Josh Henson is a Cowboy, no doubt about it. The former Tuttle High School Tiger walked on as a linebacker for then head coach Pat Jones during the probation-burdened era with Henson getting to Stillwater in 1993. Henson was turned into an offensive guard and started for three seasons including 1997 in helping lead the Cowboys to the Alamo Bowl under then head coach Bob Simmons.
After a few years coaching in the high school ranks, Henson came onboard with Les Miles coaching tight ends and serving as recruiting coordinator. He left with Miles to LSU and helped coach the national championship team. He was hired away by Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel and started as the Tigers offensive line coach but eventually moved into the role as offensive coordinator and helped Mizzou win two SEC East Division titles and play in two SEC Championship Games. When Pinkel retired, in part because of illness, Henson was not retained on the new staff and wound up back in Stillwater as the offensive analyst last season for the Pokes.
When word got out after signing day that head coach Mike Gundy had fired offensive line coach Greg Adkins, Gundy and the Cowboys fans were in lockstep to bring back Henson, who had left two weeks prior to become the assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Arizona State. Gundy, who has a history of strong hires when he needs to bring in new assistants, hit a home run with the Henson hire.
You can tell Gundy is very happy about having Henson back. He couldn't be any happier than Henson, who on his first weekend back got a loud ovation when introduced to the crowd at the OSU-Texas basketball game and also made the popular "Kiss Cam" during a time-out in the game with his wife and fellow OSU alum Shauna.
Henson: That was a bucket list deal there, to be on the "Kiss Cam" at Gallagher-Iba. I can check that off the list and there are like two things left now or three.
Allen: The question now is was that on Shauna's bucket list?
Henson: I don't think so, I don't think she was too fond of being on the "Kiss Cam" but it worked out alright for me.
Allen: How special is this for you? You were here last season as the offensive analyst. This has come full circle in that you were on Les Miles' staff here, then went to LSU, then Missouri, and now you're back here.
Henson: This feels great. It is great to be home because of all the obvious things. You know, family is close. Anytime you can share in an experience like this, being involved in a great program like Oklahoma State and have your family around to share in it then it makes it more special. This program, the university, the town, the people all mean a lot to my family and myself. So being back here and being a part of Coach Gundy's program, the great program that he has built here over the last 12-13 years in Stillwater is truly an honor. It is a dream come true for me, and I know people say "New York Yankees job" but this is a job that I always look back and once I left, you know I went out and had some huge experiences and gained a lot of knowledge, but there is a place in your heart that always wants to be back here and in the orange and in Boone Pickens Stadium and being around your friends and family in doing this job. That makes this really special and I'm very excited to come home and have this opportunity.
Allen: When you were at LSU, I called you after you guys won the national championship. I called you when you were at Mizzou. I made sure to maintain the relationship. I was at your first start up in DeKalb, Ill., when you started at guard against Northern Illinois. When you were away from Oklahoma State you were focused on your job at the time. I remember though, when you were at OSU with Miles there was a postgame locker room in Waco when OSU clinched a bowl berth and Miles and an assistant and fellow Michigan alum Doug Mallory were around the television watching the end of a Michigan-Ohio State game, totally focused on that. How much did you pay attention to Oklahoma State while you were gone?
Henson: Always on my phone, one of my favorite teams was Oklahoma State. They were my team and I always got the scores, the highlights. Obviously, when you are at other places you are working on Saturday also, but just like Coach Miles and Coach Mallory were focused on that Michigan game, I was the same way looking at Oklahoma State, always watching and trying to catch games when I could. One year at Missouri, I got a chance to make it back to the spring game and saw a lot of guys I played with. We had finished our spring practices a week earlier and I was able to make it back to the spring game. Coach Gundy and I have maintained our relationship over this time. I've always wanted to hear from him about the aspects of the program and how he built the program. I wanted to keep up on all aspects of the program and what they were doing on offense. Through all that time I've always wanted to see Oklahoma State do well. Now, I have an opportunity to be a part of it again and it is pretty special to me.
Allen: Okay, now how much of a lead do you have with the job of offensive line coach when you were around all last season, every game, every practice, in the offensive meeting room with the coaches? How much of an advantage is that for you?
Henson: I think it is a great point that you make and I think it gives me a tremendous lead. I know the personnel, I know the players, I know a lot of things in their game that we can improve on. I think being gone for a month and then coming back and be back in that offensive line room and having watched all the tape from last year, been around all the players, seen all the practices, seen it all up close and personal, and then being involved in the offense too. I know how Coach [Mike] Yurcich thinks, how Coach Gundy thinks, how all the other great guys in the room, the things that they teach and believe in, and how they see it. I think it is a tremendous head start. It's like I'm in a new job with a one-year head start on the job. From that standpoint this is a unique situation and the first time that I've been in it. I think it is going to give me a great jump start on getting in there with the players and helping them improve on the things they need to improve on so we can be a better team next fall.
Allen: One of the things I heard you say yesterday when we were talking, almost under your breath, was "I need to catch up on recruiting." You return Marcus Keyes, Brad Lundblade at center, and Zach Crabtree out there at right tackle. You have to fill two spots, but Larry Williams comes back after starting half the season before being injured and that should help. It looks good for the next year or the next two depth-wise. However, no high school offensive linemen in this recruiting class. How much heat is there on you and the staff in this next recruiting cycle to bulk up and make up for that?
Henson: I think one thing you have to be careful about is you don't want to get any massive waves of attrition. You go out and sign seven kids in one class and that's great, it fills your needs right now, but three or four years later you are left with that same hole in the roster. When you sit there and look you need to keep 16 to 18 offensive linemen on scholarship, somewhere in that range. When you're seven short in any one class then it's a big hole and there's a lot of depth and a lot of needs to fill. We're looking at this next recruiting class for us as far as the offensive line is concerned. We've got to get some numbers, but not just numbers, quality players. We want the right kind of guys, high character guys, very competitive guys, and they have to have some talent. Offensive line is the one place where you can steal in the game. You've got to have some talent but you can steal in the game. If you have all the intangibles, the character, the technique, just playing the game you can still get out there and kind of get your job done. It may not be unbelievable but you can still get the job done well enough for the team to win. We want athletic guys, guys that can move their feet. We want guys that can pull, guys that can run, guys that can pass pro. We're looking for those type of guys that have great movement and ability. These next two seasons I would say, there's a class coming up in Dylan Galloway, Matt Kegel, and Tevin Jenkins, I think those three kids have some talent. I like the (Arlington) Hambright kid that came in at mid-year, but he'll be gone in a couple of years. This class, from a high school recruiting standpoint, and the next class, you know, a long with those three kids that I just mentioned and Marcus Keyes, that will be the future of the offensive line after this season.
Allen: You also have to look at a guy like Junior, Lemaefe Galea'i, and a guy like that it is his time. If he is going to put in some serious playing time then it needs to happen now. Maybe you as a coach can get more out of a guy like that than the last coach. That is going to be something to look at this spring, the difference your coaching can have in impacting these guys.
Henson: That's right, and every coach will coach differently. One thing that I'm a huge believer in with coaching the offensive line is being a great technician. It's all the little things that add up to one big thing. Because on the offensive line it is like that "Any Given Sunday," to use the Al Pacino movie title, it is very true for our position. Inches of hand placement, difference of a step, those little things right there add up to be the difference in winning a block and then therefore in winning or losing a game. Being very detailed at your craft, being detailed in what you do every day, it gets monotonous and it takes thousands and thousands of reps to master something, so he doesn't have to think about it, he just does it. That work ethic is what we really need to improve in, so that we can be consistent and give ourselves the best chance to be consistent on Saturday and the best chance to win up front. You mentioned Junior and Deionte Noel, and to me, you know I said those other guys were the future, well these guys are the present. They are older guys, they are juniors and you never know in a season from a depth standpoint who you are going to need. Mike Wilson after Larry Williams went down and came in during his senior year and did a phenomenal job for us as far as the rest of the season. So when Larry went down, it was next guy in. Guys like Junior and guys like Deionte, and Shane Richards and Johnny Wilson have to be ready to play for us this season and next season also. Those guys have to be ready to play this next year.
Allen: Your last two pupils in coaching here, Billy Bajema and Charlie Johnson, went on to have pretty darn good careers in the NFL.
Henson: You remember that offense Robert, Charlie was basically a tackle anyway. Charlie and Billy are great guys and they did a really good job. Charlie is around here and he's been up here (football office) and we've been talking football. Man, what an awesome resource for me. I coached him when I wasn't nearly as good. I'm so much of a better coach now and I tell Charlie, "you got lucky, you got good on your own," so he is an awesome resource and we talk a lot of football. After playing 10 years in the NFL he has a lot of thoughts and a lot of ideas, different ways to accomplish things you are trying to accomplish, which are leverage, steps, punch, hand placement, different kinds of drills. He is a great resource for me bouncing different ideas off of him. He can bring up new ways to accomplish the same old things that have been true in football for years.