AP Photo Lou Henson top ten coach
You may have heard of some of the college basketball coaches who have more career victories than Lou Henson. Dean Smith (879 wins in 36 years), Adolph Rupp (876 wins in 41 years) and Bob Knight (809 wins as of 10/13/03).
But, you also may have heard of a few of the people who have less career victories than Henson. Henry Iba (764 wins in 41 years), Phog Allen (746 wins in 48 years) and Ed Diddle (759 wins in 42 years). These three men have all had arenas named in their honor (Oklahoma State, Kansas and Western Kentucky, respectively).
Henson has even been beaten to the Hall of Fame by a coach who also made his name in Illinois and has had very comparable success. Longtime DePaul coach Ray Meyer won 724 games in 42 years and took 2 teams to the Final Four.
The seven coaches I mentioned have all received the ultimate honor of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, while Coach Henson quietly goes about his business in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Henson is too humble of a man to ever politic for his enshrinement, so the members of Illini Nation need to begin the campaign.
After 39 seasons walking the sidelines of Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State and Illinois, the favorite son of Okay, Oklahoma was 10th all time in NCAA men's basketball victories with a record of 762 wins and 386 losses for a .664 winning percentage. Henson continues to add to his career record since he returned to New Mexico State to once again run the basketball program for his alma mater.
After Thursday night's 81-76 victory over Middle Tennessee State, the Aggies improved to 9-9 on the season and raised Henson's career victory total to 771. Henson is only 29 wins away from the 800 win plateau, an achievement only reached by 7 coaches. Henson would be even closer to 800 wins, but had to forfeit some games in his second stint at NMSU due to improper actions committed by the previous coach. Henson has appealed the NCAA to get those wins back, but don't hold your breath for a positive ruling.
Henson has more wins than many coaches in the Hall of Fame, took Illinois and New Mexico State each to the Final Four and made 19 NCAA tournament appearances. So what could be keeping him out of the Hall of Fame?
Unfortunately, Henson was never able to bring home a national championship. Temple coach John Chaney has never even been to a Final Four and just recently won his 700th game. However, the fiery Owls coach was inducted in 2001.
During his years at Illinois, Henson's teams sometimes struggled in the national spotlight of the NCAA tournament. Former Princeton coach Pete Carril has nearly 250 less wins than Coach Henson, but pulled off some very memorable upsets in the Big Dance. As you can guess, Carril is in the Hall of Fame.
But, what made Henson a popular figure with so many people in Champaign might be to his disadvantage with the selection committee. Lou Henson has often slipped under the national radar due to his quiet, unassuming manner. He's not flashy. He's not someone who is going to "bully" referees or threaten to kill an opposing coach in a post game press conference. He's just a man who is going to do what he loves to do, coach basketball. If he gets honored in the process, well that is just icing on the cake.
The athletic department at the University of Illinois can't do anything about Coach Henson not being in the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, they can do something to honor him for all his work in Champaign. New Mexico State is one step ahead of Illinois, because they play their games on Lou Henson Court. Perhaps the Illini could play their home games in Henson Hall. Another idea would be to raise a banner in the Assembly Hall with Henson's name and his record at Illinois. They could even symbolically retire his trademark orange sport coat.
Lou Henson is currently fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and is still coaching his Aggie squad. The coach has not missed a game or practice during this ordeal. His coaching career definitely warrants a plaque in Springfield, MA, but his bravery in the face of cancer is also a Hall of Fame accomplishment.
All-Time Winningest Coaches, All-Divisions (As of October 13, 2003)
1. Dean Smith (36 yrs.) 879 wins-254 losses, .776 winning percentage (HOF)
2. Adolph Rupp (41 yrs.) 876-190, .822 (HOF)
3. Jim Phelan (49 yrs.) 830-524, .613
4. Clarence Gaines (47 yrs.) 828-447, .649 (HOF)
5. Jerry Johnson (45 yrs.) 812-400, .670 (active)
6. Bob Knight (37 yrs.) 809-311, .722 (HOF) (active)
7. Lefty Driesell (42 yrs.) 800-409, .662
8. Don Meyer (31 yrs.) 769-262, .746 (active)
9. *Henry Iba (41 yrs.) 764-339, .693 (HOF)
10. *Lou Henson (39 yrs.) 762-386, .664 (active)
*With his 9 victories this year, Henson has passed Henry Iba for ninth place. Northern State head coach Don Meyer has won 13 games this year and remains in eighth place.