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June 27, 2008
Success at Washington State University has historically been elusive and sporadic when it comes to measuring athletic programs. Spots of success are easily found in the school's long and illustrious history - but prolonged success - that is entirely a different matter. Therefore it is no surprise that the top three finalist in CougZone's eighth annual Coach of the Year polling all boast at least two years' worth of consistent winning results coupled with across-the-board academic success. All three coaches would have been worthy winners but it was head men's basketball coach Tony Bennett who takes home the top prize of the 2008 CougZone Coach of the Year according to a poll of CougZone voters, making it back-to-back victories for Bennett.
Two years ago, Bennett took over the head coaching reigns from his father, Dick Bennett, after he retired at the close of the 2005-06 season - and then promptly took the foundation his father established and added a few offensive layers. Those changes coupled with a healthy year from guard Derrick Low and the development of guard Kyle Weaver helped the Wazzu to a school record-tying 26-win season en route to their 26-8 overall record. In the process, the Cougars were invited to the Big Dance for the first time in more than a decade and advanced to the second round where they lost a closely-contested battle with Vanderbilt and Bennett racked up just about every "Coach of the Year" award known to mankind.
This past season, with expectations heavy to repeat their Big Dance appearance - a feat never before accomplished in school history - all Bennett, staff and players did was go out and calmly, coolly and collectively, do it again. They did it despite the entire Pac-10 conference, and indeed, most of the college basketball universe, knowing what they intended to do and how they intended to do it - defensively. Still, the Cougars were able to advance to the Sweet 16 with wins over Winthrop and Notre Dame before falling to perennial powerhouse North Carolina and finishing the year at 26-9 overall.
In the Pac-10, the Cougars finished third behind UCLA and Stanford and repeated in leading the league in scoring defense [allowing 56.4 points per game], turnover margin [+2.94 per game] and the assist-to-turnover ratio [1.35 per game].
Additionally - and for the first time ever - the Cougars placed five members of their team - Aron Baynes, Robbie Cowgill, Daven Harmeling, Nikola Koprivica and Taylor Rochestie on the conference's All-Academic team while attracting approximately 9000 fans per game on average.
For achieving success on such a wide scale, Bennett, of course, won in a landslide among CougZone voters, but other exemplary coaches did receive votes and below is the complete breakdown.
2008 CougZone Coach of the Year Results
Tony Bennett [men's basketball] - 56%
Matt Potter [soccer] - 19%
Jane LaRiviere [rowing] - 13%
June Daugherty [women's basketball] - 6%
Lisa Hart [tennis] - 6%
Rick Sloan [track and field] - 6%
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