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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

SMU's Bennett juggles roles of single parent, rookie coach

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

BOISE, Idaho — By the dawn's early light, Phil Bennett is awake, preparing breakfast for his two children.

SMU coach Phil Bennett, who lost his wife to a tragic accident three years ago, is raising a 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

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After driving the car pool, he goes to his office at Southern Methodist University, where he is the first-year head football coach.

Every night, he is at home to eat dinner with his 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

"I have two beautiful children, and they count on me," said Bennett, who is coping as a single parent following the stunning death of his wife of 15 years in August 1999. Nancy Bennett was struck by lightning and killed during a morning jog in Manhattan, Kan.

"It was truly a blur, an absolute blur," Bennett said of the news.

Suddenly, Bennett was left to mourn, raise two kids, and serve as Kansas State's defensive coordinator.

Being a single parent, he said, has "been the most humbling thing I've ever been through. It's given me a great appreciation of mothers. I was involved in raising my children, but my wife would go to the PTA meetings. I had the best job in the world. All I had to do was coach and come home and enjoy them."

Bennett said he played the role of "good cop" while Nancy dispensed the discipline. "Now I play both roles," he said. "To be quite honest, it's quite challenging."

Bennett, who was raised in Texas, said he received "tremendous support" in Manhattan. "I could have stayed there forever," he said.

But he said could not pass up the opportunity to become the head coach at SMU, located in downtown Dallas. "Nancy's parents are 30 minutes away," he said. "My brother (Jim) is a (high school) head coach there. I got to hire my other brother (Jerry), who was a longtime high school coach."

Bennett, who is here for the Western Athletic Conference Media Football Preview, said, "time management is crucial for me." He is trying to revive a Mustang program that has struggled in recent years.

"People ask me if this affects my time," he said. "Well, yeah. If I'm not with my children, I'm coaching. I don't have time for anything else. I don't play golf anymore. ... I tell people I have two passions: my children and getting this program going.

"I take them to school. I see them every night. I'm going to be there. I wouldn't have taken this job if I couldn't be there."

During this three-day trip, Bennett has kept in constant contact with his family.

"I'm almost calling my kids every 30 minutes," he said, laughing. "My daughter said, 'Dad, we're fine. Leave us alone. We're playing.' ... I've had a lot of people help me. You find when you go through something like this how many good people there are in all aspects of life. I've had so many people be so kind to me and my children."