Dick Bennett became the 15th head coach to direct the Washington State men's basketball team when he was hired March 29, 2003. He came to the Palouse with a proven track record of rebuilding programs. He continued the tradition last season during his first campaign with the Cougars.
WSU won 13 games, the most since 1996-97, and a six-win improvement from 2002-03. The Cougars won seven Pac-10 games after winning just seven of their previous 50 conference games prior to Bennett's arrival.
The Cougars biggest improvement came on the defensive end of the floor. WSU led the Pac-10, holding opponents to just 59.7 points per game, a 19.1 points per game improvement from 2002-03. No Pac-10 team has recorded such a dramatic improvement from one season to the next since Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pacific-8 to form the Pacific-10 for the 1978-79 season. In addition, it marked the lowest scoring average against a Pac-10 team since Oregon State yielded 57.7 points per game in 1984-85, two years prior to the 3-point shot being implemented.
During Bennett's first year, WSU swept three Pac-10 season series for the first time since 1994-95, broke losing streaks of 27 road games (at Alaska Fairbanks) and 22 Pac-10 road games (at California), and ranked nationally in scoring defense (12th), free throw percentage (13th) and fewest turnovers per game (14th).
Perhaps Bennett's biggest accomplishment last season came Feb. 7 at UCLA. He guided WSU to a 55-48 win marking the first time the Cougars have defeated the Bruins in Los Angeles in 47 tries.
Prior to WSU, Bennett spent 35 plus years teaching the game of basketball to young men in the state of Wisconsin with high school coaching stops in towns like West Bend and Eau Claire and college jobs in Stevens Point, Green Bay and Madison.
The owner of a 467-273 (.631) overall mark in 25 plus years at the collegiate level, Bennett was 94-68 (.580) at Wisconsin from 1995-2000. He guided the Badgers to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 2000 Final Four, and one NIT bid. Prior to his arrival, Wisconsin had played in three NCAA Tournaments in 97 seasons.
Known throughout the basketball world as one of the game's pre-eminent defensive coaches, Bennett's Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring defense four straight seasons and finished among the top five nationally in that category three times.
Statistics, however, do not tell the entire story about Bennett. He is highly respected by his peers. During the 1998-99 season, Sports Illustrated polled 115 college basketball coaches and asked the question, "If you could only go to one coaching clinic, whose would it be?" Top four vote-getters were Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Majerus, Dick Bennett and Bob Knight (then with Indiana).
When others speak of Bennett, the same words and phrases are repeated...humble, passionate, intense, tough, competitive, fundamentally sound, a great teacher.
Bennett has passed along his knowledge of the game to others in his family. Daughter Kathi is the head women's basketball coach at Indiana and son Tony is WSU's associate head coach after a stint with Wisconsin. Dick's younger brother Jack is a successful head coach at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, including a 2004 NCAA Division III national championship.
The success of Bennett's teams over the years is the result of taking care of the basketball, working for good shots and playing hard-nosed, team defense. The best of Bennett's players are not necessarily spectacular, but rather dependable, fundamentally sound, intense and mentally tough.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Bennett began his collegiate coaching career at Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1976 after 11 seasons in the Wisconsin prep ranks. As a high school coach, Bennett won 168 games and guided Eau Claire Memorial to a 22-3 mark and a runner-up finish at the State tournament during the 1975-76 season.
Bennett spent nine seasons at UW-Stevens Point and racked up 173 wins. During his final three seasons (1982-85), the Pointers were a combined 79-13. He was named NAIA Coach of the Year after leading the 1983-84 squad to a 28-4 record and national runner-up finish. Bennett was named Wisconsin State University Conference Coach of the Year in 1982 and 1985, as well as NAIA District IV and NAIA Area IV Coach of the Year in 1985.
The Ripon College graduate moved into the Division I ranks at Wisconsin-Green Bay prior to the 1985-86 season. He inherited a team that was 4-24 the year before he arrived and produced a winning record (15-14) in just his second season. Three years later, Bennett earned the 1990 Mid-Continent Conference Coach of the Year award after leading the Phoenix to a 24-8 mark and the second round of the NIT.
The following season, led by son Tony, the Phoenix rolled to a 24-7 record and made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, losing 60-58 to Michigan State in the first round. During the 1991-92 campaign, UW-Green Bay went 25-5 and won its first regular season conference title. Bennett was named Mid-Continent Conference and NABC District 11 Coach of the Year.
After a rebuilding season, Bennett guided the Phoenix to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. The 1993-94 squad was 27-7, won the conference title and shocked the college basketball world with a first round NCAA Tournament win over 16th-ranked California, which was led by Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray. Bennett was tabbed NABC District 11 and Basketball Times Midwest Coach of the Year. In his final year with the Phoenix, Bennett returned to the NCAA Tournament before losing to Big Ten champion Purdue 49-48 to close out a 22-8 season.
At Wisconsin, Bennett's highlights included consecutive 22-win seasons in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. No Badger teams prior had posted a 20-win season. The 1999-2000 season was magical. The Badgers were 13-12 in February, then won nine of their final 11 games to reach the Final Four. Playing the most difficult schedule in the nation according to the Sagarin Ratings, Wisconsin defeated a school-record eight nationally ranked opponents during its march to Indianapolis.
Bennett and his wife Anne have three grown children, Kathi, Amy and Tony and six grandchildren.