The Coaching Hendersons – LG, Butch, Cooper and Rex

by Dan Ford

This week (3/3/2016), Cooper Henderson announced that he was stepping down as football coach of the Artesia Bulldogs after 27 years.  His overall record as a head coach in New Mexico is 293-103-1.  He has won 15 state championships and was named National Coach of the Year after the 2015 season.  Talk about going out on top!

Coach Henderson, 60, will remain as Athletic Director at AHS and did not rule out the possibility of returning to coaching in the future.  He presently is fourth on the all-time win list in New Mexico behind Eric Roanhaus, who is still active at Clovis with 335 wins in 38 years, Jim Bradly of Mayfield fame and Bill Gentry, the Highland/Eldorado coach who retired in 1988.

The Henderson coaching story is truly remarkable and unprecedented.  First of all, Artesia has won more state championships in this country than any other high school since 1950 (they place 4th on the all-time list with the schools ahead of them dominating their states earlier in the century).  The Hendersons have been a part of 21 of those trophies as head coach, assistant coach, and players.

Let’s start with the patriarch, Lenard G. (LG) Henderson.  LG was born in Clarendon, Texas in 1929.  He went to college at New Mexico State.  His first coaching job was in a junior high in Odessa.  He moved his family to Phillips, TX in the early 1950s and to Artesia in 1955 where he became the backfield coach for the Bulldogs.  The Dogs had won their first state championship in 1954 after years of being dominated in the region by Roswell and Carlsbad.  After Artesia won their second title in 1957 LG took the job as head coach at Dalhart,TX in 1958.  But he came back to Artesia when Coach Reese Smith stepped down in 1960.  14 years later Artesia had won five more state championships and LG had a record of 109-41-8.

His older sons now out of high school after the 1972 season, LG considered a move and a move up the coaching ladder.  After the 1972 season he was interviewed for the head coaching job at New Mexico State.  Also interviewed was another alum, Jim Bradley.  Bradley got the job.  In April of 1974, following an unusually subpar 2-8 season at Artesia LG Henderson announced that he was leaving Artesia.  He said, “I regret leaving, but I feel like I can’t pass up the opportunity that the job affords.  I’ve passed up some in the past because of my family.”  Artesia had had a reduced enrollment in those last years and many good coaches had left for head coaching jobs of their own.  Coach Henderson was rumored to be disappointed that the Bulldogs would drop down from the large school classification (AAAA at that time) and compete in a league with Portales, Tucumcari, and Lovington.  He left for a head coaching job in Alice, Texas and later to San Antonio where he was coached through 1983.  LG Henderson died in Lubbock at the age of 83 in December of 2012.

This article is about the Hendersons but it is also about the family of Artesia Bulldog coaches and how they have “kept it in the family”.  We’ll write more about that in a minute but to emphasis that point it should be noted that the coach who followed LG Henderson was one of his own, a player who was on the 1964 championship team and an assistant to him when he left the Pecos Valley.  It was Mike Phipps, a 27-year-old Artesia graduate.  Phipps would win his first 22 games and keep the job for 10 years before getting into administration, retiring as the Artesia Superintendent in 2012 after 42 years of service to the Artesia school district.

LG Henderson had two older sons; Butch a 1970 AHS graduate and Cooper, who graduated in 1973.  Both played football for their father.

Butch was a talented quarterback whose teams won 4 straight state championships.  Butch went on to ENMU where he was quarterback for the Greyhounds and part of a winning team that had not been in Portales for over 10 years.  Butch did not return to Artesia but headed into Texas to start his coaching career at Borger.  He became in 1978 and accumulated a 59-46-1 record in 10 seasons.  He then went to Lubbock Coronado in 1988 where he coached for 23 years with a record of 141-105.   He is now approaching his mid-60s and is the head coach of the revised football team at Wayland Baptist College in Plainview,TX where they had not had football since World War II.  2015 was his fourth year of this new NAIA program.

Now comes Cooper.  Cooper Henderson came into this world about the same time that the Hendersons first moved to Artesia.  He was not the skilled athlete that Butch was.  While Butch was a champion athlete on the Artesia teams of the late 60s, Cooper was a skinny wide receiver wearing the number 88.  In his senior year he was listed at 156 pounds.  Unlike Butch who played on four title teams, Cooper’s only ring was in his freshman year.

Both boys played for ENMU with Butch having the success as the Greyhound quarterback.  After graduation in 1977 Cooper started coaching in Ruidoso at the junior high level.  In 1984 he became head coach of a team that had won on once in the previous two seasons. He led them to an 8-3-1 record in that first year, ironically losing in the playoffs to Artesia.  The next year the Warriors won it all with a 12-1 record, starting the season with a 14-13 win over Ruidoso (up until that game Artesia had been 70-6-1 against AAA teams since they dropped to that classification in 1974).

The home town called in 1989 and Cooper Henderson took the call, starting his 27 year reign that brought another 14 championships for the famous Artesia water tower.  Like his father, Cooper is the Athletic Director for the school, a time-consuming task by itself in this age of so many sports and activities.

Who will succeed Cooper Henderson as Artesia’s head coach and a 2016 team that will be favored to three-peat?  Well, how about Rex Henderson.  Twitter feeds are already calling for a continuation of the family pool.  Cooper himself wants to hire from within.  Rex is Cooper’s nephew, the son of Butch, and has been the assistant coach on staff for over 15 years and currently the head Track coach.

There is a great article in the Lubbock paper  (http://lubbockonline.com/stories/100600/hig_100600094.shtml#.VtnUs304Gmw) from 2000 talking about the Henderson coaching family.  My favorite line is the quote from Cooper talking about his dad, “’The most important thing I learned from Dad is to be sure that you separate football from the real important things in life, He always maintained his perspective as far as how much importance he placed on football and how much he placed on being a good person.”  Sounds like a good lesson for all of us.  Amen to that, Coach.

Below is Cooper’s yearly record as a head coach.

COOPER HENDERSON

(ENMU ’77)

#
Yr
School   
W
L
T
1
84
Ruidoso
8
3
1
2
85
Ruidoso*
12
1
3
86
Ruidoso
12
2
4
87
Ruidoso
3
7
5
88
Ruidoso
8
6
6
89
Artesia
3
7
7
90
Artesia
9
4
8
91
Artesia
8
5
9
92
Artesia *
10
3
10
93
Artesia *
9
4
11
94
Artesia *
12
1
12
95
Artesia
5
5
13
96
Artesia *
11
2
14
97
Artesia *
12
1
15
98
Artesia *
13
0
16
99
Artesia
9
4
17
00
Artesia
5
5
18
01
Artesia *
11
2
19
02
Artesia
11
1
20
03
Artesia *
12
1
21
04
Artesia *
11
2
22
05
Artesia
10
3
23
06
Artesia*
13
0
24
07
Artesia*
11
2
25
08
Artesia
7
5
26
09
Artesia
7
5
27
10
Artesia*
  9
4
28
11
Artesia
6
6
29
12
Artesia
8
3
30
13
Artesia
4
7
31
14
Artesia*
12
1
32
15
Artesia*
12
1
293
103
1
15 state championships
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