Phil Bennett spent Saturday as Pittsburgh's interim coach, where he coached the Panthers to a 27-10 win over Kentucky. He's now Baylor's new defensive coordinator, and took some time for ESPN.com on Tuesday at the American Football Coaches Association Convention to discuss how and why he made his move, as well as Baylor's future.
Can you kind of run down the timeline of the circumstances surrounding your move to Baylor?
Well, first of all, [Baylor coach] Art [Briles] and I have known each other a long time. We've coached in the league there together when I was at SMU and he was at Houston, and have a mutual friendship, and I admired what he did and I think he liked what I did. It's ironic; we had broken camp -- we had that late bowl game and my stepdaughter was a soccer player at Baylor and she had a bunch of friends going to the Baylor-Illinois Texas Bowl, and I have a home in College Station. That's where my wife lives and my wife says, "Let's go watch Baylor and Illinois play." I mean, this is how weird it is. I go down there and I was totally, first of all, shocked at how many people they had down there. What great support they had that day, and obviously they didn't play the way they wanted to, but I sat there and watched the game, and it was the first time I ever really watched them. I really thought they had the possibility of being good.
So I don't even know when it was, but my phone rang, [Briles] called and says, "I'm looking at some options." I told him I had three or four different things going, and said, "Well, if you're interested, it's going to have to be fairly fast for me."
He goes, "Well, let me tell you how fast I'll be: I can be in Birmingham [the site of Pittsburgh's bowl game] tomorrow." And I said, "Wow!" He asked what my schedule was like, and it was Tuesday and I had an idea, I had some things going, and I told him, "Art, I think you've got it going on, but it will take a big commitment." He just told me to let him come down. When he came down, we practiced, he came up to my suite and we talked about a few things. I'm a guy that wants to know things. I want to know what I'm getting into. And when I told him what it would take, he told me, well this is what I've got. I said, "Well, this is what it will take."
I wanted a commitment. I wanted to know how serious they were about getting better. I looked at the top pay of the coordinators and I said "Hey, look, none of them have more experience than I do. I'll put my résumé against anybody." I said, "If we're going to do this, let's pay like it." It was a little variation from what they had to what I wanted, the number of years. I said, "I plan on this being my last job. Let's make this work." I talked about the staff, that I had to have control of the staff, who I'm going to be working with. He said, "Phil, we will get this done." I told him when he got it done to call me.
David, I was a little bit shocked. He wasn't gone 10 minutes. On the way to the airport he says, "It's done." I said, "I'm in." That's how it went down.
What did it take Art saying to convince you that Baylor was where you needed to be?
Well, just the commitment. I wanted to see a commitment. My dad told me years ago, when you get a man and you pay him what you think he's worth -- when they answered what I wanted, I knew they were serious about trying to get this thing to another level. I asked for a much larger salary and extended years and not a lot of assistant coaches get that. I'm going to have the final say on all the players -- all the defensive players we take. I'm just very excited. I've probably called more games than 99 percent of the people in this business, and he's probably one of the hardest coaches I've ever tried to defend. And I think together, we can help Baylor get to a championship level, and that's why I'm going there.
What's it going to be like for you back in the Big 12?
You know, we went to the Texas High School Coaches deal [Monday] night, and it was ecstatic. People telling me, "Welcome back!" and things. Texas has a special bond. I played at A&M, I've been here, I was the head coach at SMU, I've always recruited Texas. I've just got a million high school coaching friends. I love talking football. High school football here -- I've got brothers who are head coaches in high school football and I'm very excited. I also know this, David: We've got work to do. I look at the numbers, we've got to get better. It's obvious. As I told the people on the radio down in Waco, I'm going to be working 24/7 to get better.
In part two later today, Bennett talks the future of his staff at Baylor and the future of the program.