Bennett ends retirement, replaces Graham

Updated: March 29, 2003, 8:08 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Dick Bennett was hired as Washington State's men's basketball coach Saturday.

Bennett, 59, succeeds Paul Graham, who was fired this month after four losing seasons. Bennett's 25-year collegiate career is notable for turning around three Wisconsin teams, culminating in an NCAA Final Four appearance by the Badgers in 2000.

He has a career record of 453-258 with Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin.

Bennett said he is returning to coaching because he missed the game and the interaction with players, both in winning and losing.

''Of course, I'd like to die an old man, but I pray I die a passionate old man,'' he said. ''I was starting to worry because I was beginning to enjoy golf on television.''

Bennett will make a base salary of $155,000, but incentives will increase it above the $240,000 that Graham made, WSU athletic director Jim Sterk said. Bennett's son, Tony, an assistant at Wisconsin, has been asked to join him on the Beasley Coliseum bench.

Bennett acknowledged that the new job will be difficult -- Washington State hasn't had a winning season in seven years -- but said he would ''work a lot smarter than I had in the past'' in fulfilling the five-year contract.

He said he had not planned to return to coaching, but ''I became more refreshed. This opportunity came along at pretty much the right time,'' Bennett said. ''It just simply was timed almost perfectly.''

Bennett cautioned that Cougars fans should not expect a quick turnaround.

''I would like -- with aid of some very able assistants -- to try to build a program,'' Bennett said. ''Programs don't come overnight. Programs last, and that's probably what I do best as a coach.''

Bennett's known for rebuilding programs that did as well or even better in the years after he left.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point was 9-17 during his first year, the 1976-77 season. From 1982-83 through the 1984-85 season, the team won at least 25 games every year.

It was a similar story at Wisconsin-Green Bay, which won five games when Bennett joined them in 1985-86. By the time he left in '95, he had guided the school to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Bennett must rebuild a program that finished last season 7-20. He said he talked with the Cougars players Friday and expected to meet with them Sunday. He said he called the parents of two players whose grades had slipped.

He told Cougars leading scorer, junior Marcus Moore, who is considering making himself eligible for the NBA, that he would like the opportunity to work with him. He said he told Moore that he would not interfere with the decision he and his family make.

At a news conference, Bennett thanked Graham and other coaches who preceded him, saying, ''There are always ample leftover positive experiences to build from.''

Sterk said Bennett's age was not an issue.

''My 65-year-old president told me when I hired my 62-year-old football coach that it was about time I got someone in the prime of their productive years,'' Sterk said.

''It's always good to feel wanted,'' Bennett said of WSU's efforts to woo him. ''That played a major role in my decision.''

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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