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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Littlepage mum on Bennett's contract status

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Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 5:23 pm

When the Virginia men’s basketball team’s season ended on March 28 at Madison Square Garden, it seemed only a matter of time before coach Tony Bennett — who led the program to an ACC regular-season and tournament championship, and its best finish in the NCAA Tournament since 1995 — would be receiving a new contract.

But 46 days later, nothing has materialized and UVa fans are starting to get a bit antsy — especially after Yahoo Sports tweeted on Monday that Bennett and Michigan coach John Beilein have piqued the interest of NBA teams.

On Tuesday, when asked about Bennett’s contract status, Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage told The Daily Progress that it was a “personnel matter” and that he wouldn’t be commenting publicly “on whether or not there are extensions or new agreements until there is something to announce.”

When Bennett’s original contract was reworked in 2012, there was no formal announcement or even a press release. The news only came to light though a Freedom of Information Act request.

On Tuesday, UVa's Freedom of Information Act office said it would respond to The Daily Progress’ most recent request within the five business days that the law allows.

So why all the secrecy?

It could be that Bennett, whose program has a stated "pillar" of humility, doesn’t want to make a big deal about a new contract, though, in this instance, it would seem beneficial to publicize a long-term commitment to a program that he’s helped put back on the college basketball map.

A source close to the situation told The Daily Progress that he doubted Bennett, at this stage of his career, has any interest in the NBA. The source said that Bennett, who is currently on vacation, was seeking more years on his contract and new deals for his assistants.

Bennett’s current contract runs through 2019. The contract for Ritchie McKay, his associate head coach, expired on April 2. Assistant coaches Jason Wiliford and Ron Sanchez have one more year left on their deals.

Why things have dragged on for so long is unclear. When UVa redid football coach Mike London’s pact back in 2011, it came together quickly and was announced just before Virginia played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

In March, just before the NCAA Tournament, Littlepage expressed his appreciation for Bennett and his assistants.

“I think it’s one of the best coaching jobs that any head coach or any coaching staff has done [all] season long,” Littlepage said. “Certainly, there have been some other great teams...but I think the job that Tony and his staff have done has been as good as any in the country.”

Bennett makes $1.7 million a season, which, after Buzz Williams’ new deal with Virginia Tech (starting salary of 2.3 million), is believed to rank no better than sixth in the ACC.

Bennett, though, achieved several bonuses this past season, including a $500,000 “longevity” bonus; $100,000 for winning the ACC Tournament; and $100,000 for making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Bennett’s contract has a $1 million dollar buyout, which gets reduced by 15 percent for each full season that he completes beginning with this coming season.

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