With ACC’s coaches aging, peers see Bennett as the future ‘Face of the League’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett answers a question at the 2022 ACC Tipoff in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by Nell Redmond/ACC)

CHARLOTTE — For the first time in what seems like forever, there will be no Mike Krzyzewski prowling the floors at ACC arenas. Roy Williams hung up his whistle the year before. Both Hall of Fame coaches were in their 70s when they stepped aside at two of college basketball’s most storied programs.

Their absence leaves ACC fans with Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, the game’s elder statesman, who will be 78 next month. Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton wears his 74 years well and Miami’s Jim Larrañaga just turned 73.

Looking briefly down the road, who is going to become the face of ACC basketball when these coaches walk away from the game? The rest of the younger coaches in the conference agreed, the next “face” will be Virginia’s Tony Bennett.

For those who know Bennett, it is a role he would fill reluctantly. He’s not a guy who seeks the limelight. Quite the opposite.

With a national title already under his belt — it won’t be his last — several ACC and National Coach of the Year pelts in his collection, Bennett is only 53. That’s two more decades before he catches up with the aforementioned esteemed coaching names.

Bennett was asked about inheriting that role during interviews at the ACC Tip Off, the league’s media day in downtown Charlotte, new home of the conference in the old Bank of America building.

How does Bennett feel about the projection of being the face of the ACC — although if you’ll ask the female population that follows Virginia basketball, Bennett has been the “face” of the league for the past 14 years.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett answers a question at the 2022 ACC Tipoff in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. (Photo by Nell Redmond/ACC)

The Cavaliers’ coach is one of the most modest guys in the game. While he would shy away from that exposure, he really wouldn’t have any choice. Bennett came to the ACC from the Pac-12 to test himself against all these glorious coaches and programs, not to eventually become its cover boy.

It will happen organically whether he likes it or not. He has essentially been anointed the King in Waiting. He would shudder at the thought.

“I love coaching the game at this time,” Bennett said Wednesday. “I don’t look too far ahead. I don’t think about ‘am I the face of it, or is this guy the face of.’ None of that stuff matters.

“You build your program, you try to get as good as you can, you try to be as successful as you can and just honor your program and what matters to you. That’s all that matters.”

Bennett said that if people praise coaches because they’ve been at a school for a long period and won some games, that’s fine, but if fans don’t, he’s fine with that, too.

“I’m not going to be banging the drum,” the UVA coach said. “I just want our program to be as good as it can and be important to his players.

“I’m just grateful that Virginia took a chance on me and I think I fit that place. We’ll see how the landscape unfolds and everything. That’s a different time, but you still get the choice to [build a program] the way you want. That’s the best thing about college basketball.”

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