“Juggernaut.” “Swagger.” “Exciting.”
All words that South Carolina’s offense wanted to be in 2015, and all that new running backs coach Bobby Bentley can supply.
“Because of his knowledge, he made me an all-around back,” said Marcus Lattimore, one of Bentley’s prize pupils at Byrnes High. “I can’t ever repay that. It all started when I met him in middle school.”
Bentley confirmed Monday and USC announced Tuesday that he would be leaving his Auburn offensive analyst position to join Will Muschamp’s staff. Bentley turned Byrnes into a national powerhouse around a stint as head coach at Presbyterian College, and his presence as a guru of the spread offense can only help a team that struggled to move the ball in 2015.
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He played quarterback at Byrnes before playing at PC, and was back in Duncan as a 25-year-old head coach. While the Rebels were good, they were overshadowed by others along the I-85 corridor – Rock Hill to Gaffney to Spartanburg to Greenville.
Bentley changed that, bringing an anything-goes approach. His first two seasons featured three wins, but once he began concentrating on the spread, the Rebels flourished.
“You grew up here, the system was you ran until you’re tired of running,” said Jason Gilmer, who’s covered preps for The (Spartanburg) Herald-Journal since 1996 and wrote a book about championship football in Spartanburg County. “The cool thing about Bobby was he was trying to do so many different things. He wanted to run with power and spread it around.”
The Rebels went from good to dominant so fast the other powers didn’t know what hit them. Bentley’s system blew out scoreboard lights and churned out Division I prospects. The Rebels lost just two games from 2002-05 and won four straight state titles. While Byrnes was known for its quarterbacks and receivers, it had talent throughout the roster.
“They always had good running backs,” Gilmer said. “They weren’t showcased as much, other than Marcus.”
Lattimore played for Bentley as a freshman and a senior as Bentley tried college ball in 2007-08.
“He put the ball in my hands when I was in ninth grade,” Lattimore said. “My favorite play to this day is inside zone. He taught me the steps, the correct way to run it, what to read … and when you play at Byrnes, you have to be a great receiver out of the backfield.”
Bentley accepted a job with the Blue Hose just when they were joining Division I, and the excitement was much more than just a son returning home.
“In the Upstate, Bobby’s a legend,” said Brian Hand, now the executive editor of Spurs and Feathers, but PC’s Director of Sports Information and Game Operations from 2006-08. “Bobby just brought immediate credibility. It was our first year of Division I, so we wanted to make a splash.”
Nicknamed the “Hurlin’ Hose,” Bentley’s pass-happy offense produced a 6-5 record in his first year. Presbyterian had been a championship-caliber team in Division II, and many of those players helped Bentley in his first season, but as graduation began to affect the team, the Hose struggled to a 4-8 season in 2008.
“The next year would have been really, really good if Bobby would have stayed,” Hand said. “They still beat Liberty, which was a top-20 team. They had a lot of close losses. He seemed happy, but Bobby’s all about family.”
Bentley was still commuting from his home near Byrnes to PC. When an offer from Spartanburg School District 5 to be director of public relations and athletics director came along, Bentley couldn’t turn it down.
He rejoined Byrnes as offensive coordinator under coach Chris Miller, who had won state titles in 2007 and 2008. The two won two more titles in 2010 and 2011.
Miller departed after the 2012 season for Spartanburg High, and Bentley was back in his head coaching spot. Following a 12-win season, he got the itch to get back to college – and pal Gus Malzahn was waiting.
Bentley worked with the Tigers’ quarterbacks the past two seasons and met Muschamp when he joined Auburn’s staff in 2015. Muschamp saw enough to know that Bentley knew offense, knew South Carolina and would be an immediate help as he tries to avoid the offensive struggles he faced at Florida.
And it may help the Gamecocks that Bentley’s son, Jake Bentley, is the No. 9 quarterback in the Class of 2017. He threw for over 2,500 yards and had 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions at Opelika (Ala.) High last year. His future plans – staying put or coming back to South Carolina – are unknown.
What are the Gamecocks getting in Bentley?
“He’s a salesman first and foremost,” Hand said. “Whether you like him or not or have your opinion on PC and Byrnes, Bobby’s a winner. He coached Marcus Lattimore. That tells you everything you need to know.”
“He cares about his kids more than anything,” Gilmer said. “The kids that played for him love him. And I’d say the running backs at South Carolina will probably become really good receivers now.”
Lattimore is weighing an offer to join Muschamp’s staff, but has previously stated he doesn’t see himself coaching in college. But it’s good to see his coach back home – Lattimore welcomed him with a Tweet saying, “The King is back.”
“Being a former quarterback, he knows how important a complete running back is,” Lattimore said. “I know he’ll be hands-on. He’ll bring that attitude back.
“Because he’s all about attitude – running hard, tough-nosed and never give up. That’s what we need.”
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