Kelly was most recently a special team’s coordinator and linebackers coach at Navy.

The face of the Georgetown football program is changing. Out is Bob Benson. In is Kevin Kelly.

Head Football Coach Bob Benson resigned Tuesday, Dec. 20, according to a university statement. Benson led the Georgetown football program to prominence early in his 13-year tenure, but recently struggled in the more competitive Patriot League, ending the 2005 campaign with a 4-7 (2-4 Patriot League) record.

Athletic Director Bernard Muir announced the news in a press release, saying only, “We are grateful for Bob’s service and guidance during his time here. He guided the program when we first started at the I-AA level and to our current spot in the Patriot League. We wish him well in his future pursuits.”

The Athletic Department declined to comment beyond its original statement, and Benson was unavailable for an interview.

To some, the news of Benson’s departure was shocking. To others, it was inevitable. But to everyone, it was a sign that, for better or for worse, the Georgetown football program is about to undergo significant changes.

In what was termed a “national search for a new head coach,” Muir chose Kelly, most recently special team’s coordinator and linebackers coach at Navy, on Jan. 9 to assume the head coaching position.

“I’m excited to have Kevin join us here at Georgetown,” Muir said in a press release. “He has had tremendous success in every stop he’s made and we think he’s going to be a great fit for the university.”

To say Kelly was pleased to get the job would be an understatement.

“It’s special,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. . Four years ago I made a decision [to go from defensive coordinator at Marshall to a position coach at Navy in order to position himself to get a job as a head coach in the Ivy or Patriot leagues]. The script that I hoped would come true did come true.”

Muir was not kidding when he said Kelly has tremendous experience. During Kelly’s four years at the Naval Academy, Head Coach Paul Johnson and his staff transformed the Midshipmen from a program in shambles (In 2001 and 2002 combined, Navy was 1-20) to a team that appeared in three straight bowls from 2003-2005.

Prior to working at Navy, Kelly was the defensive coordinator at arshall. The Thundering Heard won a bowl game in each of Kelly’s two seasons with the team.

What’s more, Kelly was with Marshall from 1996-1998, a period in which the team moved from Division I-AA to I-A. He is no stranger to teams in transition, and his experience should help the Hoyas turn the corner in the Patriot League.

Indeed, Kelly knows well the nomadic life of a college football assistant coach. A graduate of Springfield College in assachusetts, he has also coached at Syracuse (defensive backfield coach, 1999, and assistant linebackers coach, 1986-88), Dartmouth (offensive backfield and linebackers coach, 1991), Northeastern (1989), Bowdoin (1998), and Southern Connecticut State (1984-85). His first coaching position was at Massachusetts’ Longmeadow High in 1981.

Kelly will take the helm of a struggling football program, but despite recent difficulties, it could be hard to ignore what Benson did for the Georgetown program. Benson joined the Hoyas prior to the 1993 season, Georgetown’s first as a Division I program, becoming at age 28 the youngest head coach in the entire division. The university had just finished a 4-6 season in Division III.

Benson’s Hoyas improved in each of his first six seasons. After going 4-5 in his inaugural campaign, the Hoyas topped the .500 mark in 1994, finishing 5-4 and third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

From there, improved recruiting and firm commitment from Benson spurred the Hoyas to 6-3, 7-3, 8-3, 9-2, and 9-2 performances in each of the next five seasons. They either won outright, or in a tie, the MAAC in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Georgetown football was on the map.

Following the 1999 season, the Hoyas were at the top of their game, and with the new millennium in sight, many saw a bright future for the new Division I program.

It was then decided that Georgetown would spend one season as an independent before making the jump to the more competitive Patriot League for the 2001 season, a move that Benson supported whole-heartedly.

“We will be playing academically peer institutions and playing at a level of football that will challenge us week in and week out,” Benson said to THE HOYA at the time. “The Patriot League is the perfect niche for the football program. It is the perfect setting and place for this program to be in. It is where we should be – playing Patriot League schools, playing Ivy League schools. It is a great move to give the student body more spirit on a weekend. Patriot League and Ivy competition will do that.”

Since the 2001 move the Hoyas have struggled, albeit with a significantly more challenging schedule. They have yet to finish over .500 in Patriot League play, and this season’s two league victories were tied for the most since making the jump.

Still, as he made the decision to resign, Benson was coming off of a 4-7 (2-4) campaign that was an improvement upon 2004’s 4-8 (1-6). The campus’ new Multi-Sport Facility is coming along nicely, if slowly, and the team’s schedule is full of Georgetown’s academic peers. In a December interview with THE HOYA after the 2005 season, Benson seemed upbeat about what the two Patriot League victories meant for the program’s progression.

“We got to .500 [after a Homecoming win against Fordham]. It showed we are progressing as a program,” he said.

The football program has recently faced difficulties not only with its mediocre season records, but also with its funding, which has lagged behind that of its Patriot League peers.

As of 2003-04, the latest year for which financial records are publicly available, Georgetown spent over $1.2 million on the football team while receiving a mere $385,000 in revenue. Patriot League foes like Holy Cross, Colgate and Lehigh, meanwhile, spent in the $2.5 to $3.5 million range and profited or almost broke even.

“When I first got hired here, it wasn’t an issue of raising money, we didn’t need money,” Benson said in 2001. “I just needed to see if we could get anybody, any kids or anyone on this campus to care about football. . There’s nothing that I do now that doesn’t involve raising money.”

Though Kelly has not been a head coach, he is ready for the challenges presented by fundraising. “I have some experience with the fundraising but I do understand it’s a part of the job,” he said. “As far as the budget is concerned, the biggest challenge here is the pay scale for coaches, but if you do some research, and are thorough in your search process, you’ll find people that are attracted to Georgetown, and they are. It’s amazing how many people want to work at Georgetown.”

Additionally, Kelly was upbeat about the work done by his predecessor. “Coach Benson has done a terrific job here,” he said. “[Benson] was here for 13 years and he brought this program from a Division III and introduced us to the Patriot League. The way I look at this thing is that I’m taking the baton and moving the program forward. He did some terrific things here and I hope just to build upon that.”

Benson took the Hoyas from Division III mediocrity, to stunning success in low level I-AA, to a higher level of I-AA. Now, fingers are crossed on the Hilltop that Kelly can be the man that leads the team to the top.

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