Gogola: Coach Bennett resigns, but Athletic Department refuses to say why

Gogola: Coach Bennett resigns, but Athletic Department refuses to say why

By Frank Gogola

Kathi Bennett, who resigned as the women’s basketball head coach on Wednesday, lived and breathed basketball; her unbriddled passion and fire for basketball adds to the mystery of her resignation from NIU without any mention of why.

Bennett was wholeheartedly in each possession, and she never sugar-coated anything. When the team shot 12.5 percent (4-32) from the field in the first half of a 65-50 loss to the Valparaiso Crusaders on Nov. 20, Bennett said the first-half performance was the worst the Huskies had played in her five years at NIU. It’s so refreshing to hear a coach tell it how it is.

Her resignation was announced in an NIU Athletics news release Wednesday. There aren’t any quotes from Bennett about why she resigned in the news release; there’s only one quote from athletic director Sean Frazier.

“We thank Coach Bennett for her years of dedication to NIU and wish her the best in the future,” Frazier said, according to an NIU Athletics news release. “We will work diligently and quickly to find the best person and coach to lead the Huskie women’s basketball program going forward.”

Talk about an emotionally disconnected quote from Frazier. It has the smell of a stock quote with a reminder to “Insert name here.”

Bennett hasn’t returned any phone calls from the Star seeking comment, and the Athletic Department hasn’t been of any help in clarifying why she resigned, either. Matt Scheerer, assistant media relations director for women’s basketball, said all questions about Bennett needed to be directed to Donna Turner, associate athletic director for communications, but wouldn’t say why.

Turner said she couldn’t help the Star get in contact with Bennett and wouldn’t give a reason why. In a later phone interview, Turner said Frazier wasn’t willing to speak about why Bennett resigned, saying that Frazier’s quote in the news release was “all he had to say about the matter. He won’t be commenting further.”

Several people close to the team haven’t responded to the Star for comment, but those who have said they don’t know why Bennett resigned and hadn’t heard about her resigning until the NIU Athletics news release was posted.

Adding to the eeriness of the whole situation was that Bennett’s Twitter account — @_CoachBennett — was deleted sometime between April 18 and Wednesday. The women’s basketball Twitter account — @GoHuskiesWBB — had mentioned Bennett in tweets and retweeted tweets of her being inducted into the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame on April 17 and 18.

Bennett coached at Evansville from 1996-97 to 1999-2000 and took the Purple Aces, who had an all-time record of 18-113 when she was hired, to the NCAA Tournament in her third season. Bob Pristash, Evansville sports information director, said Bennett wasn’t distracted about anything and didn’t mention planning to resign from NIU at the April 18 Hall of Fame induction.

“It was a very festive atmosphere,” Pristash said. “She had a lot of support come back — I want to say at least 10 of her former players came back. It was a very celebratory atmosphere. It was a pretty big deal for her being inducted into the Hall of Fame. She really transformed our program in just four years from bottom of the conference to going to the NCAA Tournament. It was just an enjoyable atmosphere for her being around those girls again and being able to celebrate being in the Hall of Fame.”

Bennett went 57-93 overall and 3-5 in the MAC Tournament in her five seasons at NIU. She had a winning percentage of .374 (34-57) overall and .313 (15-33) in MAC play in the three seasons before Frazier was hired. In Frazier’s two seasons at NIU, Bennett went .390 (23-36) overall and .389 (14-22) in MAC play.

Although Bennett went 12-17 overall and 8-10 in the MAC this past season, it was arguably her best coaching performance at NIU given that the Huskies were plagued by injuries. They dressed seven or eight players on most nights and were forced to start two true freshmen in the post; yet, they still played well enough to host a first-round MAC Tournament game.

If Bennett resigned because of health or family reasons, then the Athletic Department should be able to cite her resignation as “personal reasons.” If she was forced to resign because of her 12-17 record this past season it would be reasonable to assume that her resignation would have come within a few days to a week of the season’s end.

There has to be some other reason why Bennett suddenly “resigned.” For how passionate Bennett was about basketball and how much she gave to the university as the women’s basketball head coach, not only did she deserve to have the resignation handled better publicly by the Athletic Department but her players and the fans deserve to know what happened.