COLUMBIA Josh Henson is determined not to take his journey for granted.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
On Monday, just hours after he was officially appointed Missouri’s new offensive coordinator by head coach Gary Pinkel, the 37-year old Henson stood in a media room at Mizzou Arena, explaining the way he went from being a walk-on lineman at Oklahoma State to a top assistant in the country’s best conference.
Henson repeated, quite often, that over the last 20 years or so, he’s found himself sitting in coaching booths, next to some of the brightest offensive minds college football has to offer: Les Miles, Mike Gundy, Jimbo Fisher, Gary Crowton. And yes, Henson says, that list includes David Yost, the man he is replacing in a quest to revive Missouri’s once-vaunted spread attack.
“Through all that experience, you get to see how guys think and how they approach certain situations and different calls,” Henson said. ‘I’ve seen all kinds of different offenses, and at the end of the day, it’s about figuring out what your guys can do and figuring out ways to put them in position to do that.”
After a two-week search to find a replacement for Yost, who resigned on Dec. 3, Pinkel eventually settled on Henson, 37, who spent four years as Louisiana State’s tight-ends coach and recruiting coordinator before joining Pinkel’s staff as co-offensive line coach in 2009.
Today’s announcement was the culmination of a lifelong journey for Henson, who says he’s always been fascinated by the strategic part of the game — and has the stories to prove it.
“My mom caught me drawing football plays on a table when I was eight years old,” Henson said. “I’ve always been into the X’s and O’s part of the game. It’s just something that’s been in my heart and soul to do for a long time.”
Henson, who sat in the booth with Yost last season and assisted with playcalling duties, reportedly had an offer to become offensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi last week — he admitted Monday he had another opportunity to go elsewhere and coach — but that never came to fruition, as he opted to stay in Columbia.
“Josh has been a key part of our system for four years,” Pinkel said in a statement released by the school. “He will bring his own style to how we will operate.”
Along with new quarterback coach Andy Hill — whose promotion from receivers coach was also announced Monday — Henson is tasked with improving an offense that finished 11th in the 14-team Southeastern Conference SEC in scoring offense, 13th in rushing offense and ninth in passing offense as MU limped to a 5-7 record this season, its first in the SEC.
“This year was not up to our standards, we understand that,” Hill said. “And we have some challenges ahead of us to make sure in the spring we get everybody on the same page and we execute our offense better than what we did this year.”
The question is, how? And will Henson, who also has a background in pro-style offenses, move MU away from the spread?
Henson was somewhat coy on Monday — “if I was smart, why would I tell you that?” he joked — but his answers seemed to indicate that he will only tweak MU’s spread attack, not move away from it.
“We’ve got a bunch of very fast, great wide receivers,” Henson said. “We’ve got one of the deepest receiving corps I’ve seen. If we can put those guys on the field to make plays, we should … the truth is, we are a certain way. You look at our personnel and roster, that’s who we are. Even if we wanted to change it, that will take time — and I’m not saying we’d want to change it.
“I have my own ideas about what we’re going to do on offense, I have my own philosophies on the things I want to do. Will there be things different than we’ve done? Yes. But I also think there’s value in the kids being familiar with system names and terms.”
Hill, a former MU player who has been coaching receivers at the school since 1996, echoed the sentiment.
“You want familiarity,” Hill said. “With our offense, if you do wholesale change, then you’ve got to retrain a lot of people in a lot of different ways. So we’re going to run what we’ve run. But we’re going to add coach Henson’s tweaks and some things that we all collaboratively (figure out).”
When asked if he could have seen any of this coming three weeks ago, before Yost resigned, Hill shook his head. However, Hill did say he wanted to change positions, and was confident in his ability to pick up the fundamentals of the quarterback position. And he won’t hesitate to reach out to other coaches for insight, including Yost.
‘I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the quarterback position and the fundamentals of it,” Hill said. “Getting your footwork and your feet set and reading defenses is really going to be the key to the guy doing the right thing under center.
“Hopefully by the time I get to two-a-days, I’m as comfortable coaching quarterbacks as I am receivers.”
Hill said he has not discussed in detail his additional responsibilities with Pinkel, but was adamant that they won’t affect him on the recruiting trail, where he is widely regarded as one of the staff’s best recruiters.
“Not one bit,” said Hill, the staff’s main recruiting liaison to the Kansas City area.
Henson said he will continue to work with the offensive line, though he will clearly oversee the entire offense — a responsibility that may ultimately determine whether the Tigers bounce back next season or not.
Henson knows this. However, he also knows he has been preparing for this opportunity for the better part of his adult life.
“And, hey, I know I’ve got to go out there and prove myself,” Henson said. “But I started 40 games (at Oklahoma State) after being a walk-on, so to me it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”