Graphic By Charles Nailen/The Hoya Head Coach Bob Benson and the Paulus brothers are all determined to reshape the face of Georgetown football.

Men and women spend years, even lifetimes attempting to create something tangible, a working model of a vision that has captivated their minds for years. For Head Football Coach Bob Benson that vision is a clear one: Bring the Georgetown community together through the game of football.

The seeds for this grand vision took root in Benson’s head before he ever took over as head coach at Georgetown. As defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins, Benson visited the campus several times when the two teams played for the first time in 1990.

“I was always under the impression that Georgetown was just a great college atmosphere. I kind of envisioned it as the perfect place to spend four years,” Benson said, recalling his first memories of the Hilltop.

Two years later Benson found himself at Georgetown as the program’s head coach at age 28.

The age disparity, or lack there of, between him and his team was nothing new for Benson. Benson’s career as a collegiate coach began under head coach Bob Ford at Albany State while Benson was pursuing his master’s degree there. Benson served as a defensive backs coach, effectively beginning his collegiate coaching career at the age of 21.

“The entire defensive backfield was probably older than I was,” Benson said.

In 1988, Benson left Albany State to take a job under future-Yale Head Coach John Siedlecki at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. At WPI Benson served as the defensive coordinator and defensive backfield coach. Siedlecki met Benson when he was a graduate assistant for Ford at Albany State, where Siedlecki himself had gotten his coaching start 10 years earlier. Siedlecki was quite impressed by the youngster, noting his “upbeat attitude and enthusiasm.”

“He was the first person I ever hired and I still believe that is one of the best decisions I have ever made as a head coach,” Siedlecki said.

After spending the 1990-1992 seasons as the defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins Benson accepted the head coaching job in 1993 at Georgetown, where his youth was the least of his worries.

Upon his arrival, the program was in shambles. In an article this summer for the American Football Coaches Association’s Summer Manual, Benson discussed the journey the Georgetown football team has undergone in the past eight years.

“Our football staff inherited a program that was probably one meeting from being discontinued,” Benson said in the article.

Instead, Benson rallied the forces in the athletic department and along with then-Athletic Director Frank Rienzo and a small group of alumni, prepared his team for the 1993 season.

Further adding to the challenges ahead of him, 1993 would be the team’s first year in Division I-AA. Previously the team had been playing a Division III schedule since the program regained its varsity status in 1969. However, along with many other Division I schools, Georgetown was forced to transition their football team to a I-AA schedule to meet certain eligibility rules set by the NCAA. In addition to the step up in competition, Benson and his staff faced several other problems with the team which he outlined in his article for the AFCA.

“1.) Very few people cared about football at Georgetown. 2.) Our image as a team on campus was very poor. 3.) We had below average facilities. 4.) We had very little depth and needed to hit the recruiting trail in a hurry. 5.) [We had] a head coach, at the age of 28, who often wondered what he was doing. 6.) [We played in] a conference which only allowed one full-time assistant coach,” Benson listed.

In order to turn the program around, Benson and his staff wanted to show the university how his football team could make “positive contributions” to the campus. Thus, they set out to “establish accountability and discipline” in their players. Additionally, they put a strong emphasis on the academic side of college as well as the athletic, upgraded their schedule, touched base with alumni, stepped up their recruitment efforts and educated the university leaders and community about football.

The remaining and ultimate item on the list stands out for its simplicity. One word that would define this new era in Georgetown football, one word actualized by Benson’s 53-28 record as a head coach: Win.

In his first season at Georgetown, Benson and the Hoyas turned in a record of 4-5. It would be Georgetown’s last losing season for six years.

In 1994, the team improved to 5-4, in 1995 to 6-3, 1996 to 7-3 – each and every year taking strides to improve the program through strong recruiting classes. Players like running back Steve Iorio (COL ’98), quarterback J.J. Mont (MSB ’00) and wide receiver Gharun Hester (COL ’01) became common names on campus and throughout the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference.

In 1997, with a record of 8-3 the Hoyas claimed the MAAC Championship, in 1998 and 1999 Georgetown would repeat as co-champions with consecutive records of 9-2. Perhaps just as important as the championships, however was that Georgetown was turning in incredibly successful seasons with more difficult schedules each year.

In 1995, Benson approached the athletic department about the possibility of scheduling Fordham and Holy Cross for the 1996 season. The larger foes dominated their smaller challenger. Fordham defeated the Hoyas by a score of 46-6 while Holy Cross prevailed 45-36 in the last game of the season.

It was only two years later, however that Holy Cross found themselves on the losing side of the final score – a pass from Mont to Hester secured the 13-12 last minute Homecoming comeback victory for the Hoyas and gave Georgetown its first victory against a Patriot League opponent in the modern era. The next season, Georgetown again squared off against Holy Cross. This time the Hoyas battered the Crusaders 34-16 in Worcester.

It was during these seasons that Benson’s vision came further into focus.

“I always thought that Georgetown should compete against peer institutions. I always thought that Georgetown should have those autumn afternoons on a Saturday that the Ivies had, that flavor, that atmosphere, that sense of school spirit, that sense of community. That is what drove me to see if we could get this program lined up,” Benson said.

The decision to move to the Patriot League was not solely to improve the football team, but to improve Georgetown as a whole. Universities such as Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame, all institutions on the same academic level as Georgetown, have met with large athletic success with this “unity through athletics.” Support for their schools’ athletic teams has led to an increased sense of school pride, weaving a tighter atmosphere of campus unity as well as increasing their respective endowments.

“The game of football can really change the environment,” Benson said.

However, the road has not been and will not be an easy one. Thus far in 2001, the Hoyas are 0-3 and have yet to win a game against a Patriot League opponent. The closest the team has come to a victory this season was a 26-point loss to Holy Cross, and tomorrow the prospects of a win do not get any brighter as Georgetown faces Duquesne, the team with the highest winning percentage in all of Division I-AA football over the last five years.

Additionally, Benson says that the challenges presented from the move to the Patriot League are far different from those present when he first signed on in 1993. Instead of simply recruiting and grooming the best team possible, Benson says now the focus has turned to fund raising.

“There’s nothing that I do now that doesn’t involve raising money,” Benson said.

“When I first got hired here, it wasn’t an issue of raising money, we didn’t need money. I just needed to see if we could get anybody, any kids or anyone on this campus to care about football and try to put together a product that maybe resembled what a football product was supposed to look like,” Benson said.

The football team and the athletic department alone are being left with the responsibility of raising the $25 million to construct a stadium in the center of campus. However, Benson was very appreciative of Former University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., and has continued to be so during the tenure of current President John J. DeGioia as well as Athletic Director Joe Lang for their support of the program’s upgrade.

The proposed stadium would be a vast improvement from Kehoe Field, a facility Benson called “one of the worst in the nation.” Such massive improvements and the financial campaign necessary to launch them will likely absorb much of Benson’s and the athletic department’s time in the near future.

“It’s an investment, but I think it will get a tremendous return if people are patient. It’s unbelievable the support up in New York, people on Wall Street talking to their buddies from Cornell or Holy Cross or Lehigh and now Georgetown is playing them. And that type of pride that we can bring to this campus is something that I think cannot be underestimated.”

Benson has not backed away from these new challenges, be it fund raising or producing victories. Nor has he shown any signs of leaving the program before his vision is realized. Throughout his successful tenure at Georgetown, Benson says he has received multiple job offers from more prestigious programs, but has elected to stay put.

“His loyalty is second to none,” Siedlecki said. “He has the ability to put his heart and soul into everything he does and not be afraid of failure. No one works harder for Georgetown or represents Georgetown better than Bob Benson.”

How long it will take until the Hoyas will compete annually for the Patriot League title is anyone’s guess. The team’s effectiveness will largely be determined by future recruiting classes, which in turn will hinge on the construction of a proposed new stadium facility in the center of campus.

However long it takes, Benson is determined to see that vision fulfilled.

“I’m obssesed,” Benson said. “I almost feel like it’s why I’m here.”

“I’m still 36 years old. I’m still a young fool, but we’re going to do this.”

You can’t help but feel the sincerity of his words. You can see it in his eyes when time and again he gazes into the distance as he describes his vision. You can hear it in the way his voice gets a little warmer as he relates his dream.

It is in those miniscule details that you can tell that Bob Benson is in this for the long run. That he is absolutely determined to one day stand at the 50-yard line, turn around and absorb the sight of a stadium packed with navy blue-clad students, faculty and other members of the community all rallying around its team, his team, one golden autumn day.

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