Change change sounded fun, but Henson has a lot to offer. At least, Gary Pinkel sure has to hope he does.
If you believe "sources," and in this case you really have no reason not to, then today Gary Pinkel is going to announce that Josh Henson is his new offensive coordinator. If you followed the rumor mill from the past few days, this was a bit of an upset. Rumors suggested that a) receivers coach Andy Hill was the clubhouse leader if Pinkel chose the in-house promotion route, and that b) Pinkel was still considering outside candidates into the weekend. But ... Henson it is. Hill will move to quarterbacks coach, and Henson will take over as coordinator.
So what do we know about Mizzou's new play-caller?
1. Let's start with his bio.
Granted, it will be getting a bit of an update soon, but Henson's MUtigers.com bio gives us quite a bit of information.
Josh Henson joined the University of Missouri football coaching staff in February of 2009 as its newest assistant coach. The first new hire to join Gary Pinkel's staff since he came to Mizzou in 2001, Henson came aboard to serve as co-offensive line coach. A former standout offensive lineman at Oklahoma State, Henson spent his prior four years as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisiana State University, where he developed the reputation as being a tremendous on-field teacher of the game, while also leading the charge for LSU's recruiting classes which ranked among the top 10 in the nation four times - including a 2009 class which ranked as No. 2 in the nation according to Rivals.com.
Henson went to OSU to play for Pat Jones, but Jones was dumped after Henson's redshirt freshman season. His final three seasons were spent in Bob Simmons' run-happy (and I mean run-happy) attack. He was a senior in Mizzou's crazy 51-50 win over OSU in Stillwater in 1997; if you remember, that OSU squad ran a ton, threw a ton to its stud tight end, and tinkered heavily with formations (including the ill-fated swinging gate on the game's final play, the failed two-point conversion)
Henson has provided an immediate impact for the Tiger football program, both on and off the field. The Tiger offensive line - despite the pre-season loss of All-Big 12 left tackle Elvis Fisher to a season-ending injury - developed into a stout unit that paved the way for a Big 12 team rushing title in 2011. The Tigers ranked 9th nationally, and led the Big 12 in rushing (244.00 avg.) and also ranked 12th nationally in total offense (475.54 avg.), despite featuring a first-year starter at quarterback.
Though we all most clearly remember how much this year's offensive line struggled, it is worth reminding everybody that when Henson came to Mizzou in 2009, Mizzou had a bit of a line problem. The Tigers were cranking out good lines, but they were overmatched against the Oklahomas of the world. In his second season, 2010, Mizzou completely and totally pushed Oklahoma around in the Homecoming win at Faurot Field. And in 2011, Mizzou ranked second in the country in Adj. Line Yards. (Sorry for the poor formatting on that page -- the SBN redesign kind of messed with the stat profile pages.) No, he does not get all of the credit for the fantastic line performances of 2010-11 -- he was, after all, only a co-coach on the line with Bruce Walker -- but he gets a lot of it.
In 2009, he helped coach a trio of Tiger offensive linemen - senior Kurtis Gregory (2nd-Team), and sophomores Elvis Fisher (Hon. Men.) and Dan Hoch (Hon. Men.) to All-Big 12 honors. The offensive line helped protect first-year starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert well enough so that MU ranked 14th in the nation in passing, while allowing only 20 sacks in 13 games and 467 passing attempts.
It was more of the same in 2010, as the offensive line was a key element to Mizzou's 10-win season (only the fourth double-digit win season in school history), as four of Henson's five starters won some level of all-conference honors. Senior center Tim Barnes established himself as one of the top centers in the nation, and he took home 1st-Team All-Big 12 honors for his outstanding play. Also earning all-conference acclaim were juniors Dan Hoch (2nd-Team), Elvis Fisher (Hon. Men.) and Austin Wuebbels (Hon. Men.).
Again, the offensive line was one of Missouri's strengths in recent years, until Mizzou combined an upgrade in competition with both graduation-related attrition (Mizzou lost three 2011 starters) and a nearly unprecedented number of line injuries in 2012. That formula would have been awful in the Big 12, too.
In the recruiting battles, Henson quickly helped MU establish ties to areas in which it had little success in recent years, and his efforts helped the Tiger 2010 class to a No. 21 national ranking by Rivals.com - marking the highest ranking ever for an MU recruiting class.
It's worth mentioning that PowerMizzou's Gabe Dearmond hinted last week that Henson is one of the main reasons 2014 recruits like Andy Bauer and Braden Smith are considering Mizzou. You make an offensive coordinator hire for the long-term effects, but this might help in the short-term, too.
Prior to Mizzou, Henson spent 10 years as a player and coach at Oklahoma State, prior to his most recent successful stint as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU. He replaced former Tiger coach Dave Christensen, who was the first assistant to leave Pinkel's staff since coming to MU in 2001. Christensen was named the head coach at Wyoming in December of 2008.
In 2007, Henson's coaching efforts helped LSU sophomore tight end Richard Dickson put together one of the most productive seasons at the position in school history. Dickson turned in the third-highest single-season reception total by a Tiger tight end in school history, and he capped the 2007 season by catching a pair of touchdown passes in LSU's 38-24 win over Ohio State in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game.
The Tiger tight ends played a key role as LSU's offense set a total of 10 school records in 2007, including points in a season and total yards in a season. Following the 2007 season, LSU tight end Keith Zinger was selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
We obviously have no idea what changes Henson might bring to the table, but...
It Wouldn't Surprise Me If ... Mizzou emphasized use of the tight end position a bit more under Henson. Of course, Mizzou would need actual tight ends on the roster for that, and the Tigers enter 2013 with just Eric Waters and Sean Culkin following Brandon Holifield's dismissal. Then again, Waters and Culkin have decent potential, so maybe that's enough.
As LSU's recruiting coordinator, Henson's abilities made an immediate impact on the Tiger roster as LSU had the nation's No. 2-ranked signing class in 2007 after a consensus top 6 national rating in 2006. For his efforts, Henson was ranked as one of college football's top 25 recruiters in 2006 and 2007 by Rivals.com.
The recruiting coordinator doesn't necessarily actually recruit that much, but as we wait to see who will fill the recruiting coordinator role that David Yost also abdicated, one has to figure that could go to Henson. I know it probably contributed to Yost's burnout, but a) Yost held three positions (offensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach ... and if you count "Assistant Head Coach," then he actually held four titles), and b) the alternative is either giving the title to Andy Hill (one of Mizzou's best recruiters, who probably needs to spend his time recruiting, not coordinating it) or a newbie (whoever Mizzou hires to replace Hill as receivers coach. I don't hate the idea of giving that title to Henson, too.
At Oklahoma State, Henson was instrumental in the development of Billy Bajema, who was a three-year starter for the Cowboys. As a senior in 2004, Bajema was one of the top tight ends in the country, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. Bajema was picked in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Seriously? Bajema's OSU career ended almost 10 years ago? I'm old.
Henson also played a vital role in OSU's offensive development as the Cowboys ranked among the top 15 scoring teams in the nation for three consecutive years. The Cowboys averaged over 34 points per game from 2002-04, which included 35.9 points per game in 2003 and 34.5 points a game in 2004.
Here's your reminder that Henson has a lot of Les Miles' influence in him, not only from his years at LSU but also from Oklahoma State.
It Wouldn't Surprise Me If ... Mizzou focused more on the run under Henson. Now ... that's a bit of a misleading statement. David Yost's offense catered to the talent at hand; in late-2010, with Mizzou proving capable of winning games with rushing, defense and special teams, Yost changed his play-calling drastically, and Mizzou began to run the ball a lot more. And in 2011, with the James Franklin-Henry Josey backfield, Mizzou trended toward running the football a lot. So it depends on personnel. It will under Henson, too. But it wouldn't surprise me if Mizzou's personnel began to shift a bit more toward power and size. Bringing in four-star St. Louis product Chase Abbington (all 6'4, 210 pounds of him) as a running back is certainly a start.
As Oklahoma State's recruiting coordinator, Henson played a key role in OSU's 2003 signing class being ranked No. 15 in the nation by Rivals.com. A year earlier, Rivals.com rated the Cowboy class as the 26th-best in the country.
Again, he's been doing the "recruiting coordinator" thing for a while now.
As a player, Henson was a four-year letterwinner with 40 career starts for Oklahoma State from 1993-97. He was a starter on the offensive line as well as team captain for Oklahoma State's 8-4 team in 1997, a squad that played in the Alamo Bowl against Purdue. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a senior, in addition to being an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick as a junior. Off the field, Henson was named the recipient of the L.L. Boger Award as a senior, an honor that recognizes a student-athlete's achievement both on the field and in the classroom.
Again, he's been doing the "offensive line" thing for a while now.
Henson graduated from Oklahoma State with a bachelor's degree in secondary education in 1998. Upon graduation, he went straight into coaching, serving as a high school football coach in Kingfisher, Okla. In one season at Kingfisher, he helped guide the Yellowjackets to the state semifinals.
Henson returned to Oklahoma State as a graduate assistant in July of 1999, spending one year with the Cowboy offensive line before taking a full-time position with OSU as tight ends coach in 2001.
Henson is a native of Tuttle, Okla. He and his wife Shauna have an 8-year old son, Will, and a 4-year old daughter, Kate. Henson lists golf, fishing and hunting as his hobbies in his spare time.
Tuttle, Oklahoma: Home of Heisman winner Jason White and a place to stop for gas on your way to the greatest barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma.
(Also: I'm pretty sure my high school alma mater, Weatherford, kicked the crap out of Kingfisher in 1998. SO TAKE THAT, JOSH HENSON.)
(And while we're using parentheses, I should also mention that it's a point in Henson's favor that he was willing to go in front of a camera three years ago and say that his favorite song is No Doubt's "It's My Life," even if he had good reasons for saying so.)
2. Todd Monken wanted him.
Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken, with whom Henson coached from 2002-06 at Oklahoma State and LSU, was recently hired as Southern Miss' head coach, and as we learned last week, he offered the coordinator job to Henson if Henson were to get passed over for the same position at Missouri. Not only did this lead to a delicate balance -- if you are faced with losing one of your best recruiters, and a great offensive coach, by bringing in an outsider as coordinator, there is no perfect move -- but it also served as quite an endorsement of Henson himself. Endorsements don't mean sure quality, but a good offensive coordinator (Monken) wanted Henson as his offensive coordinator. I've heard of worse things.
3. He's Gary Pinkel's man.
The reaction to yesterday's news in various corners of the Internet was both predictable and embarrassing. Internet RAAEEEGGGE is nothing new at this point, but the same people who immediately concluded that Frank Haith was a terrible hire, that Mike Alden should be fired on the spot for making such a hire, and that Mizzou was clearly not serious at winning at basketball have now already concluded that Henson was a terrible hire, that Gary Pinkel should be fired on the spot for making such a hire (because it's clearly terrible), and that Mizzou is clearly not serious at winning at football. (My favorite Internet comment from yesterday: "I have really come to loathe GP and everything he stands for." Because that's rational.) Forgive me if I choose to wait and see if Henson is good instead of simply assuming he's not.
Of all the complaints I saw in my brief Internet sojourn last night, the ones that were perhaps the most off-base of all (and there's quite a bit of competition for that title) were the ones suggesting that Pinkel clearly needed to step out of his comfort zone, and that it was a terrible hire because he didn't. Here's the thing: Pinkel has to be comfortable with this hire. He knows as well as anybody that his job is on the line in 2013. Mizzou doesn't have to be great to save his job, but he won't survive another losing season. From what I've heard, he's been told exactly this. Granted, the schedule eases up a bit next fall, which is good in and of itself, but if this hire doesn't work out, Pinkel isn't going to be coaching much longer. He needs this to work, and he needs to be comfortable with the person in charge of his offense.
4. Change for change's sake doesn't work.
Missouri's last head coach, Larry Smith, learned this in 2000. Following his offense's 1999 collapse, he brought in (or was forced to bring in) Bill Cubit, an early adopter of the spread offense, as his new offensive coordinator. It was a drastic change, one that Smith was never totally comfortable with (this really was a pretty drastic shift), and it didn't work. Against FBS teams, Mizzou averaged 20.4 points per game in 1999 ... and 20.5 in 2000, 17.6 versus FBS teams not named Baylor.
A lot of us, myself included, wanted what I called change change last week. Even those of us who acknowledge that injuries were the No. 1 (and, honestly, probably No. 2 and No. 3 as well) causes of Mizzou's offensive struggles last year, knew that David Yost had shortcomings. And hiring somebody like former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, or even somebody like former Cal head coach (and Oregon offensive coordinator) Jeff Tedford, would feel like bigger change than promoting somebody from within. But as I wrote last week, there's no guarantee that Chaney was even a 1% upgrade over Yost, and there's nothing saying somebody like Tedford (who would likely jump immediately for another head coaching job upon the first sign of improvement) would be able to immediately engineer an improvement either.
Four months ago, had David Yost suddenly resigned from his position as Missouri's offensive coordinator, the odds are very good that a) Pinkel would have promoted Henson at that time, and b) none of us would have thought twice about it. We are all a little scarred by 2012, even while acknowledging the role injuries played in Mizzou's struggles, but Henson didn't become any dumber overnight. This hire makes a lot of sense to me, but that doesn't even matter. It made the most sense to Gary Pinkel, and that's really the only thing that matters.
5. Henson takes over a pretty fun set of personnel.
We'll obviously talk in depth about this in the coming months (that 2013 Walkthrough series isn't that far away), but ...
A potentially healthy Henry Josey joining Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough at running back.
Sean Culkin joining the depth chart as a pass-catching (and healthy) tight end.
Nine members of Mizzou's final offensive line two-deep returning, including now-sophomore blue-chipper Evan Boehm.
Mizzou's 2012 problems did not come about only because of injuries. Mizzou's quarterbacks didn't show many signs of growth (and yes, injuries had a lot to do with that), the receivers dropped a ton of passes over the first half of the season, and while injuries crippled the offensive line, we saw enough from certain players to wonder about the overall talent level of the group. But Henson won't be starting from scratch. He knows this personnel pretty well, and more importantly, this personnel has a lot to offer.
It Wouldn't Surprise Me If ... Mizzou's offense was pretty damn good in 2013.
I cannot guarantee that this is a good hire, just like naysayers cannot guarantee that it's a bad one. But while I was completely okay with change change, I think there is a lot to like about Josh Henson. We'll see if this promotion causes Andy Hill to look for a job elsewhere (lord, I hope not), and we'll see who Pinkel hires as Hill's replacement at receivers coach. (Dave Matter mentioned former Mizzou receiver Jason Ray as a possibility yesterday, and honestly, considering how much it would annoy the reactionary side of the fanbase, the anti-social part of me is very much rooting for this.) But it is a move that could serve Pinkel and Mizzou pretty well in the short-term and, if Henson lives up to his supposed potential, very well in the long-term.