Ask any civilian on the street who the nation’s premier power couple is, and you’ll probably get some varied responses; Kim and Kanye, Beyonce and Jay-Z
and Brad and Angelina are among many names that might get thrown out there.
But within the realm of Penn Athletics, the answer is quite simple: Bob and Juli.
Bob Benson is entering his second year as Penn football’s defensive coordinator, having immediately sparked the Quakers’ drastically improved defense en route to a share of the Ivy League title in his debut season. Juli Benson was just hired this summer by Penn’s track and field program to serve as an assistant coach to the team’s distance runners, having begun her first season with the Red and Blue during cross country this fall.
Together, the married couple of seven years is taking the world of Ivy League athletics by storm, respectively working to improve their programs while taking advantage of the incredibly rare opportunity to do it side-by-side.
“When you’re both coaches at the Division I level, you kind of assume that working together at the same school is going to be a long shot, so we were really excited,” Juli said. “We both feel incredibly blessed that we’re able to coach together here.”
Although the two spouses have finally settled in University City together, their individual paths to get there couldn’t have been much more different. Bob’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Albany in 1986 and ‘87, where he first established a relationship with then-Great Danes’ defensive backs coach and current Penn football head coach Ray Priore.
From there, Bob proceeded to work for six different schools over the next 27 seasons, most notably holding the head coaching spot at Georgetown from 1993 to 2005, before he finally received the call from Priore in December 2014 asking him to take his talents to Philadelphia.
“[At Albany] I became very close to the entire Priore family, not just Ray, so I got to know that family very well and stayed close with them throughout the years. Ray and [Ray’s brother and Stony Brook coach] Chuck are tremendous coaches who have always been not just friends, but also mentors,” Bob said. “Ray and I have shared ideas for over 25 years, so when the opportunity at Penn arrived, I jumped at it.”
Meanwhile, Juli’s own career as a distance runner — one which included an appearance at the 1996 Olympic Games — didn’t even conclude until 2000, at which point she began her own journey through the world of coaching collegiate athletics. Juli worked for four schools prior to arriving at Penn, most recently including a stint as Air Force’s head men’s and women’s cross country coach from 2009 to 2014.
So when Bob took the job with Penn football and both Bensons packed their bags for Philadelphia, Juli thought her coaching career would at least be placed on a temporary halt — if not done for good. But Penn track and field program head Steve Dolan had other ideas, taking advantage of the Bensons’ relocation and securing a big-time acquisition to his coaching staff.
“Obviously I reside here because [Bob’s] job is here, and he was incredibly supportive of my career for many, many years ... and I just really felt that when we moved here, it was time to put my college coach dreams on the backburner,” Juli said. “But I’ve known Coach Dolan for several years, and he just approached me this summer saying that the program was going to take a little bit of a different direction; we talked several times this summer and we both decided that it would be great to work together, so I kind of came on board that way and I was very, very fortunate.”
Coincidentally, this isn’t actually the first time the two have shared a location — their careers briefly overlapped at Georgetown after Juli was hired as an assistant there in 2004. But considering that Benson left Georgetown for Towson in 2005 and that the two weren’t even in a relationship at the time anyway, their reunion in Philadelphia has felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to both parties.
“Both of our careers have gone very differently since then; that was a long time ago, and we weren’t married then,” Juli said. “Honestly, we never really thought we would be coaching at the same school again, and now we are, so we both feel very lucky.”
Ultimately, while sharing the same workplace is certainly a convenience for Bob and Juli, it’s strictly business for both coaches when on campus — so much so, as a matter of fact, that days go by where the two don’t even interact at all.
“Our sports are very different, so we’re in different buildings and we don’t see each other as often as people might think. Once since I started working at Penn we’ve had lunch together, and we’ll try to be together for maybe 30 seconds here and there throughout the week,” Juli said. “But there’s just a comfort knowing that we’re working for the same school and toward the same goals, and it’s just been really, really nice.”
And if the early results from the pair’s time in Philadelphia are any indication — football vaulted from 106th to eighth nationally in turnover margin in Bob’s first season, while both the men’s and women’s cross country squads remain unbeaten in the admittedly small sample size of Juli’s debut year — this power couple could be running the Ancient Eight for years to come.
“We love Penn, it’s an awesome atmosphere, and we both want to win and excel at the highest level,” Bob said. “We’re pretty intense at home – that’s the one thing because we both strive to be the best — but we’re thankful for the opportunity to be doing it together, and it’s a great situation for us both.”
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