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Benedict brings passion, experience to UConn job

Storrs — Susan Herbst knew almost immediately during the interview process that UConn had found the perfect person to fill the director of athletics position.

David Benedict made quite a first impression on the UConn president and search committee.

"He walked in the room where we were conducting interviews and he just took it over," Herbst said. "He's a really great professional presence. I knew right away in those first few minutes that he'd be an excellent ambassador for us. Of course, that's critical."

Benedict, 44, was introduced during Tuesday's press conference at the Burton Family Football Complex. The crowd included UConn coaches, board of trustees members, administrators and Benedict's family — wife Lisa and 13-year-old twin boys Jake and Sam.

UConn announced Benedict's hiring on Monday. Benedict replaces Warde Manuel, who's accepted the job as director of athletics at Michigan. Manuel leaves behind a program in terrific shape, athletically and academically.

During his opening remarks, Benedict detailed UConn's rich athletic history — 16 national championships since 2000 and six football bowl-game appearances since 2004. UConn has an elite program with an elite group of coaches, he added.

"I'm humbled to be given this opportunity to be the 12th director of athletics at UConn," Benedict said. "Rest assured that no one will have a higher expectation for UConn athletics and our student-athletes than I will. I appreciate you believing in me."

Benedict brings a wealth of experience from his previous positions at five different colleges. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer for Auburn University's athletics department, basically in charge of running a $120-plus million dollar program. Prior to that, he worked as deputy athletic director at Minnesota and held various administrative positions at Virginia Commonwealth, Long Beach State and Arizona State.

A son of a football coach and former linebacker at Southern Utah, Benedict has been around athletics all his life. But he chose a career path as an administrator rather than a coach.

"I felt like I wanted to be in a position where I could impact student-athletes in a more broader way than just being a coach as well as being engaged with all of the sports programs," Benedict said.

Before arriving for his UConn interview, Benedict was already sold on the job.

It didn't take long for the search committee to fall for Benedict, a native of Tempe, Ariz.

Benedict checked off all the boxes as far as job requirements, according to Herbst. He was one of nine people interviewed from a strong list of candidates. He'll make $450,000 per year, with the possibility of earning $100,000 annually in bonus pay. He'll receive another $250,000 if he stays five years.

"It's terrific that he's been at so many institutions across the country," Herbst said. "I find people who have been around the nation like that, myself included, you pick up the best practices and you pick up different ideas. ... Moving around brings you a national network, no question about it. He knows amazing people."

Benedict's experience and connections will be vital to help UConn navigate an ever-changing landscape.

Perhaps his biggest challenge will be fighting to improve UConn's conference position. The Huskies are trying to gain entrance into the Power Five, which is comprised of schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12.

UConn currently competes in the American Athletic Conference.

"This is a Power Five, or if you want to refer to it as an 'Autonomy Five' program all day, every day," Benedict. "We have success in winning national championships. We have a supportive president and leader. And we have donors that are willing to support these unbelievable facilities that we're currently sitting in.

"From a conference affiliation standpoint, our job is to make sure we're competing and dominating whatever conference that we're currently in. ... It's important for us to be good partners with our current conference. I think the American has gone a great job. ... But, at the same time, we're going to make sure that we position ourselves so that we can remain competitive nationally in all of our sports."

Benedict laid out his vision for the future, listing his pillars for the athletic department. He started with competitive excellence.

"We're going to compete at everything," Benedict said. "We're going to win on the fields and courts of play and we're going to win in the classroom. Academic excellence has to be a top priority. And we're going to do it the right way."

His other pillars dealt with the student-athlete experience, engagement with former student-athletes, making the game day experience one of the best in the nation for fans, and integrity. He'll also focus on searching out opportunities to generate revenue and building strong relationships with the college and corporate community.

He can't wait to jump into his new job.

"There's a lot of work to do," Benedict said. "But I'm excited about what the future holds."

g.keefe@theday.com

Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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