December 10, 2001
Bennett has a big decision to makeBy Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post
You’d think with the season finally coming to an end, Catawba College football coach David Bennett would finally have time to relax a little and put his decision-making on hold for a while.
Not a chance.
In fact, Bennett is preparing himself for possibly the biggest decision of his life next week: whether to stay at Catawba or seek employment elsewhere.
Elsewhere — in this case — is Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. The Chanticleers are starting their football program in 2003 and will be bringing Bennett in — along with two other candidates — for an interview next Thursday.
“We’re just going down there to talk,” Bennett said Thursday afternoon. “It doesn’t hurt to talk, especially when they contact you. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Yes, the football is a step up. Coastal Carolina will be a Division 1-AA program and already has a league — the Big South, where it will compete with Elon, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb and Liberty. It is the only state-supported school in the conference, which means it will cost less to attend.
“But the grass isn’t always greener,” Bennett reminded those who keep asking him if he’s going to leave Catawba. “I’m going to talk to (Coastal Carolina) and see what they have to offer.”
This is what Coastal Carolina has to offer: a new on-campus stadium that will seat 18,000. An $8 million fieldhouse. A program where Bennett could start from scratch instead of rebuilding and changing.
And a gung-ho athletic director who understands what a good football program means to the community and the student body.
Warren “Moose” Koegel was hired for that very reason. He has coached at Rutgers, Penn State and Wyoming. He is a football guy. And he has jumped into this challenge with the verve of a 20-year old linebacker.
It’s a wonder Coastal Carolina hasn’t started a football program before now. Located just 20 minutes from Myrtle Beach, it seems to be a recruiting haven.
“Especially if Mama and daddy like to play golf,” Bennett laughed.
Bennett was close to the school this past week when he attended practice for the North-South All-Star Game in Myrtle Beach.
Word had already gotten out that Bennett was a finalist for the Coastal Carolina job.
“It was nice to be in South Carolina and have all of those high school coaches saying, ‘We hope you take the job.’ ” said the South Carolina native.
While at practice, Bennett was even offered a high school job on the spot.
“For a $15,000 pay raise,” Bennett marveled.
All Bennett has heard this week is talk about the interview. Coastal Carolina released the news that he would be one of its candidates. He tries to answer everyone’s questions with a smile.
A sad smile because Catawba lost in the national semifinals at Grand Valley State last week, 34-16.
“Two teams that we beat (Valdosta State and Central Arkansas) might have been better than the team we lost to,” he said. “And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
“But that’s why you play the game.”
The most important question concerns recruiting. Bennett desperately needs linebackers to replace three senior all-conference guys in Shawn Sanders, Shawn McBride and Darris Morris. But how does Bennett recruit with the job interview looming?
“We recruit like we’re going to be at Catawba the rest of our lives,” he said.
Bennett laughed about the first press conference of the year, when all of the South Atlantic Conference coaches gathered at the Holiday Inn in Salisbury. He kept marveling to the media how Catawba could possibly be picked second. He kept repeating himself that his Indians lost 16 starters. That his offensive and defensive lines were young pups. That his team didn’t deserve it.
But the other coaches knew better. They had been beaten by this man enough in seven years (Bennett has won 63 of 79 games) to realize what he was about and how much he had done in a short span.
The question now is, does the Catawba administration realize this fact enough to do what’s needed to keep the most visible, the most sought-after and the most popular person at Catawba College in Salisbury?
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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