GRESKA: Bennett’s redemption

Andrei Greska

“I can be wrong. I am allowed that luxury.”

With those words, former columnist Nick Bullock and my former editor, launched a 610 word tirade in a column on Nov. 6, 2008 against men’s soccer coach Louis Bennett, culminating in a request for his head.

Well boss, you were wrong. Not just somewhat wrong. Your shot was so wide of the goal it forced the poor canoe ball boy to brave the chilly temps to retrieve it.

It’s understandable as to why you may have been frustrated with the whole program three years ago. After all, the team had just finished another moldy season (1-8-2 Big East).

At that point, Bennett’s squads had only won six games in three years. Not conference games, I mean six overall games. There’s no way to sugarcoat the toxic fumes emanating from Valley Fields. Bennett’s squad stunk.

With that as his backdrop, Bullock contacted some former players who were willing to stab their coach in the back. Some did it anonymously, with quotes like this: “Let’s say this happened to the basketball team, you think the coach would be here three years?”

Some were more courageous in their double-crossing. They didn’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity and came right out with what they thought of Bennett.

“Well, in the professional world of soccer, any coach who averages two wins per season isn’t coaching anymore,” former player Duncan Silvert-Noftle said.

Patience was waning with a coach who had brought rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee unprecedented levels of success, with five Horizon League championships in 11 years before coming to lead the blue and gold.

Bennett’s defense was always that it took time to build a winning culture with the Panthers, and that it would take time to do the same with the Golden Eagles.

Luckily for Marquette, there was enough belief in the coach to grant him that time. Now it reaps the rewards of a Big East Blue Division title.

With the 1-0 victory over a feisty Pittsburgh squad, the men’s soccer team won its first Big East division championship and only its third conference title ever. To say this was a long shot is a gross understatement.

The team was 2-4-1 heading into Big East play. Three of its division opponents were ranked in the NSCAA top 25 at the time, with Connecticut taking the No. 1 ranking in the country for some time.

For Marquette to have any hope of even sniffing a shot at the title, it would take a divine miracle and some extra special Tebowing. But no one told the players.

No one told them they were too ugly to merit an invitation. No one told them they didn’t have the pedigree to hang with the big boys. No one told them they weren’t supposed to crash the party.

Here they are now. Big East champions.

A large portion of that credit has to go to Bennett and his coaching staff, including associate head coach Stan Anderson and assistant coach Steve Bode. They recruited all of the players that make up this title-winning team. They played around with formations while injuries decimated the roster, filling in cracks with the ball boys if they had to.

Most importantly, they instilled a sense of belief in the locker room that this team could beat anyone on any given day. It’s like something out of a movie. They were picked to finish sixth in their eight-team division.

Here they are now. Big East champions.

As Marquette celebrated on the field after Saturday’s game, you could see the passion Bennett had for this squad and how immense of an accomplishment they had undertaken.

Bennett stood in front of his team, clutching the Big East Championship trophy, singing about his love for Marquette to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.”

“You are my Marquette, my only Marquette. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never notice, how much I love you. Please don’t take my Marquette away.”

You have nothing to worry about coach. No one, not Bullock, Silvert-Noftle, nor any disgruntled fan, can take it away from you.

Here you are now. Big East champions.