Pitt hires former SMU coach Bennett as defensive coordinator

Updated: February 4, 2008, 5:47 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PITTSBURGH -- Former Southern Methodist head coach Phil Bennett, fired with four games remaining last season, was hired Monday as Pitt's defensive coordinator.

Bennett, a longtime acquaintance of Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, replaces Paul Rhoads, who held the job for eight seasons under Wannstedt and former coach Walt Harris before leaving last month for the same job at Auburn.

"I'm incredibly excited to be part of what is happening here and look forward to helping the program continue its climb, both in the Big East and nationally," Bennett said.

The hiring was first reported by ESPN.com's Joe Schad.

Pitt was 5-7 last season, its third consecutive losing record under Wannstedt, but finished with a 13-9 win over then-No. 2 West Virginia -- one of the biggest upsets in school history.

The 52-year-old Bennett had an 18-52 record in six seasons at SMU, where he was dismissed Oct. 28 following a 1-7 start. Bennett stayed on to finish out a 1-11 season before being replaced by former Hawaii coach June Jones.

The 1-11 record was a major disappointment for SMU, a one-time power that has struggled since shutting down its program from 1986-88. SMU was coming off a 6-6 record in 2006, but allowed an average of 39.8 points last season, third-most among the 119 Division I-A programs.

Before taking the SMU job in 2001, Bennett was the defensive coordinator at Kansas State for three seasons and coached the secondary at Oklahoma. Bennett also was the defensive coordinator at TCU, LSU, Texas A&M, Purdue and Iowa State.

During his playing career, Bennett was a defensive end at Texas A&M.

Wannstedt also considered Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso, the former Duquesne coach, and Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, a former star linebacker at Pitt. Wannstedt has one remaining staff opening, a receivers coach.

Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.