The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Phil Bennett fired

Orsini speaks in interview with The Daily Campus
Phil Bennett fired

Phil Bennett was fired Sunday as head coach of the SMU football team, but will stay on to coach the remaining four games this season. The decision came after a 29-23 loss at Tulsa that dropped the Mustangs to 1-7 overall and 0-4 in conference play and officially eliminated the team from bowl contention.

Athletic Director Steve Orsini sat down with Bennett Sunday afternoon and notified him of the decision.

“[Bennett was] very professional, but he’s always been very professional,” Orsini said in an interview Sunday after the move. “Here is the respect I have for him, I asked him to continue to be our leader even though we have made the announcement that we are going to change our leadership here.”

Orsini went on to say that if he felt keeping Bennett for the remainder of the season would hinder the team’s ability to win he would not have made that decision.

The firing is the culmination of a season gone horribly wrong for the coach and his team.

Bennett said repeatedly before the season that he expected to take SMU to its first bowl game since the Death Penalty and legitimately challenge for a conference title.

Instead, the Mustangs got trampled in the nationally televised season opener against Texas Tech, squeaked out a win against North Texas and now find themselves mired in a six-game losing streak.

“It isn’t a black and white thing, it’s something you assess,” Orsini said. “You look at the whole program, which I always have, and we felt the time was right now to do that.”

SMU will buyout Bennett’s contract. It runs through Dec. 31, 2008 and is valued at nearly $500,000 per year. An option for 2009 was voided when the coach failed to win seven games in 2006.

“We’re going to honor all the coaches’ contracts,” Orsini said. “Phil and I talked about that this afternoon, we are all in agreement on that.”

After Orsini and Bennett met, the two met with the entire coaching staff and Bennett notified them of the decision. Orsini said the assistant coaches have contracts that run through May 2008 and they will be honored regardless of what changes occur.

Then the two met with the entire team. Bennett led the meeting and explained how the rest of the season would work, but Orsini also spoke in front of the players.

Bennett has a cumulative record of 18-48 during his six-year tenure on the Hilltop. Bennett had increased the number of wins season to season over the past three years, topping out at last year’s 6-6 record.

The six wins made SMU bowl eligible, but the Mustangs failed to win the season finale at Rice that was necessary to earn a bowl slot.

Following the game, Orsini went through a two-day evaluation period that ultimately led to Bennett returning for the 2007 season.

Orsini said he made the decision to keep Bennett on and that he doesn’t regret the choice. He felt Bennett was making sufficient progress to keep him on as head coach.

“We had a 71-point improvement plan after those two days of meetings and we accomplished almost all the ones that were humanly possible,” Orsini said. “So in this case the new leader can come in and all those foundation blocks are in place.”

The search now begins for Bennett’s replacement. Orsini said the process will begin immediately, but put no timeline or target date for a hire.

“We feel that there will be a lot of coaches that will be attracted to this opportunity,” Orsini said. He and executive associate AD Mike Vaught will handle parts of the search, but there will be a search firm brought in to analyze and help in the process.

“We won’t just sit back and see who all calls us,” Orsini said. “This is a very important decision; I approach this decision as the most important decision I can make for SMU.”

Funding for the new coach is a challenge for the department, which has operated at a deficit for years. Orsini said the department will look for additional sources of funds to honor the current coach’s contracts while also brining in a new staff.

“We’re willing and we believe able to step it up to a higher market value because we want a person that can get the job done,” Orsini said.

However he did express a sense of urgency that will be put into the search due to recruiting.

“We have some good prospects coming in, we hope to continue, not to lose them and then to add to it,” Orsini said. “But until you know who the leader is you are not moving forward.”

For more on this story, read quick updates on our blog – The Bit.

Story posted 4 p.m. Sunday, last updated at 8:05 p.m.

More to Discover