Big surprise there. But if the performance by his Pittsburgh defense against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl was his swan song, it couldn't have been much better. Well, I guess the Panthers could have shut out OSU, but with a totally inept offense to cover for from the outset Pitt was nearly perfect on defense.
Bennett has not moved his family permanently to Pittsburgh, and that has led some to surmise that he was a short-termer with the Panthers. But his wife, Julie, has a good job in Texas, and his daughter, Maddie, is a high school senior there. So, it wasn't smart to pack them up and move them just yet.
But the truth is that Bennett has not actively been seeking employment elsewhere. Sure, he'd likely take a position if it were the right fit for him. Who wouldn't? Some believed that would be at Kansas State, where Bennett coached previously. But he actually declined the opportunity to join Bill Snyder at K-State. There are other openings, but who says Bennett will be considered or even want those jobs?
"He told us that he has some unfinished business here with us,'' Pitt safety Dom DeCicco said before the bowl game. "And that's great, because Coach Bennett and Coach (Jeff) Hafley, they've done a great job with our secondary and our defense. We've come a long way this year.''
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt understands that football coaches move around. Few stay together as long as some staffs, while others are like mercenaries and change allegiances quite often. Wannstedt also noted that since the Pitt football program is on an upswing and has had some success, it could lose a coach or two each year as they would be in demand.
Bennett and Wannstedt talked about the progress of Pitt's defense prior to the bowl game.
"As the year went on, I think it got better and it got better,'' Wannstedt said. "Any time there's a change and a transition, and Phil's got the toughest job on the team. The toughest thing is being a coordinator of the position that's the same thing that the head coach coaches.
"So, we didn't want to change much, but we wanted to do what we needed to do to get better. So, there was a balancing act, and I thought he did a very good job with that. And I think things got better as time went on, and I anticipate our communication will continue to improve.''
Wannstedt also hinted at some changes this spring.
"We're looking at maybe juggling some things around for the spring,'' Wannstedt said. "Jeff Hafley is the secondary coach, but when I hired Phil the intent was to have him be freed up to bounce around. And I think we'll get more into that as he gets more comfortable and so do I.''
If he stays with the program. There's also some question about offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, whose play-calling was inconsistent at best this season and awful at most. A program needs stability with its coaching staff, especially as it rebuilds. And Pitt could lose both coordinators.
In Cavanaugh's case, he could be asked to move on. When things were going well on offense this past season, he was able to utilize all the talent he was given. However, when the Panthers struggled, there were few if any adjustments made. And the quarterback play did not improve.
Starter Bill Stull only completed a handful of passes and had two turnovers in the Sun Bowl. At the very least, he likely will be asked to compete for the No. 1 spot again this spring with redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri, juniors Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith and senior Greg Cross. Stull will be a fifth-year senior.
"I'm not really looking that far ahead,'' Stull said after the Sun Bowl. "I'm confident in my abilities but, obviously, I just didn't show it.''
There were other issues, of course. Pitt's offensive line had major issues blocking Oregon State's defensive ends. The Panthers need a full spring with its offensive line intact, so Jason Pinkston's health will be a concern. And when the O-line was able to keep OSU away from Stull, either the pass was inaccurate or the wideouts were not open.
Wannstedt addressed that after the game as well.
"We didn't protect well enough,'' Wannstedt said. "We got knocked around at the line of scrimmage. They pressed us, and our routes were not clean. When we did have an opportunity to make some throws and catches, particularly on deep balls, our accuracy was not where we needed to be.''
These areas must improve for the Panthers to take advantage of tailback LeSean McCoy's talents, should he maintain his position that he's returning for another season. All indications are that he will return.
However, if he doesn't, that'll be another issue for Pitt to deal with this spring.
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