A DIFFERENT KIND OF COACH
I first met Randy Bennett in his office in 2003, shortly after I arrived at Saint Mary's. He was relaxed, informal and unpretentious. He seemed in a mood to chat. Having been around a fair number of college coaches, my first impression was, this guy is different.
We run into one another periodically on campus. My earliest impression of him was rumpled; he was clearly more comfortable in sweats than dress suits; he occasionally mumbled during media interviews. He was far from the prototypical slicked-back, impeccably dressed coaches who preen for television cameras. I kept thinking, this guy is different.
In 2004-05, the men's basketball program exploded: a 25-9 season, a win over Gonzaga, a berth in the NCAA tournament. Randy Bennett was a hot item. We pondered doing a feature profile, but hesitated. Saint Mary's isn't — and doesn't aspire to be — Jock U. Did we really want to profile a coach simply because he was winning?
At the 2005 NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City, I saw evidence of Randy's emotional impact on his players and the campus community. On the charter flight carrying the team and traveling party home from a disappointing first-round loss to Southern Illinois, the mood was appropriately sober, but not dour. It felt more like a family returning from a reunion than a live-or-die game.
This is not an attempt to canonize Randy Bennett. He wants to win as badly as anyone. He recruits as hard as most coaches. He's demanding of his players. His name periodically surfaces when higher-level Division I programs open up, especially in the Pac-10. If he continues to succeed as he has over the last five years, he'll undoubtedly have other opportunities, although he insists he's happy and could be in Moraga for the long haul.
For a guy in a high-profile job in a high-profile sport, he's not infatuated with himself. He's surely got his ego in check; when I hinted that he could be better at media interviews, he invited me to coach him. He inspires loyalty; all of his assistants have stayed with him in Moraga despite facility and budgetary limitations, and few of his players transfer to other schools. And, in the era of the pampered athlete, Randy sees basketball as the ultimate in experiential learning — practice and play hard, go to class, be on time, graduate on time.
Four years later, I understand this much about Randy Bennett: He's the closest thing to a Lasallian coach I've ever seen. That, more than anything, makes this guy different.