A Sleeping Giant: Providence Poised for Progress Under Bobby Benson

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


Providence unveiled its new coach this week with the hire of Maryland assistant Bobby Benson. It might as well have doubled as an announcement about the program’s intentions moving forward.

The Friars’ job opening was arguably the most intriguing of the six Division I vacancies to this point in the cycle. In another corner of Rhode Island, Bryant achieved impressive consistency under Mike Pressler. And Manhattan is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance under Drew Kelleher, who left Thursday for UMass Lowell.

Providence, though, has made a splash with its facilities upgrades in recent years, and its Big East membership (along with the likes of Denver, Georgetown and Villanova) means there is realistic access to an NCAA tournament at-large berth every season.

“We’re committed at the highest level,” said incoming athletic director Steve Napolillo, whose hire of Benson was his first. “I feel like this program is a sleeping giant.”

Thing is, there were hints in recent years the Friars were getting closer. Providence made NCAA tournament appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when it won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but it faced a steep competition gap when the Big East initially sponsored the sport in 2010.

Chris Gabrielli, Benson’s predecessor, took over in 2013 and made considerable progress. The Friars won 10 games and reached the Big East final in 2017. Providence emerged as a nascent goalie factory. It was 5-1 in 2020 when the pandemic shut down the season.

That seemed to have hurt the Friars more than most. They went 10-17 over the last two years, including a 4-11 mark in the Big East.

Enter Benson, who applied for the job a decade ago and whose wife, Taylor, is a Providence graduate.

“This is a slam dunk for me professionally,” Benson said. “It was a no-brainer. This is a place with great potential. This is a place that fits me as a person, and this is a job I would love to have.”

Now he does, but not after a circuitous couple of years. Benson, whose playing career included a Memorial Day appearance with Johns Hopkins in 2003, was a fixture in the Baltimore area as a coach for nearly two decades. The longest stint was a 14-year run as the offensive coordinator at Hopkins and featured a national title in 2007.

When former Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala was fired in the early days of the pandemic, Benson and his family moved to Atlanta, and his college coaching career went on hiatus. Less than a year later, though, Maryland offensive coordinator J.L. Reppert took over at Holy Cross a month before the 2021 season started. Within a week, Benson was an assistant at Maryland.

“It’s definitely been a wild ride, but all things happen for a reason,” Benson said. “I’ve just been super blessed to be part of the schools and lacrosse programs that I have so far.”







Benson already had a superb tactical reputation before arriving in College Park. Still, there’s little doubt the last two years have further burnished his reputation. The Terrapins ranked second nationally in scoring in 2021 and averaged 17.67 goals en route to a national title this spring. Along the way, attackmen Jared Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas claimed the last two Tewaaraton Awards.

All of which enhanced Benson’s appeal as a potential head coach — and makes Providence’s decision all the more noteworthy.

“We want to be in a spot where you can definitely say you’re competing against everybody and you have a chance to win every game and you have a chance to put a team on the field that can be competitive at a national level,” Benson said. “That’s our goal. I know we have some awesome guys in the locker room, so we’re super-excited to get started chipping away at that.”

Providence plays in the 1,500-seat Chapey Field, a soccer and lacrosse stadium opened in 2016 that has hosted a pair of North/South games. It also has a strong recent history in other sports; men’s ice hockey won a national title in 2015, men’s soccer was a national semifinalist in 2014 and men’s basketball made its first Sweet 16 trip since 1997 this spring.

The Friars’ intent, clearly, is for lacrosse to join that list before long.

“Our facilities are some of the best in the country, and we’re really proud of that,” Napolillo said. “We’re going to make the commitment to make sure we continue to support Bobby, his staff and the student-athletes with everything they need in order to compete for Big East and national championships. That’s my goal as the athletic director. That’s our goal as an institution. And that’s our expectation.”

Napolillo then paused.

“No pressure, Bobby,” he said. “That’s why we hired him. We love him.”

OFFENSES UNDER BENSON

A look at where Bobby Benson-coordinated offenses ranked nationally through the years in scoring offense (data courtesy of the NCAA’s statistics archives; full national rankings for 2004-05 are unavailable).

Year

Team

Goals Per Game

Rank

2006

Loyola

9.83

15th

2007

Johns Hopkins

10.47

15th

2008

Johns Hopkins

10.53

12th

2009

Johns Hopkins

11.53

8th

2010

Johns Hopkins

10.13

T24th

2011

Johns Hopkins

11.25

10th

2012

Johns Hopkins

10.31

25th

2013

Johns Hopkins

11.50

T14th

2014

Johns Hopkins

12.06

11th

2015

Johns Hopkins

13.00

9th

2016

Johns Hopkins

12.33

12th

2017

Johns Hopkins

11.60

16th

2018

Johns Hopkins

11.71

12th

2019

Johns Hopkins

12.13

23rd

2020

Johns Hopkins

10.83

52nd

2021

Maryland

15.94

2nd

2022

Maryland

17.67

1st

Suggested

Maryland

Providence to Name Bobby Benson Next Head Coach

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