After checking off career milestones for the first time this spring — a Final Four and national championship game appearance, culminating with his first-ever championship as a head coach — Virginia coach Tony Bennett found himself in line for a hefty pay raise. But when he was offered one, he declined.
The university announced that Bennett, who met with athletic director Carla Williams and was subsequently offered a “substantial raise” as part of a revision to his current contract, passed. Instead, he asked for additional compensation for his staff and other program improvements. For good measure, Bennett and his wife, Laurel also pledged $500,000 toward a career-development program that’s been launched for current and former UVA men’s basketball players.
“This just does not happen in our industry,” Williams said.
Added Virginia President James Ryan: “Tony’s decision – to turn down a well-deserved raise and instead invest in his players and UVA athletics more broadly – tells you everything you need to know about him as a leader and as a human being. Tony is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, and this is just the latest example. He and Laurel show us what it means to be great and good, and I hope they will continue to be a part of the UVA family for many years to come.”
The decision to pass on a raise and instead donate money to career-development, Bennett says, was his wife’s idea.
“She’s always said, ‘Is there something we can do that can make a difference?’ That’s been on her heart and mind, and we’ve talked about it a lot,” he said. “We try to train our guys to be the best basketball players they can be, the school educates them, we try to teach them what it means to be a leader, and we try to pour the pillars into them. But what else can we do? There’s an incredible advantage in being a student-athlete here, but there are some disadvantages. You’re so consumed with your studies and then your workouts and your playing that you don’t always have the time to really pursue as many internships and career opportunities [as other students].”
Virginia did revise Bennett’s contract despite him turning down the raise. He agreed to extend his deal another year, leaving him with seven years remaining on his current contract.
Bennett and Virginia did the unthinkable this year by winning the national championship a year removed from becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round of an NCAA Tournament game.
“I know I’m a little biased,” Bennett said at a gala Friday celebrating the NCAA title, “but I think it’s one of the greatest sports stories ever told.”