Sports Extra: Bennett Set for Emotional Return

Former K-State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett

Sept. 29, 2011

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By Mark Janssen

Phil Bennett says of Kansas State University and the community of Manhattan, “It was the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. I had some unbelievably good memories, and then a memory that still breaks my heart.”

Saturday, Bennett will be wearing the green of the Baylor Bears as they visit Bill Snyder Family Stadium for a 2:30 p.m., kickoff. Bennett is the defensive coordinator for the 3-0 Bears.

The Best of Times
Bennett was K-State’s defensive coordinator for a three-year period from 1999 to 2001 when the Wildcats won 28 games, which included 11-victory campaigns in 1999 and 2000 when K-State was co-champions in the Big 12 North.

“Those kids I had an opportunity to work with were just outstanding,” said Bennett. “I see them on Facebook and some of the things they tell you make your day. Those are guys I really respect and appreciate. We were tough on them. We coached them hard, and they responded.”

And, there is a huge amount of respect and appreciation for coach Bill Snyder.

“What a fabulous mentor,” said the 55-year-old Bennett. “A fabulous mentor and a dear friend.”

Now with the Bears, Bennett said, “I’m seeing here what coach Snyder went through at K-State in terms of fighting for respect and expectancy. We’re coaching here like we coached at K-State. Coach (Snyder) went into every day telling those players to find something where they can become a better player. If you do that, pretty soon you can be pretty dang good.”

Bennett went on to mention the names of Mike Stoops, Mark Mangino, Brent Venables and Bob Stoops “… and others who worked for coach that today call him the biggest influence in their coaching career.”

The Worst of Times
In the early-morning hours of Aug. 11, 1999, Bennett’s wife, Nancy, went out for her morning jog. A drizzle turned into a steady rain accented with flashes of lightning and thunder rumbles.

Bennett hopped in his car to rescue his wife from the storm.

Seeing police lights flashing, Bennett kiddingly asked, “Have you seen a good-looking blonde jogging?” (Pause) “I could see it in the officer’s eyes. Something was wrong.”

Seventeen days later, Nancy Bennett died at the age of 41 of hypoxia (lack of oxygen), general trauma and electrical shock from a lightning strike.

They were 17 days when Bennett credits Snyder for being his “clear thinker” in a time when, “I wasn’t too rational about many things. But I was able to express myself to him better than to the doctors.”

With a sixth-grader, Sam, and a third-grader, Maddie, Bennett said, “I knew my coaching career was over, but coach said, ‘We’ll make this work.’ I remember Maddie bringing her homework to my office while I was watching tape in the evenings.”

Bennett said his wife noticed how happy and excited he was to be in Manhattan and coaching on Snyder’s staff.

“Wives can tell those things,” he said. “She knew how we were coaching and how there was a method to the success and it came from the top. Nancy immediately had a feel for the great lifestyle Manhattan offered and how it was such a family town.”

Bennett paused again before saying, “We were only a slightly above dysfunctional family for a while, but the people on Hillview Drive (where he lived), coach, the coaching staff and the K-State family got us through it.”

Today, 23-year-old Sam is a graduate of Texas Tech University. He played for his father as a long-snapper at SMU and is coaching high school football at Frisco Liberty in the Dallas metro area.

Maddie, 21, is a junior and majoring in nursing at Texas Tech.

“I’m so proud of them,” said Bennett. “Sam was a 3.8 student in advertising and Maddie is the prettiest, sweetest person I’ve ever seen. Just like her mother. She is so giving. She’ll be an unbelievable nurse.”

Since Manhattan
Bennett has lived the life of a coach with stops as an assistant at Texas A&M, TCU, Iowa State, Purdue, LSU, Texas A&M, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, SMU (as a head coach), Pittsburgh, and now Baylor.

During a six-year period at SMU, Bennett’s teams went 18-52, which included going 6-6 to be bowl eligible in 2006.

“I don’t regret the move because I knew it would be a challenge,” said Bennett. “It was harder than expected in that there were some areas in academic standards that I thought I could get done, but couldn’t. That killed us.”

For the last three years Bennett was the defensive coordinator on Dave Wannstedt’s staff at Pittsburgh. It was a time when Bennett would be faced with two coaching decisions.

The first came in 2009 when Snyder returned to K-State as a head coach and called Bennett to be his defensive coordinator.

“Saying ‘no’ was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I just couldn’t do it,” said Bennett, who had remarried in 2005. “It wouldn’t have been right for Julie to take her back where I would be known as the coach that had a wife who died. It was a decision out of respect for her.”

And then last year, Wannstedt was relieved of his duties with Bennett named the interim coach for the Compass Bowl game against Kentucky, which Pitt won.

“Anybody who knows me knows that I can’t pretend to be something I’m not, and I didn’t like what happened with Dave,” said Bennett. “It was an unjustified decision. Because of that, it wouldn’t have been right for me to stay.”

And Now Today
Laughing, Bennett said of his return this week to K-State, “I’ve already told coach (Art) Briles that I was never able to stop coach Snyder’s offense (in practice) when I was there. We stopped other teams, but in practice we couldn’t stop our own team.”

Of Saturday’s return to Manhattan, Bennett quipped, “I hope I don’t go to the wrong sideline.”

Turning serious he added, “You don’t like playing people you love, and I love K-State and I love Bill Snyder.”

Bennett added, “I’ve never had a bad job. I get to do what I do, and they pay me money for it. But if I judged all my jobs, my favorite job was when I was at K-State.

“With the goodness the community showed to me and my children, I will forever be a Wildcat,” said Bennett.

Pausing, he added, “Except for Saturday.”

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