A Time to Soar

New Director of Athletics Jared Benko Joins Eagles During Historic Challenges

Jared Benko began his tenure as the new director of athletics for Georgia Southern on April 1, right in the middle of historic challenges for the University, for athletics and for the nation.

On March 12, just three days after his first visit to the University, the NCAA suspended men’s and women’s basketball and tournament play. Less than two weeks later, Benko would have to conduct a search for a new men’s basketball coach in the middle of a pandemic.

“I’ll never forget that Thursday as we were heading back, everything started to break on the cancellation of tournaments,” he said. “There were about three days with no real COVID concerns and then the floodgates broke.”

While the pandemic may have changed the way he approached his role as director of athletics, Benko says it didn’t change the job. He began the coaching search the way he always does, calling mentors, friends and other coaches to gather a large list of good candidates. “It’s like putting a puzzle together,” he said.

Once the candidates were narrowed down to five, he met all of them on Zoom, an online meeting platform, and made a decision. The entire process took Benko less than two weeks to find Brian Burg, former assistant coach at Texas Tech, who now leads the Eagles.

“He’s a winner,” said Benko. “He’s won everywhere he’s been. He’s worked with some of the best coaches in the country… He’s going to take us to heights we haven’t been in a while.”

Formerly the deputy director of athletics and chief financial officer at Mississippi State University, Benko brings more than a decade of experience in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), where he served in various athletics positions at Auburn University, the University of Arkansas and the University of Georgia. In his new role at Georgia Southern, he reports directly to the University president and serves as a member of the president’s cabinet.

“This was a highly sought-after position attracting over 100 candidates from across the nation,” said Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero. “The expressed enthusiasm for and reputation of Georgia Southern validated the success we have had, and the potential in our future. Jared stood out in everyone’s mind. The committee and I are confident he is the right person to capitalize on our momentum and lead Eagle Nation to even greater heights.”

While plans to keep athletes, students, fans and patrons safe loom large in the new director’s mind, Benko says he and his staff are planning for their first football home game on Sept. 12, “and until we hear otherwise, that’s what we’re working toward.”

Benko has big plans for the athletics program. He’s aiming for comprehensive excellence in all 17 programs, both on the field and in the classroom, expanding engagement with fans, donors, alumni and students in person and on social media, and looking for new ways to generate revenue and expand the fan base. He hopes to reach alumni and fans in Savannah, and in greater markets throughout Georgia, between Statesboro, Savannah, Atlanta and Augusta, where the University has large numbers of alumni.

And have the historic challenges changed his expectations about what he can accomplish?

“I have a strong faith, so in this process I’ve tried to focus on what I can control and let God handle the rest,” he said. “I try to plan for contingencies, but the challenge is really an opportunity for growth.

“You know, it’s 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you handle it.” — Doy Cave