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Longtime college coordinator Phil Bennett to take over Arizona State defense

Phil Bennett will become the new defensive coordinator at Arizona State.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has agreed to turn over the program's defensive coordinating and play calling duties to longtime college coach Phil Bennett according to multiple sources. 

After meeting with coaches in Nashville earlier in the week at the American Football Coaches Association convention, Bennett flew to Phoenix Tuesday in order to finalize his acceptance of the job with the Sun Devils. 

“I’ve known Todd Graham for a long time and I love his passion for the game of football,” Bennett said. “It’s like any situation in that I think I can help get ASU back to championship football. I’ve watched them play and I know ASU is not far away. The program has great support from its administration and fan base. I’m very excited to begin this part of my life." 

Bennett, who most recently coordinated the defense at Baylor from 2011-2016, has nearly 40 years of college coaching experience. At earlier stages of his career he was the defensive coordinator at Iowa State, Purdue, LSU, TCU, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Pitt.

"With that amount of experience in conferences such as the SEC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Big East he has had to game plan to defend every offense imaginable," Graham said of Bennett. "He has been associated with successful defenses everywhere he’s been. We are very fortunate to have him bring his level of experience to the Sun Devil program.

Bennett, 62, spent the last six years coaching at Baylor, where the team won at least 10 games in four of the last six seasons. 

Football Scoop first reported news of Bennett's addition to Graham's staff at ASU. ASU officially announced the hire on Wednesday afternoon.

Existing defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will remain with ASU's staff as the linebackers coach, per program sources. An ASU source also indicated Patterson has been considering retirement for some weeks. 

Graham's overhaul of the ASU defense comes following the Sun Devils' consecutive losing seasons in 2015 and 2016 that included the nation's worst passing defense in yards allowed in each year. 

The Sun Devils' finished 127th in total defense in 2016 after allowing an average of 521.7 yards per game, including an FBS-worst 357.4 yards per game through the air. The 357.4 passing yards allowed per game is the second-worst mark recorded since the NCAA began tracking the stat, as only the Cal Bears' 2014 defense allowed more passing yards per game.

Despite finishing last in the FBS in passing yards per game in 2015 when the Sun Devils allowed an average of 337.8 passing yards per game, ASU regressed and allowed an average of nearly 20 yards per game more in 2016. The Sun Devils also dropped off in scoring defense and total defense, as the program finished 113th in the FBS in total defense in 2015 after allowing an average of 463.9 yards per game.

In 2016, Bennett's Baylor unit ranked 81st in total defense, the program's worst mark since 2013, when the Bears finished 123rd nationally in total defense. After finishing 116th in total defense in 2011 and 123rd in 2012, Baylor experienced a significant turnaround in 2013 when the Bears finished 27th nationally in total defense, 36th in scoring defense and 34th in passing defense under Bennett's watch. 

However, after the turnaround, the Bears began to regress annually, ranking 51st in total defense in 2014, 61st in 2015 and 81st in 2016. 

Despite finishing 81st in total defense in 2016, the Bears surrendered just 5.4 yards per play, which tied for 41st nationally and marked a full 1.7-yard per play improvement over ASU's 2016 defense, which finished 127th in the FBS after allowing 7.1 yards per play.

Under Bennett's leadership, Baylor finished in the top 50 nationally in each of the past four years in average yards per play allowed, including in 2013 when the Bears finished 10th nationally, allowing just 4.8 yards per play. In 2014, the Bears finished 42nd in average yards per play allowed, but Baylor climbed 10 spots to finish 32nd in the country in 2015.

Bennett's pressure-oriented scheme is geared toward forcing turnovers, as the Bears finished in the top 40 nationally in takeaways five times between 2011 and 2016. In 2011, 2013 and 2015, Bennett's defense finished in the top-25 in takeaways, which played a pivotal role in the helping the Bears win 50 games between 2011 and 2015.

Between 2013 and 2015, 23 Bears' defensive players earned All-Big 12 honors, including First Team All-American and Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Andrew Billings. Billings is one of 54 players who have gone on to an NFL career after playing under Bennett. 

In 2013, Bennett's defense led the nation in three-and-outs, recording an average of 6.38 three-and-outs per game.

Prior to arriving at Baylor, Bennett spent three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and six seasons as the head coach at Southern Methodist. 

SMU is Bennett's only head coaching stop during his career, and during his tenure with the Mustangs, he recorded an overall record of 18-51. After winning just six games in his first three seasons on the job, Bennett won five games in 2005 before helping SMU record its highest-win total in a decade when the Mustangs became bowl-eligible during a 6-6 2006 campaign. Following the 2006 season, though, Bennett's Mustangs went just 1-11 in his last year with the program in 2007.  

Bennett's hiring at ASU marks his first time coaching in the Pac-12 and his first coaching position west of Texas. 

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