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Bennett looks to turn around football program

New head football coach Woody Bennett won a state title at Philomath in 1988

by: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Woody Bennett

When you talk to him, Woody Bennett exudes a quiet confidence. Named last week as Crook County High School's new head football coach the 65-year-old Bennett is looking to turn around a football program that has recently fallen on hard times.
   Bennett replaces Shea Little, who resigned in November following three seasons at Crook County. Little's teams were 1-20 in the Intermountain Conference and 4-23 overall in his three years as head coach.
   Bennett, a former marine who served in Vietnam, has been a volunteer assistant coach at Bend High School for the last 11 years.
   "I've been watching this team for a long time," said Bennett. "Every time we would play them I would just shake my head. You would think that if a kid can wrestle, if a kid can ride bulls and steer wrestle they can play football. I've asked Steve Turner (former CCHS head football coach, and current Mountain View head coach) what is wrong with the program. They have good work ethic. I think has it been the chemistry? Has it been an offense that didn't quite click with the size of the young men? I don't know, but I'm going to find out and hopefully I can make some changes."
   Bennett started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Dee Andros at Oregon State. From there he has coached the Beavers' rugby club for 14 seasons. After assistant football coaching jobs at Lebanon, and Crescent Valley, Bennett became the head football coach at Philomath in 1985.
   At Philomath Bennett took over a program that had been to the state playoffs only once in its school history, but Bennett quickly changed that.
   In his first year as head coach the team went 4-5, but just three years later the Warriors finished 13-0, defeating Dallas 28-21 for the AA state championship in 1988. Between 1985 and 1993 when Bennett quit coaching football to become athletic director and vice principal at Philomath his teams went 61-30 (.670 winning percentage).
   "You couldn't find a more experienced person," said Crook county Athletic Director Casey Waletich. "He brings instant credibility to the program."
   Bennett plans to bring a sense of family to the football program; something he has seen in his 11 seasons at Bend.
   "Craig Walker, Bend head football coach, is a great guy and a great coach," said Bennett. "He has a staff that has been together, the majority of them, for a long time. They are great coaches. They are great teachers and they are friends. They do things socially together. They are close. It's a tight knit family and I would love to bring that here."
   To emphasize the point Bennett turned his Save The Children tie wrong side out showing a tag that said family.
   Bennett, who is on vacation this week, began meeting with coaches in the football program last week. He has begun meeting with coaches at the high school and with the 8th grade coaches.
   "After spring break I am going to meet the seventh grade coaches and get down to the grade school coaches," said Bennett. "I want the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade coaches and the middle school coaches to be able to come into our dressing room before a football game and to be able to listen to the pregame talk. And then be able to come in after the game and talk to young men that they have already coached and feel part of the family. If we go to someone's house after the football game for a little bite to eat I would want everybody in the program 4th-12th grade to be there."
   Bennett's plan is to have the football staff put together and to start working on common goals by April. He intends to run an option offense including short play action passes.
   "If you are not very large why do you try to run over people?" Bennett asks. "Can you get outside with the option? I love play action passing and I like to have a passing play off of almost every running play."
   Last Thursday Bennett met with members of the football team for the first time and he feels the meeting went well.
   "It was not what I wanted turnout wise," said Bennett. "But it exceeded my expectations. The young men that were there were just what I was hoping I would see. They were intent, polite, respectful. That's what I like to see in a program. That means that they are being raised properly. I was impressed and I told them that after spring break I wanted them to all bring somebody else with them who wasn't there and we would get together again. Every young man that I see in the hall I ask if they play football and encourage them to please come to our next meeting-that we would love to have them. I need to walk the halls. I need to meet kids and introduce myself and be seen."
   Bennett noted that he sees similarities in Crook County and Philomath high schools, and that he hopes to bring the same atmosphere here that he saw in Philomath. Both communities have only one high school, and both have logging and timber backgrounds as well as a sense of history, he noted.
   "I told the upper classmen that it's their team," said Bennett. "We need to work together and put them in a situation where we can be competitive. I know that I am going to be different in a lot of ways from the previous coaches and I know that they are probably nervous about meeting someone new and what it is going to be like. We have to walk the halls and we have to talk to kids. If it wasn't cool, or if there was a problem personality- wise with the previous coaches, I've got to mend that. I've got to make it so they say `Hey look this guy might be all right' because I want their high school experience to be a good one."