University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst formally introduced Auburn COO David Benedict as the university’s new athletic director in front of a large crowd in the Burton Family Football Complex Tuesday morning.
In his introductory press conference, Benedict addressed his vision moving forward, which included a few pillars for the athletic department. Those pillars included competitive excellence, the student athlete experience, engagement of former letter-winners, the gameday experience and integrity.
“We’re going to compete at everything,” Benedict said. “I just want to repeat that: we’re going to compete at everything. We’re going to win on the fields, the courts of play and we’re going to win in the classroom. Academic excellence has to be a top priority, and we’re going to do it the right way.”
Benedict has served as the chief operating officer for the athletics department at Auburn for 26 months. Prior to his time at Auburn, he served as Deputy Athletic Director at Minnesota from 2012 to 2014 and was in leadership positions at Arizona State from 1996 to 2006, Long Beach State from 2007 to 2010 and Virginia Commonwealth from 2010 to 2012.
Of course, one of Benedict’s biggest responsibilities going forward will be getting UConn into a Power Five conference. Benedict served as VCU’s interim athletic director and he led the school’s transition from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10.
“This is a Power Five, or if you want to refer to it as an Autonomy Five, program all day, everyday,” Benedict said. “We have success in winning national championships. We have a supportive president and leader, and we have donors that are willing to support these unbelievable facilities that we’re currently sitting in.”
“I think from a conference affiliation standpoint, our job is to make sure we are competing and dominating whatever conference that we’re currently competing in.”
When addressing the gameday experience in his opening statement, Benedict called on UConn Nation to work with him in the future.
“This is really important,” he said. “To our members of UConn Nation everywhere, and that means alumni, fans, residents of the great state of Connecticut and our student body, I want to reiterate that our student body is critical in this. I look forward to engaging in this conversation with you. I want to make our game day experience one of the best in the nation, and we can’t do it without you. I will seek your feedback and we will do our best to make sure all of our events are entertaining for all who attend. In return, we need you to come out and support our student athletes.”
Benedict said he hadn’t spoken to any of the coaches at UConn prior to the press conference, but there were a few coaches in attendance, including men’s soccer coach Ray Reid, women’s soccer coach Len Tsantiris, football coach Bob Diaco and men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie.
“You should all know that UConn’s reputation goes beyond the borders of Connecticut,” Benedict said. “UConn possess an elite group of head coaches. It’s amazing to see the tenures of some of our coaches. I look forward to working with all of you and getting to know you all very soon.”
When Herbst took the podium, she first took time to recognize some of the committee members that helped bring Benedict to UConn. Those included the chairman of the committee Andrea Dennis-LaVigne, trustee and former UConn athlete Andy Bessette, trustee Tom Ritter, former UConn men’s basketball star Ray Allen and interim athletic director Rachel Rubin.
Herbst said they found exactly what they were looking for in Benedict.
“We knew exactly what we were looking for,” she said. “We sought an experienced leader who would be a stellar, respected ambassador for UConn to our community, to our state and to the world of college athletics. We wanted someone who embodied organizational leadership, who placed the highest priority on donor engagement, on community involvement and corporate relations.”
Finally, Herbst said that UConn needed a leader whose “grasp of the national landscape and relentless pursuit of excellence would be second to none.”
Benedict added that no one will have a higher expectation for UConn athletics and the student athletes than he will.
“This is Super Tuesday at UConn and we have a winner,” Herbst said.