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Panthers hire Bennett as defensive coordinator

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Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has hired former Southern Methodist University head coach Phil Bennett as the Panthers’ new defensive coordinator.

Bennett, 51, will be introduced at a news conference at 3 p.m. at Pitt’s practice facilities on the South Side. He replaces Paul Rhoads, who left to become defensive coordinator at Auburn Jan. 17 after eight seasons at Pitt.

Wannstedt also spoke to Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso and Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sal Sunseri – a former Pitt All-American linebacker – about the position, but opted to look outside the program.

Bennett had an 18-52 record in six seasons as head coach at SMU, where he was fired Oct. 28 after a 1-7 start but finished the season. Under Bennett, SMU endured a school-record 15-game losing streak but also claimed a major upset with a 21-10 victory of then-No. 22 Texas Christian in 2005, handing the Horned Frogs their only loss.

The Mustangs had bowl expectations after going 6-6 in 2006, but instead finished 1-11, allowing an average of 39.8 points per game and losing three games in overtime.

Bennett’s contract with SMU runs through December 2008. Prior to going to SMU in 2001, Bennett was a highly regarded defensive coordinator with experience coaching defensive backs and linebackers and a reputation as a strong recruiter. He spent three seasons at Kansas State, where his defenses ranked in the top five nationally each year, coached the secondary at Oklahoma and was defensive coordinator at TCU, Louisiana State, Purdue and Iowa State.

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