It was the same Tony Bennett, only the outfit was different.
Bennett, who left Washington State University this week, was introduced as the University of Virginia’s basketball coach Wednesday in an nearly hour-long press conference on the campus in Charlottesville, Va.
The words were similar, the inflection identical, but Bennett sported a new look. He was wearing an orange and blue tie.
“You’ll have to ask the boss,” Bennett said when asked about it. “That was one of those questions I don’t think I negotiated very well.”
“You know he’s a coach’s son,” said his new boss, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. “He’s coachable.”
After the laughter subsided – Bennett rarely wore a tie at WSU – he talked extensively on his hopes for his new program, but also spoke about his former school as well.
“It was hard to leave, but it takes a place like this to make that happen,” Bennett said. “Pullman is special and anybody who has been there understands that.”
Though he said not too many places could have pulled him out of Washington State at this point of his career, Bennett had one main reason for moving on.
“This fits,” he said of Virginia, which finished 10-18 overall, 4-12 and 11th last season in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
Bennett said he felt he left WSU with a well-stocked program.
“We had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores coming into WSU,” he said. “I’m real excited about their future,” he said. “We had two kids on the all-freshmen team. Certainly the next head coach will have to build it up for a year or two, but there’s some great promise.”
Toward that end, Bennett said, he talked with the four high school seniors who had signed letters of intent with Washington State and encouraged them to stay the course.
“(I) said there’s something very good on the horizon there and encouraged them to go there and meet the new head coach, just as we’re doing here,” Bennett said. “They all went there because of the coaching staff, certainly, but also because of Washington State and the people there. I’m encouraging them to honor their letter.”
Bennett, who opened the press conference by saying he wanted to build a program that lasts through integrity and passion, struggled to keep his composure when talking about his family. He also said it was a struggle when he said goodbye at WSU.
“You have to think about the things that are hard,” he said. “Talking to your team that you have recruited. Saying goodbye to the people who gave you your first chance. That was hard.”
But he appreciated how it worked out.
“They were very supportive,” Bennett said. “When I met with the president of Washington State (Elson S. Floyd) and the athletic director (Jim Sterk) about other jobs, they said this was not a good fit or just think about this.
“With this one, they said ‘We certainly want you to stay but understand your interest in the University of Virginia.’ I thought that was one the classiest things that I’ve seen an A.D. or a president do.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.