Madison Academy’s George Bennett retires from coaching
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
The 2018-2019 school year is the 48th for George Bennett as an educator. The teacher and athletic coach will close out his career as a coach when the school bell sounds on the last day of school, after spending 27 of those years at Madison Academy.
The 73-year-old Bennett has announced his plans to retire from coaching when the school year is complete. He said he knows deep in his soul he has had a wonderful career, rich with success as a mentor to young people – especially the thousands of athletes who have looked to him not only for guidance in sports but also in making the transition from students to adults.
“The best part of being a coach is the relationships I’ve had with the players and the camaraderie with the other coaches – some of whom I coached against in very competitive games,” said Bennett. “It’s been a great ride.”
His career in education began in 1971 after graduating from Florence University – what is now the University of North Alabama. He began at Madison Academy, spending seven years there as a head coach. He then moved to Lee High School in Huntsville for six years, including four years as head coach, taking over when Max Burleson died on the practice field in 1984. Bennett moved to Hazel Green for four years before returning to Madison Academy, where he served as head coach from 1992-2004. He is now an assistant coach for the Mustangs’ football team, in charge of the wide receivers.
“I knew definitely when I was a junior in high school at Butler High of Huntsville – I wanted to be a coach. I knew I wasn’t going to make much money, but other types of work did not interest me,” said Bennett. “After high school, I put off college, got married in January 1966 and two months later joined the Alabama National Guard. I was with them for six years.”
Bennett worked various jobs with a real estate company and the post office and even had a stint selling women’s shoes. He said he knew he had to make a living to support his wife, Terri, and their family. He didn’t have enough money to attend college full time until he packed his bags with Terri and moved to Florence to complete his college degree. Upon earning his diploma, he immediately pursued his passion.
Upon his retirement, Bennett said he might just get in his car and drive with no particular destination in mind. Terri will only be there in spirit; in February 2016 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and June 10, 2016, she passed away of a stroke. “She was the greatest coach’s wife. Her support of my career was never ending, and she helped convince me I could be a coach – and a good one, too,” Bennett said.
Bennett returned to the football field less than two months after her passing, driven by his love of coaching. He planned to retire after the 2017-2018 school year, but those at Madison Academy somehow convinced him to stay one additional year.
Those who coached with Bennett or played for him know he is a humble man without an ego. He said he’s actually intimidated by other coaches and their knowledge of the game he’s been around since starting as a youth player growing up in West Huntsville.
Bennett said he would like his epitaph to read that he was a good man who was a good coach, father and husband who, without his wife, would have never coached.
“I lost more games than I won as a head coach, but I feel I’ve been a winner as a coach, and when my former players make the efforts to return to say hello, that proves that point,” said Bennett. “I’ve had fantastic experiences. I have three children and four grandchildren … I coached my son, and the grandkids see me on the sidelines.”