Loyal Lions

Longtime Behrend coaches, from left, Dan Perritano, Paul Benim, and Dave Niland.

Longtime Behrend coaches, from left, Dan Perritano, Paul Benim, and Dave Niland.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Three longtime coaches explain why they've each stayed in the game at Behrend for twenty-plus years.

Paul Benim came to Penn State Behrend as a student in 1988.

He’s been here ever since.

Benim is starting his twenty-second season as the head coach of the Behrend baseball team. First, he coached women’s softball for three years, and before that, played baseball for three years while pursuing a bachelor's degree in Business and Behavioral Sciences.

“I’m still here because I think I saw what (Behrend) could be, and I also hoped for that,” Benim said.

His longtime commitment to the college is hardly the exception in Penn State Behrend’s athletics program.

Dave Niland has been coaching the men’s basketball team for twentythree years while Dan Perritano just completed his twenty-fourth season coaching the men’s soccer team.

In intercollegiate athletics, turnover is frequent. But across all of Penn State Behrend’s twentytwo NCAA Division III men’s and women’s varsity sports, nearly every head coach has held his or her position for an average of twelve-plus years.

The longevity of Behrend’s coaches was one of the things that resonated with women’s basketball coach Christine Slater when she interviewed for her job three years ago.

“You know it’s a great place when you walk into an interview and every coach has been here for fifteen to twenty years,” Slater said. “Otherwise, why would they be here?”

Ask Benim, Niland, or Perritano why they’ve stayed, and you will get the same answer: leadership.

“The administration has been great here, and it’s very stable,” Niland said. “(Former directors of athletics) Herb (Lauffer) and Roger (Sweeting) really made us understand what’s most important, and that’s your players. They are your top priority, even after they graduate.”

Lauffer and Sweeting were especially influential for the coaches early in their careers. For any first-time head coach, there is an acclimation period. Every loss weighs heavily. Behrend’s longtime coaches said they would often look to Lauffer or Sweeting for guidance.

“When you’re young, you struggle, and if you don’t have great leadership, you won’t survive,” Niland said.

After Lauffer’s death and Sweeting’s retirement, Brian Streeter was hired as director of athletics in 1996. He has TICS been just as committed to athletics as his predecessors were.

“It’s huge when you’re around someone who cares about your sport almost more than you do,” Perritano said. “That’s how Brian is.”

While Benim, Niland, and Perritano have often looked to the school’s director of athletics for support, they also rely on one another.

“It’s a very tight-knit group of coaches, and we help one other. We always say ‘there’s winning and there’s misery,’ so we can always relate to how one another is feeling,” Niland said.

Of course, these coaches have enjoyed plenty of winning during their tenures.

The baseball team has won five AMCC championships under Benim, the men’s basketball team has qualified for the NCAA Tournament seven times with Niland, and Perritano has led the men’s soccer team to the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinals on five occasions.

They’ve watched not only their athletic programs grow and succeed, but also the college, too.

When each of the three arrived on campus, Behrend was home to fewer than half of the 4,600 students it has today. There were only three residence halls, and the college participated in just eight NCAA Division III sports.

In their tenures, the coaches have seen new facilities for all of their sports. The $10.2 million Junker Center opened in 2001, the same year the college built its baseball and softball complex. In 2013, Behrend added a $2.9 million soccer and lacrosse complex.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find another school that’s changed as much as we have,” Niland said.

Through all the change, the constant, according to the coaches, has been a warm, family atmosphere.

“There’s just such a sense of teamwork,” Perritano said. “Faculty members will help with player visits. We all root for one another, and we all know how blessed we are to be here and do this.”

That welcoming atmosphere has helped in recruiting.

“Behrend continues to evolve and push forward. It’s an easy sell,” Benim said. “Behrend works, and it creates a very positive growth experience for student athletes.”

“People care about athletics here, and our student-athletes recognize that,” Perritano added. “It’s important.”

That’s also why Behrend athletes continue to support the programs long after they graduate.

“For all of us, it’s the players who make our programs,” Benim said. “After they graduate, they become not just alumni, but also friends.”

On a daily basis, Penn State Behrend’s coaches are tasked with teaching, recruiting, and developing strategies to win. It’s not an easy job, but it’s not exactly a bad job either. Benim, Niland, and Perritano never lose sight of that.

“We have results-based jobs, but at the end of the day, we’re spending our lives around a game that we love. That doesn’t leave me,” Perritano said.