“I have always been a very demanding coach. I expect my players to give 100 percent or they come out of the game. I can expect no less of myself,” Henson said. “ So because I am physically unable to give my all, I am taking myself out of the game. Today I am announcing my retirement as Aggie Basketball Coach.”
"We are losing a part of who we are as an institution, but at the same time we get to celebrate Coach Henson's great accomplishments,” NMSU Athletics Director McKinley Boston said. “His legacy will always be part of New Mexico State."
During a career that spans nearly five decades, Henson is one of only 11 coaches to take two different schools to the NCAA Final Four. His teams have made 19 NCAA appearances and four NIT appearances. He is a member of the New Mexico State, Illinois and Hardin-Simmons Halls of Fame. In 2002, New Mexico State honored coach Henson by naming the Pan American Center’s parquet floor, ‘Lou Henson Court’.
“I am taking this action because it is in the best interests of New Mexico State University, our basketball program, our student-athletes, the fans, and the community,” Henson said. “As a result of my health problems, my present staff and our Aggie team were forced to carry on under very trying circumstances. I want to thank them for going forward in my absence. Also, I want to express my deepest appreciation to our Board of Regents, NMSU administrators, and to our wonderful Aggie students and fans for their understanding and support, not only during recent times, but throughout my 16 year tenure.”
Over his 41-year career, Henson has coached many outstanding student-athletes, including 17 All-Americans , 75 All-Conference selections, two Conference Players of the Year (Bruce Douglas of Illinois & James Moore of NMSU), six Academic All-America selections, two Wooden Award Nominees, two NCAA All-Tournament selections and 36 NBA draft picks.
"Lou Henson has made enormous contributions to athletics and he has served as a role model to people in all walks of life," NMSU President Mike Martin said. "While achieving enormous success, Lou has always maintained a great sense of humility. Lou is an icon in the basketball world and he is a citizen of the first order, not only at our university, but also in the community."
Lou and Mary Henson’s commitment to academics and competitive excellence at New Mexico State was demonstrated in February of 2002, when the Henson family made a generous contribution in the amount of $100,000 to help establish the Lou and Mary Henson Endowment Scholarship Fund, in memory of their late son, Lou, Jr. The fund was designed to support deserving student-athletes at NMSU for their academic and athletic achievements.
The Okay, Okla., native first attended Connors State Junior College before coming to New Mexico State in 1953. He spent two years with the Aggies and played basketball for the legendary Presley Askew. A starter at guard, Henson was a defensive specialist who averaged 5.5 points per game as a junior and 9.0 points per game as a senior. Henson, graduated from NMSU in 1955 with a bachelor's degree in secondary education. He earned his masters degree in educational administration from NMSU in 1956.
Following his graduation, Henson immediately landed a coaching position at Las Cruces High School. After two years as the junior varsity coach, he became the head coach and spent four years guiding the Bulldawg varsity. He posted a record of 145-23 and won state championships in 1959, 1960 and 1961.
At the age of 30, Henson moved into the collegiate ranks as head coach at Hardin-Simmons University in 1962. In four years, he compiled a record of 67-36 with a pair of 20-win seasons, each of which represented the school record for victories in a season.
Henson then returned to his alma mater, New Mexico State, in 1966 and became the head coach of the Aggies for the next nine seasons. During that time, Henson led the Aggies to six NCAA appearances, including five straight from 1966-71. The 1969-70 season was a special year for Henson and the Aggies as NMSU made their first and only Final Four appearance, tallying a 27-3 overall record in the process.
Henson's legacy at New Mexico State includes more than just a sterling basketball record. While also serving as director of athletics during his first tenure with the Aggies, Henson was instrumental in the construction of NMSU's Pan American Center and led the Aggies into membership in the Missouri Valley Conference in 1970. As one of the most popular residents of the Mesilla Valley, Henson was named NMSU's "Alumnus of the Year" and Dona Ana County's "Citizen of the Year" in 1970. In 1998, NMSU President William Conroy presented Henson with the coveted “President's Service Award” in honor of his dedication and selfless devotion to his alma mater. Henson has recruited and coached the only five players in New Mexico State's history to earn All-America honors. They include ‘Super’ John Williamson in 1972, Jimmy Collins and Sam Lacey in 1970, and Charlie Criss in 1969 and James Moore in 2003.
In 1975, Henson left New Mexico State to coach at the University of Illinois. Over the next 21 seasons, Henson put the Fighting Illini in the national spotlight, making 12 NCAA appearances, including his second trip to the NCAA Final Four during the 1988-89 season. In all, his Illini team’s made 16 postseason appearances. He led the Illini to a Big Ten co-championship in 1984 and was named ESPN's National Coach of the Year as well as the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1993. Besides the Final Four appearance in 1989, a year in which the Illini posted a 31-5 record, he coached the Illini to nine consecutive 20-win seasons from 1982-91 and averaged better than 20 wins per season. Henson retired from his coaching duties at the University of Illinois following an 18-13 campaign in 1995-96 and a spot in the NIT.
After retiring from Illinois, Henson’s alma mater called on him again as he was named the Aggies' interim head coach on October 17, 1997, just two days before the start of preseason practice. In a rare move, Henson originally agreed to coach the team on a pro bono basis, and later settled on a salary of $1 a month during the 1997-98 season. After leading the Aggies to an 18-12 record, Henson had the interim lifted from his title as he accepted a four-year contract.
One of the most memorable seasons in Henson’s coaching career came during the 1998-99 campaign. Henson joined an elite club that consists of just 12 other head coaches in NCAA Division I annals, as he tallied his 700th career victory on Feb. 25 over Utah State. Just six weeks earlier, on Jan. 9, Henson had earned his 200th victory as head coach of New Mexico State with a 60-56 victory at UC Irvine. That same season, NMSU posted a 23-10 regular season record, tying for first-place in the Big West eastern division. NMSU went on to win the Big West Conference Tournament and make the NCAA Tournament. In eight seasons since returning to NMSU, the Aggies have posted four 20-win seasons and made the postseason twice.
“New Mexico State University is my alma mater. Mary and I began our lives together here 50 years ago,” Henson said. “Our intentions are to continue serving and supporting this great university and the entire Las Cruces community to the best of our abilities.”
Former NMSU Player and current Illinois-Chicago Head Coach Jimmy Collins: "Basketball is losing a great coach and an even greater man. I would have liked to see him go on to reach the great things that I wanted to see him accomplish, but Mary and Coach Henson are doing what is best for them. I look forward to our continued conversations and his continued help as a mentor in my coaching career and development as a person."
Former NMSU Player and current Arizona State Head Coach Rob Evans: "Lou Henson is one of the greatest teachers of all-time. He has given so much to so many people. As sad as I am to see his active career come to a close, I know that his continued health is of the utmost importance. I'm extremely proud of all his accomplishments, but he has done enough on the court and now I look forward to watching him be a Hall of Fame husband, father and grandfather. Like so many others that have worked for him and played for him, we can't thank him enough. Simply stated, he is a fabulous person and coach and is one of the best."
Texas Tech Head Coach Bob Knight: “I think Lou’s teams were always among the very best prepared and that made the games fun and interesting for the fans. From a coaching standpoint, it was because of his level of preparation and the fundamental execution by his players which made the games exciting and challenging for players and coaches.”
Joe Lopez, former player of Henson’s at Las Cruces High School: “As a coach he is unparalleled and that is why he is a Hall of Fame coach. But he went beyond the rhelm of coaching, teaching us about life, as all his players will tell you, not only at the high school level, but in our college careers as well. In my case he was a mentor and even a parent and I will always be grateful to him for that.”
Former Player at Illinois under Coach Henson, Stephen Bardo: “Coach Henson was a very important part in my development as a young man more so than a basketball player. He was a very disciplined coach and when you’re dealing with young 18 to 21 year old student-athletes, it is important to have a coach that can demand things from you day in and day out. I’ve been around a lot of coaches at the professional level and the collegiate level and coach Henson always had us prepared for anything on and off the court. I think he is one of the best defensive coaches I’ve ever been around.”
Former UTEP Head Coach Don Haskins: “There’s no question Lou should be in the Hall of Fame. He’s a great coach and a great guy. His record speaks for itself. I know he was as hard to play against as anyone I’ve ever played against. He is just a real nice man, a real nice person. I’d love to see Lou get the 800 wins. He is truly one of the best coaches and people I have ever been around.”
Steve Fisher Head Coach, San Diego State: “Lou Henson is one of the finest coaches and gentlemen in our profession. He and his wife Mary have been long-time friends. My wife Angie and I have followed his success and accomplishments through the years. He truly is a Hall of Fame coach and we feel badly when a person of his caliber leaves the profession. We wish him great health as he moves on to the next chapter of his life.”
Brian Dutcher Assistant Head Coach, San Diego State: “Lou Henson is one of the all-time greats. When you look at his record and success he achieved at both New Mexico State and Illinois that is an easy statement to make. As a young coach, I learned all the skills necessary to become both a better coach and a better person. He is, and will always be, one of my favorites and I owe him a great deal.”
Former NMSU Classmate of Henson’s and former NMSU Baseball Coach Gary Ward: “During our time together at NMSU I related to coach Henson very well as players under coach Presley Askew. He is a man that has committed himself and his family to the game of basketball for many years. I am saddened to see his departure from New Mexico State and the game of basketball, but I have the highest respect for coach Henson and what he has done for New Mexico State.”
Henson talks about his State Championship team from Las Cruces High School in 1962: “We had won our third consecutive state title that season. That team just ran away with the High School State Championship. We had great guard and post play that year. It was a very special group of players.”
Henson talks about the ‘Miracle Midgets’: “I came to NMSU in 1966 after a season that the Aggies went 4-22 and the next season we went 15-11 and made the NCAA Tournament. That season we beat the defending national champion UTEP Miners twice and split with New Mexico. Our biggest player was 6-5 in the middle and it was amazing the success we had that season. We lost to Houston in the tournament that year by one point.”
Henson talks about the 1969-70 Final Four Team at New Mexico State: “Had it not been for UCLA having such a great team we had a chance to win the NCAA Championship. That Final Four we had tremendous guards in Charlie Criss and Jimmy Collins. And then, of course, our post players Sam Lacey and John Burgess were outstanding players. We had to play UCLA two years in a row in the Midwest Regional and lost, then met them again in the Final Four in 1970 and came up just short.”
Henson talks about the 1989-90 Final Four Team at Illinois: “This team is one of the most exciting teams that I have ever been a part of. We had players like Kenny Battle, Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Lowell Hamilton and Stephan Bardo. All of our players were about the same size and that is what made them so special. We played teams bigger then us and we would win because we would fly up and down the court. Dick Vitale called us the ‘Flying Illini’.