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


New coach Bennett settles in on Hilltop

 New coach Bennett settles in on Hilltop
New coach Bennett settles in on Hilltop

New coach Bennett settles in on Hilltop

“I have already lived through my biggest fear.”
– SMU head coach Phil Bennett

The Bennett family had just moved to Manhattan, Kan. where father Phil Bennett had been named as the new defensive coordinator for Kansas State University’s nationally ranked Wildcat football team.

Phil’s wife, Nancy Bennett never got to see her husband coach a game for K-State. On a cloudy, August day in 1999, Nancy went out for some exercise, totally unaware of the tragedy that would claim her life within minutes. While jogging, Nancy was fatally struck by lightning, leaving behind her husband and their young children, Sam and Maddie, who were ages 11 and eight respectively at the time.

Phil Bennett has often wondered whether his wife would still be alive had his family not moved to Kansas.

“I asked myself that so many times. She told me the night before she was struck by lightning, ‘This is going to be good,’ ” Bennett said. “She liked the atmosphere. You’re always looking for a stable situation, where your family is happy. I can’t second guess that.”

Bennett would make it through this tragedy.

“If I folded, then my children would have folded too,” he said.

With the help of God, K-State Head Coach Bill Snyder and thousands of local and national supporters, Bennett said he rebounded. In the1999 season, Bennett coached the Wildcat defense to a No.1 national ranking in pass efficiency and a No.2 national ranking in total defense. The true character of Phil Bennett was brought to light during that season.

Bennett was born on Dec. 3, 1955 in Marshall, Texas, where his father worked in an oilfield. In a town where football was king, Bennett was in just the right place. He credits his high school football coach, Dan Morman, for giving him a chance to compete as an underclassman. Bennett took that chance and made the most of his opportunity while making a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball.

While in high school, Bennett would battle against a future Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great, running back Earl Campbell. By Bennett’s senior campaign, he was being recruited by almost 30 schools, including Texas A&M, SMU, Texas and Arkansas. Bennett had turned himself into a tremendous defensive football player.

In 1974, Bennett decided he wanted to play for coach Emory Ballard in College Station, Texas, home of the Texas A&M Aggies. As a defensive end, he played in the Liberty, Sun and Bluebonnet Bowls, earning second team All-Southwest Conference honors as a senior. But Bennett isn’t one to toot his own horn.

“I was an average player. A try-hard guy,” he said.

Off the field, Bennett spent three years studying to get his business degree in marketing. In his senior year, Bennett decided that his passion for football was too strong, so he switched to education and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1978.

After graduation Bennett knew he wanted to become a football coach. So he went to his position coach at Texas A&M, R.C. Slocum.

“Coach Slocum went to bat for me,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s work ethic and passion for the game was respected so much by Ballard and Slocum that they offered Bennett a part-time job as coach of the defensive-ends in 1979. Bennett excelled, and in 1981, at age 25, he was rewarded with the full-time job.

“Coach Ballard taught me so much. He was a great motivator,” he said.

In 1982, Bennett moved to TCU and coached the tight ends and tackles. In 1983 he was named the defensive-coordinator at Iowa State University making him the youngest defensive-coordinator in the nation at, 27.

In 1987 he moved to the Big Ten Conference where he held the same position at Purdue University. Bennett next coached the outside linebackers at LSU before being named assistant head coach and defensive coordinator there in 1992. LSU led the Southeastern Conference in every major defensive category during Bennett’s stay, finishing eighth in the nation in total defense in 1994.

In 1995, Bennett returned to his alma mater to serve as the defensive coordinator. Emory Ballard had retired, but R.C. Slocum, the man who first went to bat for Bennett, was now the head coach.

That season, Bennett guided the Aggies to the national top 10 in every major defensive category including third in total defense. Not surprisingly, he was named the Defensive Coordinator of the Year by the American Football Quarterly.

As defensive coordinator at TCU in 1997, Bennett led the Horned Frogs to their highest national defensive ranking in five years. From TCU, it was on to Oklahoma where Bennett coached the secondary and served as recruiting coordinator.

He left in 1999 to join the staff of his mentor, Bill Snyder. Over a three-year span at K-State, Bennett turned the defense into one of the best in the nation. In 2000, his defense was ranked No.4 in the nation and his accomplishments were being widely recognized. He was not cocky about his success -just confident

“If you were to ask coaches to name a respected defensive coordinator, they would say me,” he said.

Bennett ascended to the ranks of head coach when, on Dec. 5, 2001, he inked a five-year deal to become the head football coach at SMU. Phil, Sam and Maddie were going home to the Lone Star State.

Bennett’s success is not luck -wherever Phil Bennett has coached, success has followed. He preached his style of defensive play to many teams, and they all responded. Bennett made the point that effective teachers have the ability to capture a student’s attention. It’s no different from a football sense.

He says that in his defense, players have a “big ownership” in making a lot of decisions right before the snap. He tells them to “be relentless.” He instills the notion in every player to play like every play is the difference in the game.

Bennett believes players win games and coaches lose them. He says there is nothing like the satisfaction of successfully “executing” the game plan. Bennett believes that “the will to win need be the will to prepare to win and that it takes all 60 guys on the team to be successful.”

Great coaches are great leaders. Bennett believes that great coaches must be leaders and that leaders need to have open lines of communication to command the respect of their players.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a players’ coach as [Washington’s head coach] Rick Neuheisel, but he has his door open all the time,” K-State linebacker Ben Leber said. “You can talk to him about any issue. At the same time, he’s a coach who earns your respect by coaching hard, and all the players know he’s just trying to get you to be a better player and play up to your full potential.”

SMU first-team All-WAC linebacker,Vic Viloria believes Bennett has already brought excitement to the program and is eagerly looking forward to this coming season with much optimism. Two words that Viloria uses to sum up Bennett’s coaching style: “intense and thorough.”

“He doesn’t allow a losing feeling. He takes control of everything, including our minds,” Viloria said.

Bennett says his most memorable pre-game speech came in 2000 against Nebraska. “We (K-State) were double-digit under-dogs at home to the Huskers. I individually asked all 11 of my starters if their guy was ten points better than he was.” That day K-State went out and beat Nebraska.

“To see the joy on those kids’ faces is what this game is all about.”

Over the years Bennett coached many great players but insists that he doesn’t treat star players any differently.

“I do believe that different players respond differently to different coaching methods. For some players it takes different things to make them maximize their talents.”

Bennett says that the toughest players he has ever had to prepare to stop were Mark Brunell of Washington and Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State.

Not unlike other coaches, Bennett has some pre-game rituals. Before every game he takes 10
minutes for himself by walking out into the stadium alone and visualizing the entire game, knowing that in a few hours the stadium will fill up. Bennett has been around many great coaches during his career.

“If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen,” he said. “And Bill Snyder is the best college football coach in the nation.”

“My family is my life.”
– SMU Head Coach Phil Bennett

When Phil Bennett got the opportunity to come to SMU, he knew it could be a wonderful opportunity – a new beginning for his family. He loves to have his kids hang out after school in his spacious new office, which is filled with leather chairs and televisions. Sam is now 14 and enjoys skateboarding, playing baseball, wrestling and – to no one’s surprise – playing football. Daughter Maddie is 11 and practicing her soccer techniques to be the next Mia Hamm. She also enjoys playing basketball. Of course, Bennett enjoys attending all of their activities. His kids seem to be making the adjustment real well. “Sam don’t you have some homework to do?”

When asked what actor he would want to play him in a movie Bennett responded, “My kids and their friends always tell me I look like Tom Selleck!” Bennett, ever the athlete, still runs daily and also enjoys reading. Bennett said his favorite book is “Catcher in the Rye,” but added that he also enjoys reading biographies focusing on what makes other people tick. “Malcolm X and Colin Powell were two interesting books.”

Phil Bennett has already overcome some of life’s toughest obstacles on his long road back to the Lone Star State. Restoring the winning tradition to the SMU football program is the latest in a series of challenges for Bennett to conquer. SMU Athletic Director Jim Copeland and Bennett are leading a plan that will significantly help SMU football financially.

“I am going to go everywhere [to find fans to fill Gerald J. Ford Stadium],” Bennett said.

On Aug. 31, 2002 at 6 p.m. when SMU takes on Navy in its home opener, trust that Phil Bennett will be prepared – that he has spent 10 minutes alone visualizing the game and that success is about to come.

When asked about one of the first quotes he will post in the Mustangs’ locker room above the door, he responded, “Those who stay will be champions.”

If the past is any indication, Phil Bennett is already a champion.

New coach Bennett settles in on Hilltop

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