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Virginia’s Tony Bennett turns down pay raise, instead pledges $500,000 to career program

Tony Bennett directed the Virginia men's basketball team to its first national championship in April. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett frequently reminds his players about being “servants,” not just to the Cavaliers’ program but also in life.

The coach of the reigning national champions can use himself as an example after a selfless act revealed days after the school raised a banner at John Paul Jones Arena commemorating a historic season.

Following his team’s win over Texas Tech in the April 8 national title game, Bennett, the four-time ACC coach of the year, met with Athletic Director Carla Williams and school president Jim Ryan to discuss a potential raise.

Bennett declined a pay increase, according to the school. He and his wife, Laurel, also pledged $500,000 toward a career development program for current and former Cavaliers players.

From April: Heartbreak didn’t change Tony Bennett. Neither will his greatest triumph.

“President Ryan and Carla were very gracious in what they offered to me as a potential contract, but I have a very good contract,” Bennett said in a story posted on the school’s website. “I have more than enough, and if there are ways that this can help out the athletic department, the other programs and coaches, by not tying up so much [in men’s basketball], that’s my desire.”

Said Williams in the story: “That just does not happen in our industry.”

Bennett did extend his contract for another season, ensuring he’ll be Virginia’s coach through 2027 at a base salary of $500,000, based on figures from the state’s salary database. He earns an additional $2.5 million in supplemental income as part of a contract modification retroactive to July 1.

Also included are performance incentives, such as a $400,000 bonus for winning the national championship, boosting his compensation to $1.175 million last season.

Over 10 seasons in Charlottesville, Bennett has a 254-89 record with seven NCAA tournament appearances. The Cavaliers went 35-3 last season, securing the school’s first national championship a year after they became the first No. 1 seed in NCAA men’s tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed.

Bennett and his players openly embraced that stunning 74-54 result against Maryland Baltimore County, using the loss as motivation for a championship run that ended with an 85-77 triumph over Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“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 a human being,” Ryan said on the school’s site.

Bennett came to Virginia from Washington State, compiling a 69-33 record with two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons. A man of faith, he has talked of building the program on biblical pillars such as humility and thankfulness.

Bennett indicated in the story that the idea to donate to a career development program at Virginia came from his wife.

“We try to train our guys to be the best basketball players they can be,” he said. “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?

“That’s where our heart is. Our donation is all about career development.”

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