Tony Cartagena covers the Wisconsin Badgers for ESPN Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. -- You won’t see Dick Bennett doing any media car washes anytime soon. The former University of Wisconsin head basketball coach has maintained a low profile over the past decade, living in Central Wisconsin and travelling to warmer golf destinations during the winter months.
He doesn’t watch live broadcasts of his son, Tony, coaching the Virginia Cavaliers. Bennett says he never handled stressful situations well. Something his dad called “weak” and a trait not often found among most successful basketball coaches. However, after the end result of a Virginia game is known, he’ll watch a tape-delayed broadcast and offer up advice if needed. Needless to say, he was rooting for Virginia and Wisconsin to meet in the Sweet 16 this season. The brackets just didn’t go according to his plan.
Coach Bennett lives his life based on five pillars. A man of faith, he coached his program, and taught his players life lessons, predicated on the same five core beliefs.
After leading the Cinderella eight-seed Badgers to the Final Four in 2000, Coach Bennett cemented his legacy as a legend in the state of Wisconsin. A legacy associated with the turnaround and resurgence of Badger basketball. A legacy that will surface, even if 1,000 years from now, the Kohl Center is ever torn down.
Humility. Passion. Unity. Servanthood. Thankfulness.
“Those words are buried in the foundation of The Kohl Center,” Bennett said during a rare interview with ESPN Wisconsin's Wilde and Tausch. “Before the flooring went in, I asked if I could put a laminated card in the foundation on The Kohl Center. Particularly in the practice area because that’s where it would be taught.
“There’s a laminated card down deep in there. Before anything was put over, it’s in the sand and whatever is under the flooring.”
This wasn’t a ceremony that happened secretly in the dark of night. Bennett wasn’t acting as a child trying to sneak and carve their initials into freshly laid city cement. His team was there with him to celebrate the cornerstone of Wisconsin basketball.
“I had our players around. I said this is what this program, at least while I am around, will be built on,” Bennett added. “I know that Brad Soderberg tried to do that. Bo Ryan did it in his own way and Greg Gard is doing it.
“Not because I said it, but because there is a spirit that I think is present in the teaching and play of Wisconsin Badgers basketball and I am so happy to be part of that.”
After Ryan took over the program in 2001, the Badgers have never missed an NCAA tournament. Ryan never finished ranked lower than fourth in the Big Ten Conference and he replicated Bennett’s Final Four run with back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2015.
“I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Bo Ryan,” Bennett said. “Because he, if you want to put it in terms of foundation, he was able to build, to do something that no one thought was possible, and that is to build a mansion. With the help of Greg Gard, and Greg Gard is doing a marvelous job of continuing that, but someone had to come in and kind of just tear down, and just get a foundation dug.
“(Ryan) took it to heights that I didn’t think Badger Basketball could reach.”
Listen to the full interview with Dick Bennett here.