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Just The Sports: Tony Bennett, The Coach

Just The Sports

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tony Bennett, The Coach

Washington State head coach Tony Bennett certainly deserves his fair share of praise for the job he did in leading the Cougars to a 26-8 record, but the praise he receives should not be unqualified, which is why the wide margins with which he won this year's five coach of the year awards surprised me. Let us not pretend that Bennett did not already have numerous built-in advantages in coaching Washington State, regardless of where his team was predicted to finish in the Pac-10 before the season began.

Before I elaborate on the advantages Bennett had going into this season, he does deserve some credit for Washington State's improvement from last season to this one. Last year, when his father Dick was the head coach, the Cougars went only 11-17, although they were not as bad a team as that. Going by their offensive and defensive efficiencies alone, since Washington State scored 94.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed 94.1 points per 100 possessions, the team should have been a .500 team. They simply lost a lot of close games.

This year, losing close games was not a problem for Washington State. The team made a statistically significant improvement in offensive efficiency this season, increasing their scoring proficiency to 108.0 points per 100 possessions. The defensive efficiency (95.9) stayed mostly the same as last year, made more impressive by their better shooting and ballhandling.

Of course, it is not immensely difficult for a coach to improve a team when he has been with the program since 2003-04, associate head coach from 2004-06, and known he would be the next head coach whenever his father decided to retire. Knowing one day he would be the head coach allowed Bennett to plan ahead what changes and improvements he would make to his team's schemes and strategies, thus making the transition much easier. Furthermore, Bennett was assisted by having a team with a roster stability of .85, meaning 85% of the team's minutes this season were played by players who were on the team last year. Without the coach even being incredibly adept at his job, a team with that high of a roster stability is going to improve. Maybe that alone cannot explain why the Cougars were able to improve as much as they did, but it means Tony Bennett should receive less credit for his team's performance.

More must be taken into consideration for judging a head coach than just how well his team outperformed expectations. Not looking at other variables means other coaches, perhaps more deserving of awards, end up being ignored and deprived of praise.



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