Coach Willie Bennett

Coach Willie Bennett

Season(s) Coaching the Divas: 2014-2016
Defensive Coordinator – 2014-2016

Other Coaching Experience:
Alabama A&M University
North Carolina A&T State University
St. Augustine’s College

Playing Experience:
H.D. Woodson HS (DC)
Hampton University

Coach Willie Bennett Q&A

Why did you decide to get into coaching after your playing career was over?
I started as a true freshman in college and played four years as a defensive back and kick returner at Hampton University. I left with a couple of school records and a couple of injuries, too, which shortened my career. I suffered a knee injury in my senior season of college, so I had arthroscopic knee surgery after the season. Then I got a staph infection, and it was six months before I could do anything at all, let alone play football.

After my senior year, I went straight from playing to coaching, and I quickly realized I was having more fun on that side of it. I became a defensive assistant coach at Alabama A&M, my first job out of college. The first player I got to watch every day at practice was Robert Mathis, who set the NCAA record that year for sacks. It made my job a lot easier to just watch him sack the quarterback, force fumbles, and do everything else on defense. [Mathis later became the all-time sacks leader of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and won the AFC Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013.]

I was at Alabama A&M for four years, then I went to North Carolina A&T. Finally, I coached at St. Augustine’s College in North Carolina for six years before I decided to come back to the city and become an athletic director for D.C. Public Schools.

How did you find out about the D.C. Divas and come to coach for us?
Believe it or not, I heard about the D.C. Divas 15 years ago! Before they had their inaugural season in 2001, I was a senior in college. I heard about the team and followed them when I could. I was talking one day with one of my close friends at the time, Natalie Randolph. She said she loved football, so I told her D.C. had a women’s football team, the D.C. Divas, and I told her she should play for them! She went on to become a great player for the Divas.

I moved to Alabama and started my college coaching career, but I continued to follow the Divas for years. I stayed in touch with a lot of the Divas players, like T.K. Washington, who also went to Woodson High School. I knew a lot of the Divas players who were originally from the city. Any time I could talk about the D.C. Divas, I would, and when I finally moved back to D.C., I contacted the team about a coaching position.

How is coaching women’s football different from coaching men?
There are a lot of differences. In men’s football, almost everyone has the same knowledge base at every level. You start off at the pee-wee level, and you see players grow and develop into middle school, high school, and college; you see them get better at each level. You start with seven-year-olds, where they’re all learning the game at the same time. You go all the way up to college, where almost every player at that level has been playing the game for a long time and already has a wide knowledge base.

Women’s football is completely different. In terms of their knowledge base, we have pee-wee players and the college elite playing on the same team. Every year you have young ladies who join the team as rookies, and for many of them, it’s their first time ever playing on a football team. She may not know how to put her helmet on, how to put her pads on, or how to tighten her chinstrap. But on the other hand, we also have veterans who have been doing this for 12 or 14 or 16 years, and they can read coverages and make adjustments on the field that few others can make. And we’re making them all play together. That’s the challenge.

But for me, this is the purest form of the game of football, because it’s innocent and clean and not all about the athleticism. You don’t become the best just by being bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else…you have to use your body and your technique to make this work. As coaches, it’s about being able to put people in the right position to make a play. It’s about teaching players how to block and tackle, which takes the game back to the essence of how it started in the first place.

What is your overall coaching philosophy? How would you like your players to play the game?
I want my players to be aggressive and smart and to play fast. But I also want them to be able to walk away from the game and be able to teach somebody else what I taught them. My philosophy is that I’m teaching you this game like it’s a class you’re about to become a master in. There’s an educational component to it so that after I teach it to you, you can go teach it to anybody. You can teach your son, your sister, anybody you want, how to play this game and how to understand defense.

In an ideal world, I really wouldn’t have to do much because my players would already know exactly what to do. I wouldn’t even necessarily have to call the plays – the players could do that themselves, because they’d know everything that should be done based off of how the offense is set up and the adjustments we make to that. When they add their aggression and athleticism to our game plan, my job becomes easy. I could practically sit back on the sidelines and watch the game like every other fan!