High school athletics

Bennett’s decision on River Bluff job coming soon

For The Sun NewsJanuary 8, 2013 

Dave Bennett is nearing a decision that could take him out of the Grand Strand sports scene for the first time in more than a decade.

The Socastee athletics director and former Coastal Carolina football coach was offered a combined role at River Bluff High School in Lexington prior to the holiday break. There, Bennett would serve as both the athletics director and football coach for a school opening in the fall.

He said he plans on finalizing his plans by the end of this week.

“We’ve got some things we want to finish here,” Bennett said of Socastee. “We’ve got some fundraisers coming up.

“I think [the River Bluff job is] a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re opening a brand-new school. It’s 21st century, state of the art, with a huge vision.

“It probably wouldn’t be as intriguing to go to another high school that’s already in existence.”

Bennett said his acceptance of the River Bluff position might be contingent on the new school allowing him to finish out the year at Socastee. Bennett was officially hired there in August after a four-month process in which he had to become re-certified as a teacher.

He received plenty of pointers along the way from Socastee Principal Paul Browning and former Braves athletics director Roger Dixon.

“I’ve learned more in the last five-six months here than I have in a long, long time,” Bennett said.

Bennett had stated all along that he didn’t want to think of his current job as a one-and-done scenario. His son, Jeb, is a junior at Socastee and Bennett wanted to remain in Horry County until it was a little closer to Jeb’s graduation. However, the River Bluff opportunity has Bennett picking the best pieces about what brought him to the area to begin with. Like when he was hired at Coastal Carolina, Bennett will have plenty of time to build and imprint nearly every facet of the River Bluff program. The school will not field a varsity team until 2014.

Bennett was hired to build the team at CCU from scratch in December of 2001. He spent 18 months recruiting players and putting together a staff, and in 2003, the Chanticleers took the field for the first time.

He led Coastal to a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth in the team’s fourth season and again in 2010. He had an overall coaching record of 63-39.

CCU administration, citing declining ticket sales and other aspects of the program, fired Bennett in December 2011. He was eventually paid a $925,000 buyout.

Soon after, he was targeted as Socastee’s next athletics director.

At River Bluff, Bennett would be able to hire his own football assistants, not to mention head coaches for many of the school’s other sports.

River Bluff will initially have a capacity of approximately 2,000 students. While it is expected to open as a Class AAA school, few believe it will stay there for long. It’s located in a talent-rich area that will shave students from Lexington High School, the third-largest school in the state.

Lexington School District 1 is home to three of the 10 highest-paid football coaches in the state, including former Myrtle Beach coach Scott Earley. Now at Lexington High School, Earley is making $103,410 annually as the school’s football coach and athletics director. Two others – Gilbert’s Barry Harley and Pelion’s Ben Freeman – each make at least $96,000.

Bennett is scheduled to make $58,711 between his teaching salary and supplement this year at Socastee,

He said he met with River Bluff Principal Luke Clamp this weekend, and the two continued to discuss possible scenarios that could lead to Bennett accepting the position.

It’s a decision that he isn’t taking lightly.

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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