PULLMAN – To the surprise of no one, Washington State will pass the torch from father to son when Dick Bennett retires, allowing Tony Bennett to take over as head coach of the men’s basketball team.
WSU athletics director Jim Sterk made it official in August in a letter to the younger Bennett. All of four sentences long – just three paragraphs – it summarizes much of Sterk’s philosophy atop the school’s athletic department.
Since Sterk took over at WSU in June 2000, new coaches have been hired in 10 of the school’s 12 programs. But with those coaches, at least thus far, continuity has been king.
The Bennett-to-Bennett transition could very well be the first transition from a Sterk hire to another Sterk hire in a head coaching job. And the nature of that transition – within the family, within the program and sealed at least months if not years in advance – makes it seem less like a change and more like an eventual coronation.
“The people that keep changing lose that continuity,” third-year football coach Bill Doba said. “You lose a couple of years and you lose confidence and you lose recruiting.”
Even Doba’s hire, which came more than a decade after his arrival as an assistant, was a swift one. Before Mike Price had officially announced he was leaving for Alabama, Sterk gave Doba the job with WSU President V. Lane Rawlins’ blessing.
And since then, WSU has bent over backward to maintain the status quo. Doba’s coaching staff in his first season as head coach is the same as the one now, thanks in part to Sterk’s willingness to give those assistant coaches three-year contracts, an unusual step in college football.
To the surprise of some inside and outside of Bohler Gym, Sterk extended the contract of women’s basketball coach Sherri Murrell just before the end of her third season, even though the results of her rebuilding project have yet to shine through.
“When it’s going the way you want to, if you turn the whole thing upside down you lose all of the progress that you’ve made,” Rawlins said. “The question you have to ask is, do you like the direction that a program is going? From a president’s point of view, that has to do with whether they’re recruiting athletes, as well as whether they’re graduating, whether we’re maintaining a clean image and a clean program, and whether we balance our budget as well as having a respectable program to compete in the Pac-10.”
Rawlins also pointed out that constancy in the athletics department mirrors his own vision for the university as a whole.
“If we’ve done something, then we’ve done it not only in the athletic areas but to a large degree in the academic areas,” Rawlins said. “We’re trying to bring people in who have some ties to this area. Maybe they went to WSU, maybe they lived here at one time.
“I think it gives you a little more stability and it also gives the people who take the job a head start.”
Doba suggested that part of the reason for the lack of turnover in athletics has something to do with Sterk’s management style. Where some athletic directors might lord over their programs, Sterk tends to find the people he likes and then remain a step back.
“The guy gives you a job to do and lets you do it,” Doba said. “He’s not in there second-guessing.”
Or, as Sterk simply said, “If you have the right people, I think it’s the thing to do.”
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