With Tony Bennett’s long-time assistant Ron Sanchez taking the head coaching position with the Charlotte 49ers, the most pressing issue for Virginia as it starts the offseason earlier than anticipated is replacing one of the top young assistants in the game.
While there have been calls for the Cavaliers to shake things up a bit following the shocking first round loss to UMBC, it’s doubtful Bennett goes too far outside his comfort zone in making a hire to fill Sanchez’s role.
Bennett, who had Sanchez by his side for nine seasons at UVA and three at Washington State, tends to hire assistants who are longtime associates and/or have Virginia ties.
A look at the candidates
With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Bennett doesn’t look much further than an hour down US-29 and Liberty University.
Liberty, which won at Wake Forest and was a buzzer-beater away from making the NCAA Tournament, is coached by Ritchie McKay. McKay has been Bennett’s friend for well more than a decade and was on his original staff at UVA before returning to the Flames. Two of his assistants also have ties to Bennett’s Cavaliers.
McKay’s top assistant, Brad Soucie was Virginia’s director of player development for five seasons. A move to UVA and the ACC would be a step up the coaching ladder, but Soucie is also tremendously loyal to McKay and worked with him at multiple stops.
Another Liberty assistant who might be in the mix is Vic Sfera, who worked for the Cavaliers for four years, two as the scouting and recruiting coordinator.
How about in-house?
With two veterans, Jason Williford and Brad Soderberg, joining Bennett on the Virginia bench, the Cavaliers might also have the luxury of bringing in a young inexperienced coach to fill the fourth chair.
Former UVA star Sean Singletary has been active on social media expressing his admiration for Bennett and hinting he’d love to join the staff. There’s also Jontel Evans, a beloved former Bennett guard who still resides in the Charlottesville area and has been coaching at the high school level.
Virginia may also stay within the current support staff and promote someone who already works in John Paul Jones Arena. Larry Mangino is in charge of scouting and Orlando Vandross, who heads up recruiting and player development. Vandross in particular might be a candidate for an assistant coaches’ role, if not at UVA, then elsewhere.
If Bennett chooses to cast a slightly wider net, there are a couple of interesting names to come up amid gossip in the coaching community. Kentucky assistant Joel Justus was a high school coach in the Charlottesville area, coaching former UVA walk on Caid Kirven at Woodberry Forest.
Jutsus is a statistical analytics expert who is also developing a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He’s credited with bringing Bam Adebayo to UK, though with Adebayo coming up in leaked FBI evidence that could also be a drawback.
Then there is UNLV Rob Jeter, who hasn’t worked with Bennett, but has an outstanding resume that includes time as an assistant to Bo Ryan at Wisconsin and a head coach at UW Milwaukee.
Jeter could come in with an understanding of Bennett’s systems and potentially give a boost to recruiting. Upon arriving at UNLV, Jeter brought in McDonald’s All-American Brandon McCoy and National Junior College Player of the Year Shakur Juiston.