Sitting in his new office with just over a week of officially being on the job, newly hired Georgia Southern director of athletics Jared Benko likes to joke that it has already been a busy month.
To say that his first moments in Statesboro have been both busy and unorthodox would be an incredible understatement.
Just three days after Benko was announced as the new head of the athletic department, the NCAA shuttered all spring sports championships and the Sun Belt Conference followed up a day later by canceling all athletic competitions for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus outbreak. A week later, word came that men’s basketball coach Mark Byington was leaving Georgia Southern after seven years with the team, putting a national search underway with two weeks to go before Benko’s official start date.
“It’s definitely been exciting,” Benko said. “Obviously there are some strange circumstances right now, but we’re moving forward with a vision for where we want Georgia Southern Athletics to go.”
While not technically on the job, Benko was still able to spearhead the search for a new men’s basketball coach, ultimately landing Texas Tech assistant Brian Burg. Coincidentally, both officially began their Georgia Southern tenure on April 1.
Social distancing and a reluctance to travel for in-person contact threw a bit of a hiccup into the search, but any difficulties in that regard were surpassed by Benko’s familiarity of what makes for a good fit in Statesboro having gone through the same process over the previous month.
“Applying (for the athletic director job) and working on this hiring has gotten me very familiar with the lay of the land,” Benko said. “My biggest takeaway is that things here are culture-driven. The culture here is what excites me because Georgia Southern’s values of hard work and doing more with less are my values.
“That’s something we carried over into our search for an new basketball coach and something I think we’ve found in Brian Burg.”
Benko elaborated on the coaching search, clarifying that the process wasn’t much different, even with his move into the athletic director position and the ongoing public health concerns. Benko said that the early part of the process was handled as usual, with plenty of resume review and phone calls around the nation.
A video conference or two may have been a stand-in for a more traditional in-person interview at the end, but Benko is certain that Georgia Southern would have chosen Burg regardless of the hiring process.
Now armed with a full coaching staff, Benko is ready to begin the process of growing the program as a whole.
All sports remain shut down and there is still only speculation about what the fall will bring, but Benko and his department have a plan for building numbers — both in the stands and on the balance sheet — as soon as the Eagles can resume play.
“I come from a finance background. There, a lot of focus is on expenses,” Benko said. “I have just as much experience in generating revenue. We want to go through each revenue stream we have and figure out how to grow it. Fan by fan, supporter by supporter, community member by community member. That’s how we get things going.”
While no sports are currently in action, the athletic department remains busy. All coaches and administrators involved with fall sports continue to keep their ear to the ground and prepare for contingencies that may arise from a prolonged shutdown due to coronavirus.
On the business side, Benko and his staff are already formulating the next steps for Georgia Southern to take.
"There are a lot of things we're looking at and options we're considering," Benko said. "Everything is on the table right now."