Ritchie McKay, right, was the top assistant for Tony Bennett, left, for six seasons after his first stint as head coach at Liberty. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Ritchie McKay, the top assistant on the Virginia men’s basketball staff, will return to Liberty as its head coach, Liberty announced on Wednesday afternoon.

McKay was the head coach of the Flames from 2007 to 2009 before resigning to join Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett’s staff.

At his introductory news conference, McKay said he loves Bennett “to death,” and his experience in Charlottesville made him a better coach and man. Bennett’s wife was in attendance at the news conference.

“I learned a ton from him,” McKay said of Bennett. “Not only the way he coaches his team, but the way he lives his life.”

McKay’s departure is the first staff turnover for Bennett in his six-year tenure at Virginia. McKay, 49, had his best season at Liberty in 2008-09, when the Flames finished 23-12, tying a school record for wins in a Division I season, with star freshman Seth Curry. Shortly after Curry transferred to Duke and McKay left Liberty to become the associate head coach under Bennett. McKay, whose daughter is a student at Liberty, was crucial in the recruitment of forward Anthony Gill and point guard London Perrantes to Charlottesville.

“I’ve been a fan of Liberty since I left,” McKay said.

Brad Soucie, Virginia’s director of player development, is expected to follow McKay back to Liberty. Stevens coached with McKay there and followed him to Virginia six years ago. He spent his first five seasons with the Cavaliers as the director of men’s basketball operations.

After McKay resigned from Liberty in 2009, the school hired former McKay assistant Dale Layer, who was on Buzz Williams’s staff at Marquette. Layer was fired in March after compiling an 82-113 record in his six seasons with the Flames, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 2013.

Liberty Athletics Director Jeff Barber said he talked with nine candidates over the three-week process. He touted how McKay had proven himself over the course of his career and at Liberty. Barber said McKay had been approached by other schools for head-coaching vacancies, but McKay told Barber he wouldn’t talk to other schools until he was assured the Liberty job wasn’t an option for him.

McKay said he didn’t leave Liberty initially because it wasn’t a good enough job for him, but because he wanted to help his friend, Bennett, at Virginia.

McKay came to U-Va. with 13 years of Division I head coaching experience. Prior to his two years at Liberty, he spent five seasons at New Mexico, two at Oregon State, two at Colorado State and two at Portland State. He has a career record of 204-186.

With McKay as Bennett’s top assistant, the Cavaliers won a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title and garnered a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. They lost to Michigan State in the round of 32 to finish the season 30-4.