One of the nation’s most respected assistant coaches, Tony Benford, has been named the 17th head coach of the North Texas men’s basketball program.
“We are very excited about the opportunity to add Tony Benford to the strong group of coaches at the University of North Texas,” said Director of Athletics Rick Villarreal. “In this search we were looking for a set of traits that make up a great coach and a great person, and Tony Benford fit the bill. He is a tireless worker, has great relationships with his players, has been a part of several successful programs and is highly respected by those that have coached with and against him. He has always recruited the Dallas area and has the ties that will help keep Texas talent in Texas.”
A veteran of 20 years in Division I basketball and 14 postseason appearances, Benford served as the associate head coach under Buzz Williams at Marquette last season; his fourth year with the Golden Eagles. During his time at Marquette, Benford helped recruit and coach six All-Big East players, including 2012 Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder.
Tabbed by Basketball Times, Fox Sports and Hoop Scoop as one of the country’s top assistant coaches, Benford also spent time at Nebraska (2006-08), Arizona State (1998-06) and New Mexico (1992-98) developing some of the nation’s most talented players.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity of taking over the basketball program at North Texas,” Benford said. “I would like to thank Rick Villarreal and President V. Lane Rawlins for this opportunity, and Johnny Jones for doing such a great job in making North Texas a winner. My philosophy is all about the players, and we will do everything in ensure that our players grow in the classroom, the community and on the court.”
In his career Benford recruited and coached five NBA first-round draft picks: Ike Diogu (Arizona St., ’05), Charles Smith (New Mexico, ’97), Kenny Thomas (New Mexico, ’99), Lazar Hayward (Marquette, ‘10) and Jimmy Butler (Marquette, ’11), as well as three second-round picks in Eddie House (Arizona St., ‘00), Tommy Smith (Arizona St., ’03) and Jeff Pendergraph (Arizona St., ‘09).
A native of Hobbs, N.M., Benford played collegiately at Texas Tech and was the catalyst for the Red Raiders Southwest Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 1985, and their 1986 SWC Tournament championship. He earned All-Southwest Conference and SWC Tournament MVP honors as a senior. The Boston Celtics selected Benford in the fourth round of the 1986 NBA Draft, and he played professionally in Holland for the 1986-87 season.
With Williams and Benford at the helm at Marquette, the Golden Eagles have reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 in each of the last two years. Marquette was ranked No. 11 in the final AP poll of 2012, and ranked 31st in the country in scoring offense with an average of 75.4 points per game. MU won at least 20 games and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of Benford’s four years with the program.
Before arriving at Marquette, he had spent the previous two campaigns at Nebraska under head coach Doc Sadler. The Huskers collected 37 total victories in the two seasons, highlighted by a trip to the National Invitation Tournament in 2008. The squad posted 20 wins in 2007-08, just the 12th 20-win campaign in the program's 112-year history. North Texas forward Alonzo Edwards was recruited to Nebraska by Benford prior to transferring to Denton.
Benford served on the Arizona State bench as an assistant coach for his first six years in Tempe before being named associate head coach for his last two seasons with the Sun Devils. Benford helped the Sun Devils to four postseason appearances during his tenure, including earning a spot in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament. While at ASU, Benford recruited Keith Wooden and George Odufuwa to Phoenix before the pair transferred to North Texas and went on to start a combined 143 games for the Mean Green.
In six seasons with New Mexico, Benford helped the Lobos reach five NCAA Tournament bids while winning 73.2 percent of their games (139-51 record). New Mexico picked up a pair of Western Athletic Conference tournament titles in 1993 and 1996, and a regular-season championship in 1994. During his stint with the Lobos, Benford coached the top four scorers in program history, including all-time leading scorer in Kenny Thomas.
As a prep all-star, Benford was a Converse All-American and the New Mexico Player of the Year after pouring in 27.5 points per game as a senior at Hobbs High School. He led Hobbs to the state title in his final season, earning MVP honors of the state championship tournament after posting 29 points in the title game.
He graduated from Texas Tech in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science in physical education. Benford and his wife, Deborah, have four children; Jeremy Soria, Audriana, Tony Jr. and Milena.