THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Crunch time: Cav fans want Bennett to produce
When UVA fans booed basketball coach Tony Bennett last week, it should not have come as much of a surprise. Bennett's hire was not exactly a cause célèbre; the opinion that the school should have hired Tubby Smith instead does not a controversy make.
But as welcoming as the community was, Bennett must have known he was on a short leash.
Last year at this time, discontent was thick upon the Grounds. Saddled with two less-than-satisfactory programs (to be kind), administrators, students, and fans alike were antsy to dump the dead weight and make a fresh start this season. The first to go was David Leitao. After four years as head basketball coach, with little explanation and even less fanfare, Leitao left Charlottesville with a 63-60 record and a $2.1 million buyout.
Enter Bennett the Conqueror on his white horse.
But all that is old news. During the last week or so it has become clear that the barn door is open, and the white horse has skedaddled. Of late, for whatever reason (lack of scoring comes to mind), Coach Bennett's Cavaliers, who began the season with nothing less than aplomb, have tanked. And the fans who heralded Bennett's arrival have become a bit less fulsome in their support.
"It would be one thing if they just got beat. It's another thing to not even act like you want to win," groused one fan of Virginia's February 17 loss to Florida State.
The booing may have started at that game, but it was followed quickly by an even more humiliating 72-49 loss to Clemson Saturday, February 20. As far as I could tell, there were no audible boos– it was an away game– but that must be pretty cold comfort for a team that went 4-4 in its first eight games, then won its next seven games and no doubt expected to top the ACC.
It's clear to all that Bennett's legendary defense is falling apart for the Cavaliers, and offense is pretty darn close to nonexistent. And while that's obviously not what UVA's paying $1.7 million a year for, any coach worth his salt should be allowed to find a way to fix what's broken, even if it takes losing five straight games to do it– shouldn't he? It's not an ideal situation, but every program runs hot and cold sometimes. That sounds logical, right?
Unfortunately for Tony Bennett, logic isn't on this season's menu.
It's the booing– the booing! Listen closely, Mr. Bennett: It's not about the tie (he finally started to wear one a few games back, though not orange and blue; what gives?).
It's about the fact that UVA cannot and will not stomach another losing season— not on the football field and certainly not on the basketball court, especially when the coach got everybody's hopes up like he did.
According to The Richmond-Times Dispatch, at the Florida State game, the listless crowd "gave its first boos of the Bennett era early in the second half as it became clear that the offense was not going to be leading a comeback...."
The Lynchburg News & Advance reported "choruses of boos" and "fans leaving John Paul Jones Arena en masse before the final media timeout."
Did you get that? Virginia's basketball fans are too worn out with losing even to boo with enthusiasm. No one cares to hear that it's Bennett's first year or how difficult the schedule is. And certainly no one wants to hear the new coach say of his team's dismal offense, "There's not much you can do about that."
As is evidenced by their recent behavior, it seems highly unlikely that Virginia fans are willing to suffer fools any longer. When athletic director Craig Littlepage hired Bennett, he must have made it clear that it's do or die time in Charlottesville, and he should only have taken the job if he realized it's kill or be killed.
Tony Bennett must have known what he was getting into. So instead of making excuses, he better find that white horse– he's obviously not much of a conqueror without it.
Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.