MINNEAPOLIS – Dick Bennett has a difficult time watching his son, Tony, coach Virginia. He rarely attends games.
“I’m not a model of decorum or poise,” said Dick Bennett, the former longtime high school and college basketball coach. “But I needed to be here.”
The Cavaliers didn’t make it easy on the elder Bennett, beating Texas Tech 85-77 on Monday night in the first overtime NCAA championship game in 11 years. When it was over, Dick and Tony Bennett shared a hug on a court covered in confetti and then posed for a picture with the whole family before the son went to cut down the net.
“Words aren’t very accurate when your emotions outrun them and that’s kind of where I am right now,” Dick Bennett said.
Bennett, 75, drew the blueprint that Tony used to turn Virginia into a national champion. He practically invented the so-called pack line defense the Cavaliers use to squeeze the life out of opponents. With a deliberate style and stingy defense, Dick Bennett found a way to close the gap on the more talented teams. He took Wisconsin to a Final Four in 2000, the Badgers’ first in 59 years. That was as far as one of his teams got, but Tony Bennett was sure that same game plan could take Virginia even further.
“He’s so far past me,” Dick Bennett said of his son’s coaching. “I feel like I’m back in kindergarten.”
Dick Bennett sat behind the bench Monday night, trying to keep it together during Virginia’s latest nail-biter in the tournament. While he said he doesn’t coach along anymore, Bennett couldn’t help but point and signal for the Cavaliers to get back on defense a few times as Texas Tech responded to every Virginia run.
“I’d probably do that when I’m sleeping,” Bennett said.
Tony Bennett followed his father as head coach at Washington State in 2006, then moved on to Virginia in 2009. Slowly, fittingly, Bennett built up the program to one that could go head-to-head with Duke and North Carolina without a load of five-star recruits.
The only thing missing on his resume was a Final Four run, like his dad. Tony and Dick Bennett became the second father-son combination to coach in the Final Four, joining Georgetown’s John Thompson and John Thompson III.
In Bennett’s case, the son brought home the championship that eluded the father. Dick Bennett did not attend the Final Four game against Auburn on Saturday, another heart-pounding victory for Virginia. Tony Bennett said his father told him Monday he would show up for this one, but the son still wasn’t certain.
“I’m so glad he came to that last game,” Tony Bennett said. “Great to be able to share this stuff with your dad and family and his impact’s been huge on me.”
Not just on his son. Dick Bennett is practically the godfather of defense to a generation of basketball coaches.
Bennett’s instructional video “Pressure Defense: A System” was a must-watch for coaches, said former St. John’s and New Mexico coach Fran Fraschilla.
Bennett’s teams played a more in-your-face man-to-man when he was at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, an NAIA school. When he got to Division I at Wisconsin-Green Bay, his teams didn’t have the athletic advantage.
“So he had to radically alter his defense,” Fraschilla said. “So he switched 180 from an extended defense to a packed in defense. It’s an amazing transformation. The pack line defense was born out of necessity.”
Not always aesthetically pleasing, Virginia’s style – Dick Bennett’s style – has been easy to criticize when it fails. Never more so than last year, when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round to a No. 16.
Dick Bennett said his son dealt with the loss better than he could have.
“The way he’s kind of always dealt with things,” Dick Bennett said. “He has a higher view of things.”
As much as Dick Bennett was thrilled to be there to share his son’s joy, the highlight of either’s coaching careers, that’s not why he felt so compelled to steel himself and come to U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday night.
“I thought it was more important to be here in case they lost,” Dick Bennett said. “Not be there at a moment when things don’t go right, that’s when a parent needs to be around. So he didn’t need me here, but I guess I felt I needed to.”
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