May 18, 2010
UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT DR. JOHN PETERS
"This is a great day for NIU and NIU Athletics; particularly women's athletics. We get to announce a new head coach for our women's program. Everyone knows I don't know much about basketball, but I do know excellence when I see it. When we had a vacancy recently in our program, Jeff Compher, our athletic director, came over and we had a chat about how to proceed. We had a very quick meeting of the minds, knowing that we have a lot going for us at NIU, and in our women's basketball program.
"I think we have arguably the greatest facility in the Mid-American Conference. It's just great to be in that bowl. We've got a great recruitment area; we've got great kids; we've got some really solid returning players and we've got some new kids coming in. Our program and our fans deserved the best coach that we could find in the country. So we made some calls to ask for some recommendations, and Jeff did the same.
"The coach we're going to announce today has a tremendous lineage in basketball and has had tremendous success. She, like us at NIU, has dealt with tragedy and overcome it in fine fashion. She has strength of character, and most importantly, like all of us at NIU, she cares about what we care about most; and that is the student-athlete, and the student.
"So this is really a great day for NIU. With that, I am going to introduce our athletic director, who I have become to really appreciate. He is a man of great character and vision and forthrightness. I am very pleased that Huskie athletics, which is approaching 500 student-athletes, is under his leadership and care. Here is our athletic director, Jeff Compher, who will then introduce our new head coach."
ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT/DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS JEFF COMPHER
"Welcome everybody. It's great to be here with you; this is a great day to be a Huskie. I just wanted to say that as we got started in this process, as President Peters said, we really knew we had a lot to offer in our program. I had a chance to meet with the team, and some of the members of the team are with us here today. I also talked to the incoming recruits, and they all said one thing. They said they were looking for someone that could come in, lead their program, and care about them as people. They wanted someone that would care about them off the court as much as they did on the court.
"I can tell you that I believe we have found that. We'll be introducing our ninth head coach in Kathi Bennett
, here in a minute. But I wanted to tell you a little bit about her and the process first. First of all, we had a tremendous amount of interest from across the country, and some of the best programs in the country had people interested in coming to our program and leading us. As President Peters said, they know what we have here and they know the potential here. They know the history and tradition of women's basketball here. And they feel like this would be a great place to be.
"Kathi (Bennett) was no exception to that. She rose to the top of our list, and as someone that comes from a family of coaches; she has that in her blood. She knows what it takes to win, she knows what hard work is and she is not afraid to get after it. She has tremendous Midwest ties. I think she is defined by the Midwest.
"She has a proven track record of success. If someone were to tell me when we started the process that you are going to get someone at Northern Illinois who has won a national championship, who has been a national coach of the year, has won two other conference championships and has taken every other team that she has been with to either the NCAA Tournament or the postseason, I would have said `Wow.' Well guess what? She's here. That's the person we have.
"I know a lot of people in this business; I called head coaches, assistant coaches, commissioners, athletic directors, a ton of people around this country. They all talked about not only her (Kathi's) coaching ability, but her character. But I think the call that influenced me the most was the current head coach at the University of Wisconsin (Lisa Stone). She said, `Jeff, I've got to tell you, I'd hate to lose her, but she's a head coach. She sits on my bench, but she's a head coach. I let her coach, and the reason we were successful, the reason our team went to the NCAA Tournament this year is because of Kathi Bennett.'
"That says so much, and I'm just so proud to be able to introduce her today. Above all else, she stands not just for winning, but for the student-athlete. She is going to care for them, and make sure that their experience here at Northern Illinois University is the best it can be. I'm so glad that she's here, and she is going to be the leader of our program. I'd like to introduce to you Kathi Bennett, our new women's basketball coach."
HEAD WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH Kathi Bennett
"First I want to thank the Lord for blessing me with his perfect timing, and this incredible and exciting opportunity at Northern Illinois University. I want to thank President Peters and Jeff Compher for their belief in me. And for their conviction, that I am the right person to lead this program.
"People make decisions based on how great a place it is, or how nice things are. I can still hear (Deputy Director of Athletics) Robert Collins in my ear saying, `This is a gold mine.' And I whole-heartedly believe that. When I was looking at this job, it was impressive. When you think of Northern Illinois, you think of academic excellence and programs academically that are ranked nationally. The location has it all; we're close to a big city, but far enough away. Size, diversity, facilities, which are the best in the MAC. Those are all important things, but the reason I am thrilled to be here, is because of the people. I will run through a brick wall; I will work my tail off because of President Peters, because of Jeff Compher. I am blessed with the opportunity to work here, and to work for leaders like them.
"This is what I'd like to tell you. I can guarantee that I will work hard. Defense will be our cornerstone. I feel that it is so important to connect with the community. I am anxious to get to know as many people as I possibly can. That is a commitment from me; I want to be visible. I want to get out in the community, and do anything that is possible to bring attendance, and just a connection to the university and to women's basketball.
"I understand the connection that is needed with the high school coaches and the AAU coaches in the state of Illinois, and in the Midwest. That process is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to build connectedness and relationships in recruiting. I want you to understand that I will not take shortcuts, and with me, character is very highly-regarded. I want you to understand that I have a vision; I have a plan. When you come and watch us play, I want you to walk away saying, `Man, that team can compete with anybody. They do not beat themselves, and they are tough-minded. They showcase their individual talents, but they play team basketball. In everything they do, there is quality about it.' And finally, our team will represent Northern Illinois University in a way that will make you proud. That's my vision; I know it sounds pretty simple, but you will win a lot of games if you do those simple things.
"I got a chance to meet some of the players. I see Marke (Freeman), and I'm blessed to have Jenna Thorp, one of our recruits, in attendance with her Mom. I also see Courtney (Shelton) and Terriel (Cannon) here. The meeting that we had, initially, was where we got our start. We started the belief process. Change can sometimes be difficult. Coach (Carol) Owens did a great job; I watched tape from last year, and they played hard. I know change is difficult, but these players have embraced it. We've already got our start, and I'm so thankful for that.
"The last thing I want to say is that I owe a great deal of thanks to the University of Wisconsin; a great deal of thanks. I want to thank coach (Barry) Alvarez and coach (Lisa) Stone for giving me the opportunity to get back into coaching. Alluding to what Jeff (Compher) said earlier about Coach Stone, what a leader she is, for allowing me to coach. I am forever indebted to her for that. I need to thank the players, for allowing me to coach them with my passion; for allowing me to connect with them; for allowing me to grow with them. I'm standing up here because of their belief in playing defense. I know that, and I am going to really miss the players at Wisconsin. I guess what I'd like to do from here is just answer, as honestly as I can, any questions you may have."
On her local and regional connections, and the importance of recruiting players from the state of Illinois
"The beauty of the position I was in at Wisconsin was that I recruited the state of Illinois. Those connections don't change. I recruited the state of Indiana; those connections don't change. Minnesota. Iowa. I am very well entrenched with the AAU coaches; I know Terriel's (Cannon) AAU coach very well. I feel very confident about those relationships, but like anything, relationships need to be fostered, and continued, and grown. You need to be able to stay connected, and that's something I really want to work at, and will do to the best of my ability."
On coming from a family of coaches, and their reaction to her accepting the NIU job...
"When I told my Dad (Dick Bennett), it was when I was driving here. He said to me, `don't do what I did when I accepted my first job, which was speed, and get a speeding ticket.' So I was warned on that. But actually, my Dad's Final Four team (1999-2000) came to DeKalb, and got their butts whipped. So that will help endear me to Northern Illinois. But honestly, they are so happy for me. I will be able to use his (Dick Bennett's) expertise; he's retired now, and the opportunity for me to have him around to help out; to bounce ideas off of; to watch film; to come in as an expert, is going to be enormous and beneficial. I can't wait. It's going to be outstanding for our program."
On her offensive philosophy
"The most important thing is that you don't want to beat yourself. This team had the worst assist-turnover ratio in the MAC last season. And so, a lot depends on the team. I definitely am someone that wants to push the ball, take advantage, get the defense on their heels and take advantage of any fast-break situations. I'm not going to ever say, `we don't want to run.' We want to run, but part of being a good team is getting a defense on their heels, getting the ball swung and attacking the rim. So we're going to do that with every opportunity that we have. Offensively, I am a motion coach. I love the pick-and-roll, isolating and doing those types of things. But with offense, you can dictate to what you have. I know we're a little thin inside, but we have a lot of ability to attack the rim, so that's exciting.
About the last 20 days, and what the process has been like
"It's been the best 20 days of my life. Seriously, I am so thankful to be a Huskie. This honestly is a perfect fit, and it is my dream job. The timing, the place, everything about this job, is bright. I mentioned before all the things about this university. We can make this a consistent winner; I have no doubt about that. I got to talk, and visit with seven kids. I believe in them. We are going to be able to be a very good defensive team right off the bat. I watched them against DePaul; I watched them against Milwaukee. Yes, we have work to do. But I am very excited about what our future holds. This opportunity is pretty darn special. I can't wait to get after it."
About any particular moment or situation that led her to believe this was the right job for her
"When I had three of my friends text me saying that the Northern Illinois job was open, my heart skipped a beat. I mentioned about the Lord's timing being perfect; I pursued another job and didn't work out. And I just believe there is a plan for everything."
On if she ever thought about not being a head coach anymore during her time at Indiana
"I stepped away after being involved in a severe auto accident. I broke my neck, and was just physically worn down. I needed to step away, and did everything in my power to stay away from the game. I chose a field completely outside of coaching. I worked for Zimmer, which is a knee and hip replacement company; I did that, and really stepped out of my comfort zone. Then, I started working for NIKE. I had a couple of coaches ask me if I would speak to their teams while I was selling NIKE gear, and after talking to a couple of them, I asked myself, `What am I doing away from the game? This is my love; this is my passion, it's who I am.' And that's when I decided to get back into coaching. It took me awhile."
"I think it's a great hire. I met with her earlier today and she seems like a very sincere person. She's very passionate about what she does. She's passionate about us as people not only as players. I think it's going to be a great season. We're starting from scratch. I'm really excited about this season coming up and for her coaching us."
"She's very passionate about what she wants to do with this program. From what my teammates and I have talked about, this is pretty much what we were looking for in a coach. I think it's a perfect fit."
"Sometimes change can be good. In this case, I think change is very good. She had it mapped out to what she wants to do to make us a more successful team."