A standing room only crowd packed the second floor of the Bishop Field House at Paulson Stadium on Monday afternoon as Jared Benko was officially introduced as the next Director of Athletics at Georgia Southern University.
First announced on Thursday of last week, Benko will take the place of Tom Kleinlein, who stepped down from his post in early January. Deputy Athletic Director Lisa Sweany has been acting as the interim Athletic Director and will resume her deputy duties as Benko is scheduled for his first official day on the job April 1.
“I’m humbled and honored to be the next leader of this prestigious athletic department,” Benko said. “As I went through the process, the passion for this school was evident. The energy is contagious. I’m excited to get to work and just as thrilled that my family is going to get to settle down here in Statesboro.”
Benko is a Georgia native who grew up in Watkinsville and attended the University of Georgia before working in athletic departments at Auburn, Arkansas and - most recently - Mississippi State. The 22-person search committee tasked with selecting the next Georgia Southern athletic director may have landed on someone whose roots are close to Statesboro, but the process leading up to Benko’s selection cast a wide net.
More than 100 applications were reviewed, with the search committee and DHR International weighing candidates against a list of criteria to best match someone to the job.
“Once we agreed upon the attributes we wanted to see in our next athletic director, it was off to the races,” search committee co-chair Anthony Tippins said. “We had some great interviews in California before we moved eight finalists and the entire search committee to Atlanta for our final interviews and 1-on-1 visits with (Georgia Southern president) Dr. (Kyle) Marrero.”
Benko continued to speak of the traditions Georgia Southern has built that he feels are important to the continued growth. Adding some laughter to what was already a light and happy day, he acknowledged one tradition that will feature him soon enough.
“I know that baptism in Beautiful Eagle Creek is coming,” Benko said. “It just might have to wait a month or two for the weather to warm up a little.”
As for the rest of his duties, Benko is ready to get to business on day one.
In his introductory speech, Benko said that he had already addressed the senior staff that will be working alongside him. Benko hit on points like blue collar work ethic and servant leadership that are known and well-liked by Georgia Southern fans.
He also stressed that growth is vital to the athletic department’s mission and that some change will be necessary to achieve that end.
“Innovation is something I’m going to stress,” Benko said. “We want to celebrate our history here at Georgia Southern, but we also need to strive to be cutting edge in what we do to grow the program.”
While those are general terms, a look into Benko’s track record could hint at what he envisions for his athletic department.
Benko served as the Chief Financial Officer at Mississippi State in addition to his role as Deputy Athletic Director. His other posts at Southeastern Conference schools were also geared towards finance and business operations, hinting that one of his goals — and one of the criteria for the search committee — will be to increase revenue and the bottom line for Eagle Athletics.