Indiana Daily Student

Women's coach saddened by father's retirement

When IU women's coach Kathi Bennett wakes up Friday morning in a Houston hotel room, her father Dick will no longer be a basketball coach.\nIt will be the first time she could say that.\nEver.\nIn all 37 years of Kathi's life, Dick has been a basketball coach. But that all changed when Bennett announced his retirement from the University of Wisconsin in a press conference Thursday afternoon flanked by his wife Anne, and Athletic Director Pat Richter.\nFor Kathi, who heard news from her family Wednesday after IU's practice, the news was upsetting.\n"It's really sad," Bennett said. "I just want him to have peace. I'm so proud of him for doing what I know he had to do, to stand up and do that. My heart aches.\n"I wish I could be there and that's what is killing me the most."\nBennett, who guided Wisconsin to an NCAA Final Four appearance last season, is retiring because of a burnout.\n"I just simply was drained," said Bennett, who will be replaced by UW assistant coach Brad Soderberg on an interim basis. "I just simply could not keep up and it began to bother me. I don't want to go out cynical."\nThe 57-year-old Bennett said his health was fine.\nKathi openly acknowledged her father's intense passion for the game of basketball. In an earlier interview, she remembered one time when his extreme emotions got to him while coaching at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.\n "I will never forget the struggles when I was in college and my dad was taking over the Green Bay program," Bennett said. "It was around Christmas time, and they were struggling. I was up in the stands, and I almost got into a fight with someone ... they were screaming 'Bennett you're a bum,' and 'What did we bring you here for?'\n"I remember going home after the game, and he was sitting at the table; pure red, with his veins sticking out, and I remember telling my mom I thought he was going to die. It was a scary time for our family."\nAn athletic department official from Butler, which plays in the same conference as UWGB, recalled Bennett vomiting before many of his games.\nKathi said that his brother Tony will remain on as an assistant under Soderberg.\n"Tony wants to coach," she said. "It's in his heart and it's what he wants to do. He's got all the qualities my father has, but he's able to put things behind him faster.\n"That's something maybe my father and me can't do."\nSoderberg, who was head coach at South Dakota State from 1993-95 before joining the Wisconsin staff when Bennett became the coach, said he tried to talk his boss out of retiring.\n "But as he told me, he just ran out of gas," Soderberg said. \n In April, the Badgers lost to Michigan State 53-41 in the NCAA tournament semifinals, the team's first NCAA Final Four appearance in 59 years. Afterward, Bennett spent a week mulling retirement, but decided to return.\n "I got caught up like everyone else in the euphoria of the Final Four," Bennett said, "and thought maybe I could just roll along ..."\nBut Bennett said he began to notice he wasn't paying attention to details and knew then it was time to say good-bye to the game he loved.\nBefore the Badgers made their unexpected run to the Final Four, Bennett was the subject of harsh criticism in Wisconsin for his antiquated style of coaching and perceived shortcomings in recruiting. Unlike many coaches, Bennett admits he hears criticism and is hurt by it.\nIn truth, Bennett made the Badgers respectable after decades of ineptitude. In his five years, Wisconsin went to the NCAA tournament three times, after just three visits in the previous 97 years. His last two teams are the winningest in school history.\nHe has directed the Badgers to 24 victories over top 25 opposition, including a 78-75 overtime victory against No. 13 Maryland Wednesday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.\nIn the locker room afterward, he gathered his team and told them he was calling it quits so he could spend time with family, friends and former players.\n"He didn't say much. He just said, 'Guys, I'm stepping back'," senior Andy Kowske recounted. "We were all shocked. We all just gave coach a hug and said good luck."\nKnown throughout the coaching ranks as one of the game's pre-eminent defensive coaches, Bennett's Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring defense for four straight seasons. He has lived in Wisconsin since childhood, and spent 11 years coaching high school basketball in the state, before moving to Stevens Point in 1976.\nBennett succeeded without superstars, always uniting a roster of roll players into a cohesive unit that could play with the best teams in the country.\n"Everyone here realizes we're not the most talented bunch of kids," senior Mark Vershaw said. "For us to have done what we did, it just shows what a great teacher he was."\nThe Associated Press contributed to this story.

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