|Successful coach leaves high-flying school to build program|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 13 April 2007 22:37|
It's an unlikely place to find one of South Carolina's more storied football coaches, but Bobby Bentley has returned to his alma mater with big plans for success. ``I like making a mark on something,'' Bentley said recently during spring practices, which conclude this weekend. ``I thought I could make a difference here.''
Bentley's mark is still clearly etched on James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan. He led the school to four state championships in 12 seasons, coached stars such as Prince Miller and Willy Korn to major Division I teams, and turned the Rebels into the state's most dynamic and high profile program.
Then, in January, Bentley surprisingly ended his high school run - but not to join a major college staff like Clemson's, where rumors had been pointing him over the years. Instead, Bentley agreed to guide the small Division II school with modest resources into the waters of NCAA Division I-AA.
The move staggered Byrnes' supporters and left others shaking their heads: Why walk away from what could have been among the most successful and famed prep coaching careers in South Carolina history?
``He had guys that told him he was crazy to leave, once you get something established like that,'' said Jeff Scott, Presbyterian's receivers coach.
Bentley's been asked the question so often the past three months, he's got a ready answer.
``I knew we had a dynasty, you could say, going at Byrnes,'' he said. ``But the Lord opens doors and He closes doors. I just thought this was something I was called to do.''
Challenges are not new to Bentley. Byrnes hadn't won a state championship for nearly two decades until Bentley led them to one in 2002 - and then repeated each of the next three years. Miller was the state's ``Mr. Football'' in 2005. Korn is Clemson's highest regarded quarterback recruit in years. The Rebels matched up against Cincinnati's powerful Moeller High and Florida's Belle Glades Central this past season, and have been fixtures in national rankings much of this decade.
Bentley sees the same eventually happening for Presbyterian, a liberal arts college with an enrollment of about 1,200 that won the Division II South Atlantic Conference and reached the NCAA playoffs in 2005.
The hurdles seem high. The football team is budgeted for 40 scholarships, 23 fewer than the best I-AA teams offer. The department's total operating budget is around $7 million, nowhere near what some leading schools at its new level spend.
Bentley hasn't totally left behind his high-school past. He talks regularly with Korn and other former players. He still lives near the high school, and drops his three older boys off at elementary school before his roughly 40-minute ride to Presbyterian.
Korn, during a recent spring practice at Clemson, said it was weird to not think of Bentley at Byrnes.
``He was the program,'' Korn said. ``He's been like a father. It's sad to see him leave because everyone loved him so much.''
Bentley does have some time to ramp things up at his new job. Presbyterian annouced last April it would join the Division I-AA Big South Conference, which features NCAA playoff participant Coastal Carolina. While all Presbyterian athletic teams will play a full league schedule in 2008-09, the football team can't compete for a title until 2011 as it transitions to the higher division.
But he's already begun improvements. The practice fields will be leveled out by fall. An apparel agreement with Nike will outfit the program. He's got 50 freshmen coming in this summer to boost the Blue Hose roster. By the time Presbyterian can challenge for the Big South crown, Bentley hopes for an additional 10 scholarships.
Still, Bentley acts as if he's on a one-coach crusade to raise money and expectations for Presbyterian football. He's got a regular blog on www.greenvilleonline.com and he's the featured speaker at so many gatherings and meetings that athletic director William ``Bee'' Carlton has to rein things in to prevent burnout.
The coach's drive is infecting his new players, too. Quarterback Grayson Mullins said Bentley has showed ``enthusiasm and his confidence.''
``When you have a confident coach, it makes everybody confident,'' Mullins said.
Next year's 11-game schedule will see the Blue Hose on the road for eight games, and includes Division I-AA playoff teams Coastal Carolina and Furman.
``I guess next year's schedule will tell whether I made a good decision or not,'' Bentley said with a smile.