The Socastee spear has been passed to Dave Bennett.
Long known as the face of Coastal Carolina University, the 50-year-old former college football coach is ready to start the next chapter of his career as a high school administrator. Officially “introduced” Monday by Principal Paul Browning and outgoing athletics director Roger Dixon, Bennett already has a to-do list a mile long.
There are three current coaching openings, driving checks to do on existing coaches and officials to line up.
There’s also a continued need to increase funds, given the growth and hope for competitive balance.
“It takes a few things to be great: Number one, people, number two, facilities, and number three the money to do it right,” Bennett said. “They’ve got some great people here, and I’m blessed to be a part of it. The facilities are getting better. We’ve got to expand our practice fields. And we’ve got to go get some more sponsorship money to help these kids get the things they need.”
That may be the biggest asset Bennett brings to the table.
His predecessor, Roger Dixon, took the sports department from a six-figure deficit into the black, according to Browning. Bennett’s connections with potential donors and businesses, though, could turn the school into a monster in terms of sponsorships.
The way many see it – if he could sell Coastal Carolina when the school had no football program or stadium and practiced on old farm land – what can he do at a high school on the cusp of being in the state’s largest class again?
The Braves making the move to the Class AAAA in two years is a very real possibility. Socastee, the second largest school in Class AAA in South Carolina, was exactly 20 students shy of making the jump when the South Carolina High School League announced its realignment earlier this year for the current two-year block.
The school is a perfect example of the population boon in the county as a whole.
If Socastee does move up as expected, it would be Bennett in charge of handling the logistics. It’s something Browning took into consideration when he told his other top five candidates for the position that he had his guy.
It took three months from the time Browning and Bennett first spoke about the opening for the latter to become official. Bennett had to re-take a certification test with questions he said he hadn’t seen since 1985-1986, when he was finishing up his Master’s degree in guidance and counseling at Clemson. His wife, Melanie, put him through a week-long test prep so he could pass.
All the while, Browning’s back-up plan was to beg Dixon to stick around until Bennett was hirable.
“An athletics director is a coordinator and a facilitator,” Browning said. “A good person will end up being a good employee. He’s going to stump his toe; he’s going to stump his toe this fall. There are going to be things he’s going to forget. He’s going to a volleyball match one day and there won’t be a referee there. It just happens. The more he does it, the better he’ll get at it.”
Bennett admitted that the long process to his new job appealed to his basic human nature. After the strife of being fired from Coastal Carolina, he longed to feel wanted.
“In life, all of us, we’re all going to have disappointments,” he said. “We’re going to have things happen to us – whether you lose a job, lose a loved one, go through divorce – everybody’s going to go through tough times. When you get knocked down to your knees, you can’t stay there. You got to get up and do what’s best for you and your family.”
At least for the time being, that meant staying local.
On Monday, Bennett was non-committal about how long he would be at Socastee. However, his son, Jeb, has two years remaining at Conway High School, and Melanie and Dave Bennett didn’t want to move prior to his graduation.
Socastee gave him that opportunity. It’s not like this came completely out of the blue. Bennett has given August motivational speeches to the faculty there for four years, and he already knew many of the coaches at the school.
At Coastal, Bennett was responsible for recruiting high school players from around Horry County.
It eliminated much of the acclimation process. He’s been working alongside Dixon for weeks. Moving forward, he’s been assigned an official mentor, North Myrtle Beach Athletics Director Joe Quigley, generally considered to be one of the best in the area.
It all added up to a perfect fit between the growing high school and the man best known locally for building a college football program, taking it to the playoffs and adding plenty black and teal one-liners along the way.
“Before I’m a football coach, I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good dad,” Bennett said. “That’s why we’re here at Socastee High. I know there are going to be a lot of hours over here. But I know I’ll be putting my head on the pillow at home every night right here in Horry County.”