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Bennett ends retirement, replaces Graham

3/29/2003

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.''