Brian Bennett, The Man Who Oversees WVU’s Football Recruiting – Part 5
(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 also took a deep dive into WVU’s recruiting, which is the aspect of the program he oversees.
This is the fifth in a series of articles with Bennett on what West Virginia’s football recruiting will look like in the Neal Brown era.
Today we’ll focus on the Mountaineers’ recruiting process and how it differs from Troy.)
* * * * * *
West Virginia’s first-year football coach Neal Brown and his staff were very successful at Troy University, posting a 35-16 record in their four years with the Trojans, which included a 31-8 mark the past three seasons.
A football program doesn’t do that without talent, and Brian Bennett oversaw the recruitment of that talent from 2015-18 at Troy as the Trojans’ director of player personnel, a position he now holds at WVU.
Troy had some great accomplishments in the Brown era, which also included upsets at LSU in 2017 and Nebraska in 2018.
But admittedly as a mid-major school, there were some things the budget at Troy didn’t allow that West Virginia’s Power 5 finances can permit.
“There are a bunch of resources here that I just didn’t have before,” said Bennett when asked of the differences between Troy and West Virginia. “There are even databases and software that we have now that I didn’t have before. Troy did everything within its power to make things as functional and as good as possible. That’s a great place, and we were really successful there because we had great people around us, people who cared. We did as much as we could every day. We got as much we could out of what we had. Those were great people who did all they could to help us.
“But here there are just bodies and more money. We have more recruiting software and more databases. We have things I just didn’t have access to at Troy. That helps us see more kids and get more names early. We also have a lot more social media help here. We have one of the best social media teams in the country. We’re in the top 10 nationally across a lot of different platforms. That’s pretty cool, because it means we’re being seen. If a kid logs on to Twitter, they are constantly seeing the WV. It’s in their head, and that matters in recruiting.
“The support and the personnel we have here is unbelievable,” Bennett stated. “The two recruiting coordinators (Casey Smithson and Scott Gasper) and the on-campus recruiting coordinator (Katie Biusto) are outstanding. We also have interns and people working in the office, and they all help us do our job better. It helps me in that before I was doing my job well, and now I can do it really well. Instead of doing 20 things well, I’m doing 10 things really well. Other people are doing those other 10 things really well for me. I’m getting to spend more time on the evaluation process; I’m getting to spend more time on the research process. Katie Guisto, who we just hired as our on-campus recruiting coordinator, she’s going to handle and organize the visits for the prospects who come here. That’s a big thing that has just been wiped from my slate. That’s a couple hours every day that I can do something else. The sheer number of staff members helps improve the things we’re doing. It’s been great.”
While Brown’s offense isn’t a huge change from the one Dana Holgorsen previously employed at WVU, the 4-2-5 scheme West Virginia is switching to under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is a great deal different than what the Mountaineers had used under its former D.C., Tony Gibson.
“The 3-3 stack puts a bunch of linebackers on the field, and it gives you three bigger bodies in the defensive line,” Bennett explained of WVU’s previous defensive scheme. “With the hybrid 4-2, we do a little bit of three-down stuff, and we do a little of everything. We have a bandit position that didn’t really exist in the old defense. That bandit is kind of a hybrid ‘backer and d-end. So recruiting that body type is important for us. There is a lot of that body type out there, and now we have to go recruit that body type, which is a pass rusher who can stand up and do a little of everything.
“Our nickel/spear is a guy who would have been a smaller linebacker in the previous defense,” added Bennett. “He needs to have the ability to cover and do some things in space.
“We’re going to focus on the core of the football team, which is the offensive and defensive lines,” he noted. “We won a lot of games at Troy because we were really good up front on both sides of the ball. Those players fought, and they were great kids, and that was a big reason we won. We beat people up with our offensive line and did the same thing with our defensive line. So, we’re going to focus on that. We’re going to sign good defensive linemen, and we’re going to sign good offensive linemen. We can’t miss on those. That really drives you as a program.”
Koenning’s 4-2-5 will call for changes when it comes to recruiting, because it puts more emphasis on some area and less on others.
“The position we will have less of is linebacker,” explained Bennett. “In the line, we go end, nose and three-technique. Those would have been the two ends and nose in the previous defense. Our end may be a little different because he’s not going to be in a four-I or four-technique. He’s going to bump out to the edge, which means he can be a longer, leaner athlete. Then you have two bigger bodies inside with your nose and three-technique. So, those positions are a little different from the old defense to the one we’re using now, but not much.
“We have a lot of guys on this team now who can fit into those positions, and they’ve done a good job learning the new stuff,” continued Bennett, who is a native of Mobile, Alabama. “Our end is a little different than what it was in the past, and our noses are even a little different, because they’ve got to move and angle. They’re rarely in a zero (head up on the center). The three-technique also is a little different. He’s in a true three, rather than in a four-I or four. So, those body types may be a little different, but not much. When you find guys in high school, usually you see them and say, ‘He’s an end that might grow into a three,’ or ‘He’s a bandit who might grow into an end.’ You never know. The key is getting good athletes and building them into what we want them to be.”
As the Mountaineers search for future players, they also must figure out exactly what they have at the present. It’s more than just how many are at each position, but how many actually can play at a high level. For example, it doesn’t matter if a team has a dozen returning receivers if only two are good enough to help WVU win in the Big 12. That evaluation changes the program’s recruiting needs.
Though West Virginia’s staff has worked six months with the current team, it’s still getting a handle on exactly what it has.
“Our guys did a great job in the spring,” Bennett said of the Mountaineer players. “They want to be successful, and they bought in, for the most part. So, I’m really excited about the group we have here now. We just have to build upon it. The numbers and what we need at each position is fluid. We have a set number for each position right now. I have that on paper right now, and I have another paper that tells me what that number is for each year going forward. But that’s fluid. It may change – I wouldn’t say it will change on a daily basis but it will on a weekly or monthly basis. That’s also based on what we see when we’re out there recruiting. For instance, if we see a really deep crop of interior defensive linemen, that may shift our number because we need good players there, so we may take more than we originally intended. Our numbers are dependent on the recruits available and what we have on our current team. So our numbers are constantly changing. We have a set number and feel good about it. Our coaches need to know those numbers when they go on the road, because they need to know what they’re recruiting. But that number is subject to change.”
(In our next installment, we’ll look at the Mountaineers’ recruiting process in regards to the recent rules changes.)