Wade Benson is doing his best to dispel the notion that you can’t come home again.
And so far, the current – and former – Eastern Washington University volleyball coach is winning that argument on numerous fronts.
Benson returned to his old job in December 2012 after departing Cheney for a position at Auburn University following the 2006 season. He served one-year as an assistant, the position he was originally hired to fill, and three as head coach.
Benson’s first squad won only one Southeast Conference game. Two years later, the Tigers completed their most successful season in school history, winning 21 matches and earning a berth in the NCAA tournament.
His ascension to head coach was just a right place, right time situation. “That totally just happened,” he said. He replaced Laura Farina who stepped down in November 2007. “Most of the times, an assistant with a resigning head coach doesn’t get the job,” Benson said.
“We had a nice run there, made some history over there for the volleyball program,” Benson said.
But as many coaches have found, chasing the fame and fortune that is often presented at the next level in college athletics is not what it’s cracked up to be.
“It’s interesting, they have a lot more stuff, the pay’s better, there’s a lot more gear, we took chartered flights everywhere,” Benson said. “You’re certainly treated well.”
As far as care about the sport, Eastern far exceeds the care of many, many bigger conference volleyball programs, Benson said.
The greener grass, bigger fish topic comes up often with football coach Beau Baldwin and where his success here at Eastern might lead him. “Beau knows and I know money isn’t everything,” Benson said. “They basically pay you to shut you up.”
After three years at Auburn, Benson took his family to familiar territory in Miramar Beach, Fla. running volleyball camps and other business activities.
“I really enjoyed it, I thought it was really healthy for the family,” he said. Family includes wife Jill, son, Brady Jaymz, and daughter, Bailey Marie.
When Eastern opened up “For us it was just a no-brainer,” Benson said. “We knew the administration, we knew how much they cared about the sport.”
And they also still had their house on the South Hill. “Lets go there because we know exactly what we’re getting into,” was the thought of the Benson family, he said.
The passion for volleyball hit the Clearwater, Fla.-born Benson in middle school in California, one of many stops – including Australia and Europe – the family made following the career of Benson’s father.
He got his first coaching job at the renown St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Ore. From there it was on to Western Oregon as an assistant to legendary coach Judy Love.
“I played a lot of sports but that (volleyball) was one where I never thought I was going to be a coach,” Benson said.
Benson was the head coach at Eastern from 2000-06, compiling a record of 154-55 — the best winning percentage of any coach in school history.
So Benson aspires to return Eastern to its former place among the volleyball elite in the Big Sky.
“It is a volleyball school, it’s a football school and it will be a basketball school, too,” Benson said. “I think women’s basketball did a nice job last year, the men’s basketball team is searching for that scenario, maybe this will be the year.”
Under Benson, the Eagles doubled overall wins finishing 10-21 and were 7-13 in conference play, making baby steps back towards prominence.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.