Toscano-ASU Loses Passionate Phil Bennett


News broke on Tuesday that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett would not return to coach Arizona State next season. Bennett confirmed it after practice, telling reporters, “I just looked at a couple things in my life right now and I had to make a decision that I probably wouldn’t be able to stay here.”

Shortly before Bennett spoke to reporters after the Sun Devils finished practice, new head coach Herm Edwards said this in a statement:

“While I would have liked for Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett to remain on the coaching staff, I do appreciate the fact that he has chosen not to stay based upon family reasons,” said Edwards. “Family always comes first and right now he needs to turn his attention to that.  My top priorities right now going forward are to solidify our recruiting class and to assemble a defensive coaching staff.  Both objectives are moving along quite well.”

Here are some thoughts on the situation:

  • First off, a story about the first time I got a true sense of Bennett. Arizona State football was going through practice last spring. The Sun Devils were running through a drill and right after defensive back Chase Lucas did a rep, Bennett said something to him. Lucas then appeared to react in a certain way. Bennett stopped the drill, looked at Lucas and exclaimed, “Yes sir! No sir! That’s it!” Next thing I know, Lucas was doing push-ups on the sideline. It was peak Bennett. You could probably poll every player on ASU’s defense and they may be able to tell multiple stories like this. Bennett is old-school. He brought intensity to the defense.
  • When Todd Graham was fired, I sensed this would be an intriguing situation. Bennett came to ASU because of Graham. The two knew each other more than 20 years ago when Graham was a high school coach in Texas. Throughout the season, I would think about different scenarios if a coaching change were to occur. I always thought Billy Napier would stay, but Bennett would probably leave. Why? Well, because of that loyalty to Graham. I also think Bennett’s strong personality may not mesh with a coach who didn’t hire him.
  • This decision was apparently made for family reasons, but Bennett had been vague when asked about returning to Tempe in previous weeks. He wouldn’t give a definitive answer. Neither would any of the other assistants at the time, but receivers coach Rob Likens and running backs coach John Simon seemed more positive. Heck, even Napier spoke as if he wanted to return. They all acknowledged they had to see where the program was going. Last Friday, Bennett told reporters he needed to meet with Edwards — he hadn’t at that time, but did over the weekend. But on that Friday, Bennett alluded to needing to have certain things in place for him to stay. Basically, he was saying that he and Edwards needed to jell. Can you blame him? He’s been coaching for over 40 years. That, however, wasn’t a positive sign he’d return.
  • So, we now move to possible replacements. It’s obvious that if a move like this were made, Edwards would probably want to look to the NFL for a new defensive coordinator. It may be too early to point out candidates, but Edwards has many NFL connections. Even the coaches he didn’t work with could be considered. Edwards is more of a defensive-minded coach, so he most likely has many names in mind.
  • ASU improved in year one under Bennett. This tweet may be all you need to see that.

It begs the question, though: Where could Bennett have taken this defense? He always spoke of the days where he turned around Baylor’s defense after it lost players to the draft. He made the most of what he had at ASU. He got the most out of players. Lucas was named a Freshman All-American. J’Marcus Rhodes excelled at SPUR linebacker, a new position for him. Heck, the Sun Devils didn’t start anyone with any real significant game experience in the secondary other than safety Chad Adams.

  • How does this affect the players? They seemingly loved Bennett. Lucas said they called him, “Daddy Bennett.” On Tuesday, he told reporters Bennett was like a father figure to him. I think players respected Bennett and what he did. Reporters will miss him, too, because he was the best quote you can hope for in the world of college coaches. He was candid. Told it like it was. Probably the same way he coached, honestly.
  • From the first time he spoke after Graham’s firing, Bennett told reporters he had received calls from people. He said he told all of the callers that he wanted to wait it out and see what happened in Tempe. After all, he said, he loved coaching the Sun Devils and didn’t want to make the wrong decision. He also said retirement wasn’t something he’d thought about. He did say he needed knee surgery and neck surgery, though. Regardless, it seems he’ll be highly sought after as other programs round out their coaching staffs.