Brian Bennett, The Man Who Oversees WVU’s Football Recruiting – Part 2
(Editor’s Note – I recently got a chance to sit down with Brian Bennett, who is the new director of player personnel for the Mountaineer football program.
For nearly 45 minutes we discussed various aspects of his life, what brought him to West Virginia and we also took a deep dive into WVU’s recruiting, which is the aspect of the program he oversees.
This is the second in our series of articles with Bennett, and we look at what the job of director of player personnel entails in the Neal Brown era.)
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The title has changed, but many of the duties remain the same.
It was a position that for many years was called “recruiting coordinator.” Now the label is “director of player personnel.”
Whatever the job is called, it’s the guy who at the college level oversees the program’s recruiting.
For many years the recruiting coordinator was a stand-alone position. Donnie Young served in that role at West Virginia from 1980-92, but then in a cost-cutting measure, the NCAA mandated that recruiting coordinators also had to be a coach. Young, who previously been an assistant coach at WVU from 1970-79, returned to the field in 1993 as the Mountaineers’ outside linebacker coach and held that job, along with the recruiting coordinator role, until head coach Don Nehlen retired in 2000. For the next 10 years, West Virginia had a succession of assistant coaches who also doubled as the program’s recruiting coordinator – Herb Hand, Tony Gibson and Doc Holliday.
Eventually the NCAA reversed course, and the previous stand-alone position of recruiting coordinator was allowed to return, though it usually came with a different job title – director of player personnel.
During the eight-year Dana Holgorsen era at WVU, that was Ryan Dorchester. But when Holgorsen left for the University of Houston, Dorchester went with him, where he is now an assistant athletic director and the director of football operations.
Neal Brown came to West Virginia from Troy University to become the Mountaineers’ new head football coach, and he brought with him Brian Bennett, who had served as the Trojans’ director of player personnel the previous four years.
Now he holds the same title at WVU, though he’s no longer a one-man band.
Holgorsen had started the process of expanding West Virginia’s recruiting staff. Casey Smithson was hired in 2014 to assist Dorchester, holding the title of recruiting coordinator. Brown retained Smithson, making him the defensive recruiting coordinator. Scott Gasper, who was the director of player personnel at Indiana from 2015-18, was hired by Brown to serve as WVU’s offensive recruiting coordinator. Katie Giusto was also brought in by Brown for the newly-created position of on-campus recruiting coordinator. She will oversee the visits of prospective student-athletes, and also will help in a variety of administrative roles when it comes to recruiting. On top of that, Brown has beefed up the social media aspect for West Virginia football, establishing the director of creative video, hiring Austin Gaines for that spot.
“The difference between Troy and here is the amount of personnel at our disposal is much different,” Bennett explained. “I have two recruiting coordinators here that are rock stars – Scott and Casey. They kill it on a daily basis. They help me organize the information we get from the (assistant) coaches when they are on the road recruiting. They each take four coaches and I take two, and each day we get the information from those coaches. So, they get more of that than I do. Then I compile all the information and get it ready for Coach Brown.
“So, the amount of help I have is much greater than what I had at Troy,” said Bennett, who pretty much did all the work in the Trojans’ recruiting office himself. “That doesn’t necessarily mean any of our jobs are easier. Now we just get to concentrate on the finer points. In the past I may have spent a couple days each week getting visits set up, but now Katie handles most of that. And in the past, when I was the only one taking in all the information from the assistant coaches when they were out recruiting, we didn’t have as much time to go into as many details. With more people, we have the ability to do things differently, and hopefully better.”
The 30-year-old’s job as director of player personnel job is all-encompassing.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he said of his role “A lot of times in football you have jobs that are data-driven,” he said. “You can sit behind a computer all day and you hardly ever talk to people. Then there are jobs in football that are the opposite. You are around people all day, and you have to be able to interact and mingle with them. Personnel and recruiting is kind of a mixture of both. I have to do a bunch of data entry, and I have others who also help me do data entry. But we also have to be able to deal with people. The job calls for both.”
Bennett’s job may have a lot of different facets but one of his primary duties is to gather all the information on the prospects from the assistant coaches and prepare that for Brown.
Each day when the assistants are on the road recruiting, he and Brown get together to go over the reams of information compiled in the last 24 hours.
On this day, it was shortly after 11 a.m., and Bennett had most everything ready for West Virginia’s head coach.
“I was looking at my watch, because my meeting with Coach Brown is at noon,” he noted in the midst of our interview in mid-May. “That happens every day now where we review what happened yesterday. I’ve already sent all the write-ups from yesterday’s meeting and all his notes out to the assistant coaches who are on the road to keep them informed. We also compile all the information we get from the assistant coaches and send that out to everyone. We want everyone to know exactly what is going on.
“Coach Brown is a data-driven, very intelligent, very organized head coach,” Bennett continued. “We put everything on paper because it helps keep us organized. There is a piece of paper somewhere, a document somewhere, that shows the pipeline from top to bottom. Coach Brown demands that. He’s unbelievably organized. Now he’s an incredibly busy person. He’s the busiest person in Morgantown, so he requires those around him to be organized as well. We’ll meet from 12 to 1, and then he’s off and on the run.”
That hour-long meeting covers a lot of ground.
“We discuss every high school that each assistant coach visited that day,” stated Bennett. “We’ll discuss the high school coach and the situation at the high school. Then we’ll talk about each student-athlete at that school. We’ll identify those who need to be watched immediately. If they’re a 2021 or 2022 guy, we may put them on a watch list that we’ll track.
“We put together a full bullet-point list on each prospect – their actual height and weight, and then all the other information we can gather, athletic ability, family situation, home situation, everything. We get pictures of them, and our assistants take videos of the prospects that they send to me. We compile all that and present it to Coach Brown, who reviews everything.”
There are many individuals who are part of West Virginia’s recruiting process, from the assistants down through Bennett and his staff, but Brown is the point man for all of it.
“Coach Brown is unbelievably detailed, and he wants to know everything. In the previous programs I was in, I was a G.A., and I wasn’t always in those meetings, so I didn’t always see how other coaches did it,” said Bennett, recalling his stops at Florida, Louisville and Texas. “But I do know that the amount of information that Coach Brown requests and his attention to detail with that information is unlike any other coach I know about. He’s incredible.”
It’s not all a data-driven world for Bennett.
“I also do a lot of film evaluation,” he explained. “People outside the program don’t always understand what watching film means. They may think, ‘Oh, you watch a little football.’ Well, we’ll watch film of upwards of 2,000 kids … for each class. And that’s not just watching one highlight film. That’s watching everything we can, as we get into the nuts and bolts of it. We watch camp film, game film, everything we can get our hands on.
“There is a lot of paperwork involved with it,” the Mobile, Alabama native added. “That’s not necessarily the fun part, but it comes with the job. We have paper on everyone, because we type and print everything. We disseminate a lot of information among our staff, trying to communicate the best we can. We put a lot of information out there, so that helps insure our coaches go to the right places, see the right people and have the best information possible. It’s all encompassing. I could go on for hours about what we do, but what it comes down to is a mixture between the personnel side/the recruiting side, where I deal with kids, talk to them, text them, all that. And then there is the aspect of the data, gathering it, compiling it, getting it into our system, making sure it is correct, sending out mailers, all those things. It’s also about getting to know kids, but on a data side. So this job is the combination of the two – one side with people, one side with data.”
Bennett originally was on track to be an on-field coach. When an injury ended his playing career after his freshman season at Birmingham-Southern College, he became a student-assistant and eventually a graduate assistant coach, first for GSC, then at Florida, Louisville and Texas.
Brown’s offer of a job as the director of player personnel at Troy in 2015 changed Bennett’s course, though.
“Most of my life I’ve paid attention to the recruiting aspect, so when the opportunity presented itself, it seemed a perfect fit,” note Bennett, who is McGill-Toolen Catholic High School grad. “It was an avenue to become a full-time employee. It was also a job where I could have some say-so and influence, and that’s something I wanted. It’s worked out really well for me. I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a hectic world, and it’s completely different than coaching, but it’s fun.”
Bennett seems to fit the requirements for his job perfectly. He holds bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in sports management, both from the University of Louisville, and he’s also easy-going and personable.
“I can get along with anybody,” he said. “I tend to gravitate towards people, and that fits the recruiting process. You can’t do this unless you have good people skills, and I feel I do.”
The move from Troy to West Virginia means changes for Brown, as well as Bennett, but when it comes to recruiting, the differences aren’t as great as many would assume.
“People ask if the recruiting here, because it’s a Power 5 school, is harder than it was at Troy. Well, not really,” said the director of player personnel. “We recruited good football players there, and we’re recruiting good football players here, though they are on the next tier. But we’re doing the same style of recruiting. We have to be really active. We have to call and text and send graphics on a daily basis. In most aspects, it’s not much difference.”
(In our next installment, we’ll look at West Virginia’s recruiting during the recently completed spring evaluation period.)