetic style and, of course, by winning, with the Tigers' reaching the Elite Eight.

• If Anderson doesn't take an expected offer from Georgia, the Bulldogs are expected to turn to Miami's Frank Haith with an outside shot that Clemson's Oliver Purnell could be in the fray.

• New Alabama coach Anthony Grant said Monday night that he called the Tide, notably Dave Hart in the athletic department, at 10 a.m. Friday to let them know he wanted to be the Alabama coach. He said he did this before he knew Billy Gillispie was out at Kentucky. Grant said there was widespread speculation that he was delaying saying yes to Alabama to see if Gillispie was out at Kentucky and if his former boss, Florida's Billy Donovan, was in, so he could go to the Gators instead, as he almost did two years ago when Donovan took the Orlando Magic job for a few days.

"I was fully aware of the different scenarios going on. I'd be lying if I didn't give a thought to the 'what-if,'" Grant said. "But it came down to the commitment they made to me. There was the chance to play for a championship and a chance to blaze my own trail. That was too good an opportunity to pass up. That's what I wanted."

Grant said he has no issue going against Donovan and former fellow Florida assistant John Pelphrey, now the head coach at Arkansas. He said when Donovan got into the SEC, he was matched up against his former coach Rick Pitino at Kentucky and a former fellow UK assistant, Tubby Smith at Georgia.

Grant also said football coach Nick Saban's influence was huge in the decision process for him. He said Saban's passion for wanting all the sports at Alabama to be successful spoke volumes to him. Grant said he doesn't anticipate any defections from the Tide roster.

• VCU might act quickly for his replacement, looking at Texas assistant Russell Springmann, VCU assistant Tony Pujol, Florida assistant Shaka Smart and Navy coach Billy Lange, among others.

• Georgetown's DaJuan Summers declared for the NBA draft Monday. What's surprising is that he apparently isn't looking back. Underclassmen can still go through the workout process and return without penalty, and for some reason Summers isn't taking advantage of that rule.

• Florida's Nick Calathes is "testing" instead of straight-up bolting. If Calathes returns, with the eligibility of Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin and incoming freshman Kenny Boynton, the Gators should be an NCAA team next season. But if Calathes does leave, the Gators' chance for growth could be stunted.

• Kentucky had some funny math even before the flirtation with John Calipari. The Wildcats had one scholarship open but signed three players under Billy Gillispie, meaning there had to be attrition either through the NBA draft, transfers or scholarships not being renewed. Whoever is the new coach is likely going to have roster-upheaval privileges. Remember, scholarships are technically renewable every season.

• The Pitt coaching staff is still coming to grips with the last-second loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight.

• Siena's Fran McCaffery hasn't heard from any of the high-profile jobs but did get an e-mail from a search firm on the Boston University job. Are you serious? McCaffery has a great gig and is above BU. This is yet another reason search firms should get out of the coaching business. If an athletic director can't hire a coach, he needs to check his job description.

• McCaffery has no issues if he stays put. He said he should have a really good team again next season after the Saints won consecutive first-round NCAA tournament games, beating Vanderbilt and Ohio State in back-to-back tournaments.

• Oregon State beat UTEP 75-69 in Game 1 of the championship series of the Collegiate Basketball Invitational on Monday in Corvallis, Ore. Roeland Schaftenaar led the Beavers with 19 points. The Beavers travel to El Paso for Wednesday's Game 2 at UTEP in the best-of-three format. Game 3, if necessary, is Friday in El Paso.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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