Tom Keegan: Henderson impressed by Kansas head coach

Coach Pat Henderson goes over the first half performances with KU's running backs, from left, Brandon McAnderson, Jon Cornish, Clark Green, Austine Nwabuisi and John Randall, at halftime.

Coach Pat Henderson goes over the first half performances with KU's running backs, from left, Brandon McAnderson, Jon Cornish, Clark Green, Austine Nwabuisi and John Randall, at halftime.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Late October, 1999, defensive coordinator Pat Henderson took over for fired Dave Rader as interim head football coach at the University of Tulsa and charmed the media with straight talk spiced with humor.

At his introductory news conference, Henderson joked that he was going to install a wishbone offense and also opened a window into his background, saying, “I grew up poor and probably would have been a little street bum if I wouldn’t have had athletics.”

Seventeen years later, Henderson has an interim in front of his title, this time followed by “director of the Williams Educational Fund,” for which he has worked since leaving Mark Mangino’s staff after the 2004 season.

A linebacker for Kansas University out of Kansas City, Mo., in the early ’70s, Henderson, 64, brings passion to the job in part because of his humble background.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without an athletic scholarship,” Henderson said from behind his desk. “I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Since then, everybody, cousins, children, everybody has graduated from college.”

During decades as an assistant coach at Kansas and several other stops, he has seen stories similar to his play out all over the country.

“The generosity of somebody else allowed that to happen,” he said of getting a college degree. “A lot of the kids we get on athletic scholarships, it affects not just that one person, it affects generations of that family, sometimes even communities: ‘He got out of here, so I can escape too.’ It may not even be because of athletics, but just, ‘He can go to college, so can I.’”

Henderson takes over until a permanent replacement is found for Banks Floodman, who left to pursue a career in commercial real estate.

Beyond funding scholarships, the Williams Fund must generate donations in order for the athletic department to keep up with the Joneses and Pickenses, etc., on the facilities front.

The current WEF challenge involves coming up with up to $2.5 million for a football locker room renovation that will leave a serious impression on recruits.

Henderson recently toured this state and others with second-year head football coach David Beaty and was impressed with his energy and the way he explained to alumni the challenge that lays ahead and how jazzing up the locker room will translate to better athletes using it.

Asked to rank how Beaty performs in the aspect of his job that relates to the Williams Fund, Henderson didn’t hold back.

“First of all, frankly, the bar was pretty low,” Henderson said, a reference to Charlie Weis never feigning interest in schmoozing alumni. “The reality is I can’t imagine us having a better one. I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of really good football programs and a lot of rebuilding jobs. Coach Beaty’s the best I’ve been around, by far, as far as donor relations.”

The natural first instinct for most is to wonder why Kansas needs an improved locker room in the Anderson Family Football Complex, which opened in 2008. Listening to Beaty talk to alumni helped Henderson fully appreciate the importance of the project.

“He talked about this generation and what goes through their mind and how they make decisions on what they see and how it makes them feel,” Henderson said. “That’s why you’ll see them taking jobs where there is a cafeteria and you can wear jeans and they can ride a skateboard in the office for less money because that’s what turns this generation on.

“And as Dave says, one thing is clear: You either have to figure out what they want and try to get it for them or play against them. And obviously it’s a lot better to figure out what attracts them and what makes them tick. And frankly, a lot of that’s bling. A lot of that’s the wow factor.”

Having coached football in parts of four decades, Henderson can read signs of progress from a down-trodden program long before the scoreboard reflects them. Naturally, it’s his job to believe in Beaty, but I know Henderson well enough to know that he genuinely believes Beaty was the right hire. Time, if Beaty is given enough of it, will determine whether Henderson is right, but I don’t doubt the sincerity of his opinion for a second.

The old coach in Henderson makes him wander out to the practice fields now and then.

“From the first time I went to practice and every time since, I’ve been impressed with the enthusiasm with which they approach practice,” Henderson said. “You don’t see any coaches watching practice. They’re coaching hard all the time. They’re vocal. They’re enthusiastic. They’re constantly coaching the players, constantly trying to make them better.”

Losing can turn the weak into losers. An 0-12 season can create a cloud that follows everyone everywhere. The sky remains blue, despite the depressing scoreboard.

“When you’re winning,” Henderson said, “it can carry over into everything too. Academic issues, off-field issues, and we have not had that. And Dave’s been able to keep them positive and keep them believing in the end result, and that’s not easy when you’re losing. That requires an understanding of the psyche of kids and also it’s having a command of your coaching staff to keep them up and keep them focused on the job at hand.”

A heavy reliance on junior-college recruiting put KU way behind in terms of scholarships and it will take a couple of more years to get to full strength in terms of scholarship players because of the limit of 25 per class. Upgrading the quality of recruits, then maximizing the potential of recruits in the weight room and practice field, is a gradual process. In highly competitive Big 12 football, the world doesn’t wait for Kansas to catch up.

“Football is an extremely hard sport, whether you’re a player or a coach,” Henderson said. “The amount of time that goes into those 12 Saturdays is just crazy when you think about it. And the reward is winning. So to be able to keep players and coaches focused and working and on task is an impressive skill to me.”

As for the Williams Fund, losing Floodman was a blow, but not a lethal one.

“This ought to be a very smooth transition because we have an outstanding staff of Jayhawks in the Williams Fund,” Henderson said.

One member of the Williams Fund could but does not boast about being the key to the great Todd Reesing ending up a Jayhawk. Henderson’s son-in-law, Jake Stoetzner, received a tape of Reesing from Todd’s father, Steve Reesing, a family friend, with instructions to have Henderson get it into the hands of the coaching staff. Henderson did so after watching it and loving what he saw. If Henderson’s instincts about the 0-12 football coach prove as sound as they were in judging the 5-foot-10 quarterback, happy days could return to Memorial Stadium, but it will take awhile.