Tony Bennett’s contract is good for only two more years; what’s UVA going to do?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Josie Drumheller, Virginia Athletics

I found it particularly interesting to learn this week that Virginia’s all-time winningest basketball coach, Tony Bennett, is under contract for two more seasons.

Thanks to some excellent work by Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press, this news was uncovered from his Freedom of Information Act request about Bennett’s contract. What Graham discovered was that there is no contract extension beyond 2026 offered by UVA to Bennett.

Rumors abound that Virginia has offered an extension, but that Bennett has declined to sign. How does that happen, unless the coach is planning on leaving the program or retiring? Certainly it’s not about money. We know for a fact that Bennett has turned down raises at least once, if not twice, in recent years.

UVA’s response to Graham’s question about an extension indicated there isn’t an extension on the table because Bennett hasn’t asked for one.

So, what gives? Is Bennett fed up with the way college athletics is trending with NIL, transfer portal and all that mess? Will he walk away at the end of his contract like Jay Wright at Villanova and Nick Saban at Alabama? Will he move on to the NBA? We know that Bennett is good friends with the San Antonio Spurs owner, and that Spurs coach Greg Popovich – even though signing a five-year extension in 2023 – is 74 years old and could call it quits in a couple of years.

We’re told by insiders that if Bennett ever decided to take an NBA coaching job, that San Antonio would be the place.

The contract situation also begs the question of why longtime aid Ron Sanchez left his head-coaching job in Charlotte after a five-year stint to return as one of Bennett’s associate head coaches (Jason Williford is the other). Could it be that Bennett wanted to hand-pick his successor at Virginia and that Sanchez would be that guy? Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski made similar moves when they stepped aside.

Sanchez, 44, is 10 years younger than Bennett and originally came to Virginia with Bennett from Washington State. In five seasons at Charlotte, Sanchez was a combined 72-78, including three winning seasons in Conference USA competition, but his final season there two years ago, the 49ers went 22-14.

Meanwhile, now that news has leaked out that Bennett is presently only locked up for two more seasons at Virginia, how is this going to impact future recruiting? Rival coaches will certainly use this information against UVA in the cut-throat world of recruiting. We’ve seen it over and over again throughout the years, which is why many successful coaches in football and basketball continue to sign extensions, even if they don’t plan on fulfilling the deals.

What will Virginia do? Will Carla Williams ask Bennett for a commitment or will he sign another extension to keep the recruiting wolves off his back?

Certainly lots to ponder about Bennett’s and Virginia’s basketball future.