PAT HENRY: An LSU coaching legend

The LSU Tiger football team won its first national championship in 45 years in January, the first of the modern era. Baton Rouge will never be the same again after the Nick Saban Tigers made their meteoric rise to the forefront of college football.

The LSU baseball program was dubbed the "Program of the Decade" under Skip Bertman winning five national championships in a 10-year period. Alex Box Stadium is the most feared baseball venue in all of college baseball.

 

Oh, by the way…. Pat Henry just led the LSU Track and Field team to another national championship. Oh… and just for the record, he didn't just get one, he bagged a pair as the Tigers' men's and women's track and field teams made history by sweeping the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.

 

And if you are interested, last week's sweep gave Henry his 26th and 27th national track and field titles since coming to LSU.

 

(You may now do a double-take.)

 

The Knute Rockne, John Wooden, Pat Summitt, Ray Dedeaux – Pat Henry is the official king of collegiate track and field. However, many feel he nor his elite group of athletes get their just due in Tigertown. The humble Henry says while he wishes there was more enthusiasm, the lack of exposure is generally accepted in the life of a track and fielder athlete.

 

"It doesn't bother me, it bothers me from the standpoint that I don't think our young people are given the recognition they deserve and for what they work for," Henry said. "But on the other hand, as a track athlete, you have some feel that that is the way it is going to be."

 

With 22 national titles on the women side along with a modest five championships by the men, Henry said he feels sometimes like people expect LSU track to never lose.

 

"In Baton Rouge, I think the perception is if we show up, we are going to win," Henry said. "It has grown into that. That is really a shame for the young people who are involved because they work awfully hard. We start day one and we never finish. There is no offseason in track and field. This is not a three month sport, it is a year round deal."

 

In LSU's most recent triumphs, the men outdistanced the field by a rather wide margin while ladies hung on for a slim victory.

 

"It was tremendous," Henry said. "Anytime you go into that kind of environment and you have won both championships especially with the competitiveness it really says a lot about what kind of team you have.

 

"If you can score at the NCAA championships, you are going to be one of the better athletes in the world in our sport. It doesn't make any difference in which event, you are going to be one of the better athletes that there is. The challenges are great and if you can come out of that being successful, you are pretty good."

 

Henry said the men have come on strong in recent years, but the historical dominance of the women casts quite a shadow and the men are trying hard to establish themselves as an equal power.

 

"I think with our ladies being so successful, people almost oversee the men," Henry said. "But if you can win a championship in anything it is pretty amazing. We (the men) have won three since 2001. We have had some great teams and this is a good one too."

 

It is obvious Henry gets hit with a barrage of different questions, what with such a large number of national titles. However, one of the more popular (just behind "where do you keep all those rings?") is what is the secret to being so dominant?

 

"You have to recruit well," Henry said. "You have to have a staff that works hard and knows what they are doing. The majority of this staff has been with me a while, six or eight years and one has been with me longer than that. This is a great group of guys (the staff). They are very hardworking and that is the key. They are knowledgeable on the sport and with all of us together and with our eyes on recruiting."

 

And recruiting talent is only half the battle, finding the right athlete for the LSU situation is the most important thing.

 

"You have to recruit the right people," Henry said. "You have to recruit people that fit your program. It is not always the most absolute best athlete in the country that you try and recruit. It has to be the one that fits your program. They might not fit the personality of your group in a way that we look at our sport. We are an individual sport, but there is a team atmosphere too."

 

And the result?

 

"Our first goal is to be successful as an individual – and if we have a lot of great individuals, we are going to have a great team," Henry said. "That is kind of the way we look at it."

 

Like Nebraska and Notre Dame in football and North Carolina and Duke in basketball, aside from the secret of their success, how is it that some schools dominate sports they way they do?

 

"I think it is a combination of lots of things," Henry said. "We have had people that have supported the sport from day one at this institution and any sport in which you are successful, you have to have support. Track has always been so closely related to football in the south.

 

"Look at track and field in the south and look at the guys who run track and it is very close to football. Look at the SEC. Right now, the SEC is very dominant in the sport of track and field. It used to be the Pac-10 that was the most dominant and while the Pac-10 still has several great programs with SC, UCLA and Oregon, but even 20 years ago they may have been even a little bit more dominant in football than they are right now. The SEC is more dominant in football these days. So there is a great correlation between the two. It takes great talent to be successful."

 

Track was present at LSU even before Henry's days on campus. The Tigers were winning track titles as far back as the 1930s. History, Henry says, is something he tries to stress on his athletes these days.

 

"I think there is a combination of a lot of care for the program along with the history," Henry said. "It has been important here. From Carl Maddox building that field house a long time ago way before any other school even thought about it. That shows the vision for this sport and I think Carl Maddox had great vision at that time and got the things going. There is a long tradition of good track and field.

"Most young people don't know much about the past," Henry said. "Most of our kids were two and three years old when I started coaching here and don't think of it in that regard, they sometimes only think of it in the present. But traditions and history do a lot more for us who are older than the ones that are in the fire right now."

 

And with history, as well as tradition, comes intimidation. Like the "Intimidator" at Alex Box reminding visitors of who they are playing, a large toteboard looms in the Bernie Moore Track Stadium revealing the Tigers and Lady Tigers long and storied past. Does it work?

 

"We hope," Henry said. "You hope when purple gets on the track it gets noticed. But I think there is no question that is part of what goes along with it. I think our athletes know when they put that uniform on they are representing a great past and a great present."

 

Several of those athletes who have donned the purple and gold track uniform have crossed the line over from football. Like national champion Bennie Brazell and other gridders like Devery Henderson and Adrian Mayes, football players have made quite a splash for LSU on the track.

 

"There has been a tradition of having those great skill people wanting to come to LSU because there was an opportunity for them to be involved in the track program as well as the football program," Henry said. "Sort of like the one coming now, Xavier Carter, he is coming here because of an opportunity. He has an opportunity to run and play football. In the years I have been here, we have had a football coach or two that did not correlate between football and track. But I think Nick Saban is doing everything he can to make that thing work."

 

With all the success LSU has had, one would think the Tigers would be flogged with fans and well-wishers. Henry explained why this is not the case.

 

"I think the press may make a little more of that than there is," Henry said. "I think the press needs to understand and they don't understand that there is a huge clientele of people who want to read and want to know what is going on in our sport."

 

But as for attending?

 

"Track and field is sort of like golf," Henry continued. "There are a huge number of people who play golf, but they don't go out and watch golf. But they are interested in what's going on with it. Same is true with track and field. If you look at high school participation list, out of the top 10 most popular sports to play, football is obviously at the top. But look at the numbers of people who participate in track and field. Then if you add cross-country to that, we are all the way up to second on the men's side and absolutely number one on the women. That means there are a lot of people out there that want to know what's going on."

 

NCAA Championships do stand out in the annals of LSU track and field; however, Henry still maintains that each year one of his team's primary goals is to be successful at the SEC Championships. Henry has demonstrated that philosophy as his LSU teams have captured 16 SEC crowns during his tenure. One of the highlights under Henry came during the 1989 season when LSU won all but the men's NCAA Indoor Championships. The women won both the SEC and NCAA Indoor and Outdoor titles, while the men won both SEC titles and the NCAA Outdoor crown.

 

Under Henry's guidance LSU has become a benchmark program in the collegiate ranks. However, the accolades haven't stopped there as many of Henry's athletes have gone on to experience tremendous success at the international level. In all, LSU has produced 37 Olympians and 38 World Championships competitors since Henry's arrival, totals that include three Olympic gold medalists and five medalists at the World Championships.

 

Between 1983-87, Henry molded a powerhouse men's program at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, that swept both the 1987 NJCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships. Henry earned both Indoor and Outdoor National Junior College Coach of the Year honors in 1986 and 1987 for his efforts.

 

Prior to Blinn College, Henry served as head coach at Hobbs (NM) High School, where he led his teams to five state championships.

 

Henry's coaching abilities can be traced through his lineage. In 1911 when sprint sensation Gwinn Henry, Pat's grandfather,was declared the "fastest man in the world," one reporter wrote, "Unlike most champions, he is not a talker." It is a trait that has been past down from generation to generation, along with the proficiency for coaching. Gwinn went on to serve as the head football and track coach at Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico, while his son Gwinn Bub followed in his footsteps as an assistant track coach at New Mexico. The Henry's coaching tradition has continued into the third generation as Pat now leads the LSU track and field program, while brother Matt heads the track and field program at New Mexico and his twin, Mark, serves as his assistant.

 

A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Henry graduated from Del Norte High School in 1969. He received his bachelor's degree in physical education from New Mexico in 1973 and later added a master's degree in education administration from Western New Mexico in 1979.

- LSU Sports Information contributed biographical data


Tiger Blitz Top Stories