Legendary Ouachita Baptist University football coach Buddy Benson passed away Friday, April 22, at age 77.
Benson, the head football coach at Ouachita from 1965 to 1995, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the NAIA Hall of Fame and the OBU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Benson, who recorded the most coaching wins in college football history in Arkansas, compiled a 162-140-8 record during his 31 seasons at Ouachita, including four conference championships and two trips to the NAIA national playoffs. He coached 16 All-America players and 208 All-Conference selections and was named AIC Coach of the Year four times.
The Ouachita position was Benson’s first and only collegiate head coaching job after four years as an assistant coach. During his tenure as head coach, the Tigers earned the program’s 300th and 400th milestone victories. Following his retirement from coaching, Benson served as Ouachita’s athletic director until 1998.
During almost four decades at Ouachita, Benson was known for his dedication to the university and his commitment to prepare student-athletes for successful lives. “If a kid can stick it out with us for four years, he will end up being a pretty successful person,” he was fond of saying.
“I have been blessed with having the opportunity to coach at a wonderful institution and to have the honor to work with so many fine young men over the course the years,” Benson said in 1995 as he made the transition from head coach to athletic director. “I tried, along with my fellow coaches, to teach them not only about football but also about the true values of life.”
“I am walking around kind of numb right now. I feel like a part of me is gone,” said Cliff Harris, who played for Coach Benson at Ouachita before going on to an All-Pro NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Coach Benson was such an influence on me in times in my life that demanded I step it up a notch,” Harris said. “He added a component of toughness in our lives that helped us overcome obstacles. His influence really was about challenging us to dig deeper and reach within ourselves to achieve levels we would not have thought possible otherwise.”
Coach Benson “really cared for his players and for our well-being,” Harris added. “He was obviously a father figure for me and for all of his players. We all felt like we were part of his family.”
Ouachita Chancellor Ben Elrod, who was president when Benson retired from coaching, said at the time, “Buddy Benson has demanded excellence from his players in the classroom as well as on the field. Buddy has left a legacy of integrity, loyalty and dedication to one’s work. The world in which we live could well use many more like Coach Buddy Benson.”
“Coach Benson was and is a legend at Ouachita,” said Ouachita President Rex Horne. “His influence in shaping the lives of young men as well as his impact upon our university will always be remembered.
“As I reflect on Coach Benson’s life and legacy, I think about the many relationships he built and how he invested his life at Ouachita,” Horne added. “Becky and I have the greatest respect and appreciation for his wife, Janet, and the Benson family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family as we all feel a tremendous sense of loss today.”
On the collegiate level, Benson played for the University of Arkansas and is best remembered as a leader on the 1954 team that won a Southwest Conference championship. He lettered as a Razorback in 1954 and 1955.
“When you think of Coach Benson’s legacy, he basically molded young boys into young men through hard work and discipline, while building character at the same time,” said Ouachita Athletic Director David Sharp, who played and coached for Benson and succeeded him as AD. “One of the things he was proud of over the years was seeing his players graduate.
“His loyalty to Ouachita was immeasurable,” Sharp added. “He is Ouachita football. When you think of Ouachita football, you think of Coach Benson.”
Benson is survived by his wife, Janet; son, Gary; daughter, Laurie; and six grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia. Memorial gifts may be made to the Ouachita Gridiron Club, OBU Box 3788, Arkadelphia, AR 71998.
By Trennis Henderson, OBU Vice President for Communications