It shouldn’t come as a surprise that first-year Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson’s offense bears some resemblance to the system Mike Gundy installed at Oklahoma State.
After all, Henson served as the Cowboys’ tight ends coach during 2001-04 when Gundy was the offensive coordinator in Stillwater.
“He’s a terrific coach and an intelligent offensive mind,” Gundy said of Henson. “There are some similarities in the offenses when you get down to the basic principles of what we’re trying to accomplish and what it looks like they’re trying to accomplish."
Gundy and Henson used to hatch aggressive spread schemes together during meetings, knowing that such plays would fall on deaf ears when pitched to then-Oklahoma State coach Les Miles, who has an affinity for two tight-end sets with a fullback.
“It was all a lot of fun, but you look back and it was a great learning experience really,” Henson said.
Naturally, Henson, a native of Tuttle, Okla., still has great reverence for his days as a Cowboy.
He started his college career as a walk-on linebacker/tight end at Oklahoma State in 1993 before switching to the offensive line, where he was a three-year starter and captain.
After one season in the high school ranks, Henson served as a graduate assistant for the Cowboys in 1999, then returned in 2001 as the tight-ends coach before joining Miles at LSU during 2005-08.
“There were a lot of great people there that helped me along the way and helped me develop into the person I am and the player I was,” Henson said of his time at Oklahoma State.
Miles remains his biggest influence, a product of weekly Thursday night film sessions when coach and player would run through all the line checks for that week’s game plan, but Gundy also had an undeniable influence.
Across the field Friday when Missouri and Oklahoma State meet in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, Cowboys wide receivers coach Jason Ray has a similar story.
He was a senior captain for the Tigers in 2007, the last time coach Gary Pinkel brought a team to the Cotton Bowl.
“That entire senior year was really something special,” Ray said. “It’s something I cherish more than anything. It was a great way to cap off my career. Beating Kansas that year and having the opportunity to go to the Cotton Bowl, it was great.”
Of course, now he’s tasked with helping the Cowboys, 10-2, beat Missouri, 11-2, but Ray can’t afford to worry about staining his alma mater’s remarkable turnaround in its second season in the Southeastern Conference.
“Not so much,” Ray said. “I got a chance to see all the coaches and all the people associated with Missouri at the Cowboys’ welcome. I got to talk to them before we get closer to the game. The only mixed emotion there would be that I am an alum, but I work for Oklahoma State. I’m a Cowboy.”
The fact that the Tigers left the Big 12 does make it easier for Ray, who worked for former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christiensen during 2009-12, to root for his former squad.
Just not this week. It’s the same for Henson.
“It’s personal for me, but not because of who we’re playing against,” Henson said. “That’s really irrelevant. It’s personal to me because these guys have worked really hard to get our program turned back around and put us in position to be here at the Cotton Bowl, to be respected.”