Coaches' Profile: Phil Bennett

Art Briles is one of the most beloved men in Waco, Texas. He's right up there with Ya Boy (yes that's his official title) Kenny Starr, RG3, and the inventor of the Gut Pak Willie Vitek. This is for good reason. He's the head coach of one of the most exciting football teams in the country and he also happens to be a gifted public speaker. Art Briles is a badass coach but even he can't run a team on his own. How much do we know about the rest of our football coaches? I know almost nothing other than a few names. So I decided I'd find out some things about the backgrounds of a few of the men in charge of BU Football. Starting with Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett.

Phil Bennett led a turnaround of our defense that saw the unit transform into a group of "football playin' fools" after years of being a liability. See the video and ODB article below for evidence.

But to get to know Phil Bennett we have to go back. All the way back to the beginning.

Phil Bennett was born on December 3, 1955 (making him 58) in Marshall, Texas.

In his college years he played Defensive End at That Little Maroon School Down Ih-35 with the Dog where he played his way onto the All-Southwest Conference 2nd Team in his senor year (1977). He graduated with a degree in Education and became a DE Coach at that same school the next year. He moved on from Aggieland in 1982 to become a TE and DT coach at TCU.

Bennett finally got to lead an entire defense when he was hired as Defensive Coordinator at Iowa State in 1983 under Head Coach Jim Criner. Bennett's defense (along with the rest of the team) struggled in his first year. The Cyclones gave up an average of 400 yards/game in his first season running the show. However these numbers would improve. In 1984 the team only gave up 297 yards/game, 337 in '85, 320 in '86. That was Bennett's final season in Ames as Jim Criner and his regime were replaced by Jim Walden in 1987.

After his time at Iowa State, Bennett was named DC at Purdue. In 1987, is first year as coordinator, Purdue's defense gave up an average of 346 yards/game down from 432 the previous year. He remained DC at Purdue until 1992 when he was selected to take a job at LSU as, once again, the Defensive Coordinator. This job lasted until 1994. Bennett would eventually go on to be the DC at his alma mater for the 1995 and 96 seasons before taking the TCU DC job for one season. After a difficult season at TCU Bennett became a Defensive Backs Coach at Oklahoma.

Heartbreak and Triumph

Then Bennett got a job that would change his life. He became the Defensive Coordinator at Kansas State under Bill Snyder. Bennett experienced a personal tragedy prior to his first season an KState. Bennett's first wife Nancy Harris was struck by lightning while out on her morning jog near their home in Manhattan, Kansas. She died 18 days later leaving behind her husband Phil and their two children Sam and Maddie (ages 11 and 8). Phil was a broken man. He strongly considered returning home to Texas and raising his two kids alone. However, legendary Head Coach Bill Snyder convinced him to stay at KSU. The Wildcats finished among the nation's top five in total defense each season, including second in 1999 (235.0 yards/game), fourth in 2000 (270.5) and third in 2001 (262.3).finishing in the top 10 in pass efficiency defense each year. The 1999 Wildcats led the entire country in pass efficiency defense with an impressive 65.7 rating. They also topped the nation in turnover margin (1.55 margin/game), collecting 21 interceptions and 17 fumbles. Two of his standouts in the secondary, Dyshod Carter and Jerametrius Butler, became just the second pair of KSU teammates to record 10 or more career interceptions. Both went on to play in the NFL. For those of you keeping score that's 22 years of coaching, 7 schools, 6 Defensive Coordinator roles, 3 Position coach jobs, and 0 Head Coaching jobs.

For a more detailed look at Bennett and Harris's relationship and the heartbreaking tragedy of her death read this Sports Illustrated article from 1999:

And for a better look at the relationship between Phil Bennett and Bill Snyder (who Bennett to this day credits with saving his life) check out this article from

And then one fine morning...

Bennett finally got the opportunity to be a Head Coach in 2002. Bennett took the job at SMU which at that point still had yet to fully recover from the Death Penalty years of the 80s. Bennett's years at the helm at SMU weren't necessarily successful when compared to normal standards. But for an SMU team that had spent years in the bottom half of the WAC, Bennett improved the team. In his best season, 2006, the team made it's first bowl game since 1997 and had SMU student-athletes fill a Conference USA-high six spots on the All-Freshman team (they had left the WAC at this point) and also place a pair of record-setting first-years on The Sporting News' Freshman All-America squad. Bennett recruits Justin Willis and Emmanuel Sanders each set new school records in various categories and Willis was named the C-USA Freshman of the Year by numerous outlets. Bennett also saw the team receive an award from the American Football Coaches Association for Academic Excellence after the freshman class of 2000-2001 had a 100% graduation rate.

Unfortunately in the 2007 season the Mustangs severely regressed going 1-11 on the season with no conference wins. Bennett would be fired shortly thereafter finishing with an 18-52 record during his 6 seasons as a Head Coach.

Here's an ESPN article for more info on Bennett being ousted at SMU:

Down But Not Out

After losing his job at SMU Bennett took the Defensive Coordinator job at Pitt in 2008, his first coaching job in the north in almost 20 years.

In 2009, his second season, Pitt led the entire country in sacks (3.62 sacks/game, 47 total). The Panthers also boasted impressive national ratings in rushing defense (17th, 106.31 yards/games), scoring defense (19th, 19.77 points/game) and total defense (23rd, 319.31 yards/game).Six members of Pitt's defense were named to the 2009 All-Big East Team, including the Co-Defensive Players of the Year in defensive end Greg Romeus and defensive tackle Mick Williams. It was the first time in Big East history that two teammates shared the league's defensive MVP honor.

In the 2010 bowl season, as his final act before returning to the greatest state in the Union, he coached Pitt to a bowl win over Kentucky after their head coach Dave Wannstedt, resigned prior to the game. But Bennett had already announced that he was off to Baylor to join Art Briles's staff at that point. And the rest, well you know how that went.


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