Hoos seek U-turn II

Since he never has addressed the issue, I asked Littlepage why he fired Leitao after four years and one losing season.

"I think today should be about Tony Bennett," Littlepage said, vowing to answer the question "at some other time."

  • David Teel
  • David Teel
  • Related
  • Do you approve of the job Virginia AD Craig Littlepage has done in his career?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Do you approve of Virginia's decision to hire Tony Bennett?

    Do you approve of U.Va.'s decision to hire Tony Bennett?

    • Yes
    • No
Fair enough. So let's make it about Bennett.

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Like Leitao in 2005, he hit all the high notes, including a misty-eyed, and undoubtedly genuine, reference to his family. He spoke of academic integrity, faith in God and his 8-year-old daughter angling for a puppy.

He said he will hire staff with regional ties, adjust his deliberate offense to personnel and attempt to replicate the success of respected programs such as Stanford and Michigan State.

He detailed his first airline travel, to Norfolk in 1988 for a national Amateur Athletic Union tournament, where his team got trounced by a Boo Williams squad that included Bryant Stith and Alonzo Mourning.

"Us guys from Wisconsin weren't used to seeing that kind of talent," said Bennett, who played three years in the NBA.

Bennett even used the oh-so-proper "grounds" when referring to Virginia's campus.

"I came here to build a program that lasts," he said.

Such sentiment undoubtedly played well with Littlepage. Minnesota's Tubby Smith would have generated more instant splash, but at 57 he's nearing the back end of his career; Oklahoma's Jeff Capel and Xavier's Sean Miller may be more accomplished, but might their destinations be their respective alma maters, Duke and Pittsburgh?

Bennett, 39, doesn't figure to bolt Virginia for his alma mater, Wisconsin-Green Bay. Indeed, he could bring stability to the program not seen since Terry Holland's 16-year tenure from 1975-90.

Early in the search, Littlepage spoke to a trusted basketball colleague whom he declined to identify. He floated Bennett's name, and the line went silent before the reply.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Littlepage sensed his friend recoiling. Until the kicker.

"If you can get that guy, you have to."

Littlepage did just that in a whirlwind recruitment. He said he wanted a "teacher-coach" in the mold of icons Pete Newell, John McClendon and John Wooden, and believes he found that in Bennett.

"My pick," Littlepage said, "the No. 1 pick."

No mulligans this time. He'd better he right.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.