Better Know a Jaguars Coach: Secondary Coach Donnie Henderson

To say that Donnie Henderson is a “shouting” coach is more than just a mild understatement, it does a disservice to a coach who is highly competitive and demands excellence in all aspects of defense. Donnie is vocal, active, and has an amazing ability to communicate effectively, driving his point home while screaming at the top of his lungs.

 

Below is his coaching record as listed on ESPN’s minority coaching page keep in mind it is three years old.

Donnie Henderson

Age: 48 | Coaching experience: 23 years | NFL experience: 7 years
2005 position: Defensive coordinator, New York Jets
Key positions held
• Defensive coordinator, New York Jets (2004-05)
• Defensive backs coach, Baltimore Ravens (2000-03)
• Assistant defensive backs coach, Baltimore Ravens (1999)
• Defensive backs coach, University of Houston (1998)
• Defensive backs coach, Arizona State (1992-97)
Career highlights
• 2005 Jets ranked second in the league vs. pass and fifth in league in interceptions (21).
• 2004 Jets ranked fourth in league in points allowed (261), third-fewest points allowed in team history.
• Ravens finished in top 10 vs. pass in three of his four seasons as defensive backs coach.
• 2000 Ravens set a team record with 23 INT and allowed only 11 TD passes in 20 games (tops in the NFL).
Influences
• Hired as Jets defensive coordinator by former Jets head coach Herman Edwards.
• Worked under current Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in Baltimore during 1999-2001.

In addition to the above positions, he also coached at Cal, Idaho University, and Utah State. Leading the linebackers and defensive backs while at those schools.

 

As the stats show, Coach Henderson’s specialty is the secondary, an area of upheaval for the Jaguars this season. We have position changes, multiple corners competing, young players needing guidance, and proven veterans to aid in the process. Some veterans from the Jets spoke very highly of Donnie's willingness to call out players when they make mistakes.

Team veterans like John Abraham say that Henderson's take-no-prisoners style has already had an effect. ''A lot of time people need to hear what they're doing wrong,'' he said. ''If you don't call a person out, the person won't say anything about it. They'll just let the bad things they do go,'' Abraham added. ''He won't let the bad things go.''

I’ve read that coach Henderson has explained in no uncertain terms to D. Florence that he expects quite a bit from the young man. This is really important because Florence is at a crossroad in his career. He's reached his second contract as a player and just got paid... Now the Jags must keep him motivated and continuing to improve.

"If I can put you in a lot of pressure and stressful situations [in practice], Sunday should be a piece of cake," he said.

Henderson doesn't mind putting pressure on his players. Of cornerback Drayton Florence, who signed a six-year, $36 million free-agent contract, Henderson said he's very talented, but "I'm putting a lot of pressure on him, and we all know why."

 

He has twice been a defensive coordinator in the NFL, although both times he was fired. However, this isn’t indicative of his talent as he was forced to teach a style he was unfamiliar with in Detroit (Cover 2). 

 

Henderson gained a reputation as a defensive coordinator for his creative blitz packages and tendency to blitz often. That style didn't mesh well with Marinelli's background in the famed "Tampa Two," which he brought to Detroit from his days as the Buccaneers' defensive line coach.

 

His first defensive coordinator position was under Herm Edwards for the Jets. Herm is a coach I highly respect and he had a great impression of Donnie after interviewing him for the position.

 

Donnie Henderson so impressed Jets Coach Herman Edwards during his interview in the early stages of the search for a defensive coordinator that every other candidate was compared to him after that… Edwards is looking for a coordinator who favors an ultra-aggressive approach and plays a variety of different defenses. He described Henderson, 46, as being "thorough, good with young players, demanding, detailed, very organized and very energetic."

  

Donnie’s style of defense is one of relentless aggression; much like Greg Williams, Jack Del Rio, Joe Decamilis (on-side kicks etc.), and many other Jaguar’ coaches. A cohesive unit has been born on the coaching side of the team and their strategy is more than clear. They are out for blood. The cognitive impact of a player’s entire coaching staff, teammates, and fan base all buying into an aggressive, physical, attacking style of football has to be considerable.

 

That’s precisely what they had in Baltimore while Donnie was there. An NFL coach’s game plan and philosophy is like his calling card. It’s what he preaches in job interviews, and what he expects his players to adhere to. Let’s see what Coach Henderson says himself about his coaching philosophy.

"We're going to be aggressive," Henderson said. "That's what I'm used to, that's what (the players) want to do, so let's go do it. Go back and look at what I did in Baltimore; that's what we did. If we get beat, we get beat.

"The slow death is what I don't like. If you get beat for 81 yards, let it be on one play, not 18 plays."

Henderson emphasized that he's not going to take any "stupid" chances. But he told his players to expect high-octane game plans.

"I told the guys, from here on out, we'll be playing man-to-man," he said. "There won't be too much zone. You take your cat and we'll find out who beats who."

 

Whoa, talk about my kind of coach. This guy doesn’t pull any punches when describing his beliefs about football. I love the “we’ll find out who beats who” comment. That’s the school of thought physical and dedicated athletes especially love, but it only works if you’ve got the personnel to execute it. I believe the Jaguars do, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think they could be as good as the Ravens used to be. This team now has the same attack mentality that those Ravens had, and we’ve got a similar group of players in terms of both skill-set and overall athleticism.

 

Last season (2003), Baltimore ranked third in the NFL in total defense, fourth against the pass and sixth against the run. He seems to have done an excellent job with the Ravens' young secondary.

 

Henderson is credited for “coaching up” a young group of players in the secondary. The Jaguars’ future is directly tied to our defensive performance, and it’s now crystal clear that the days of Mike Smith’s conservative approach are long over. These Jags are out for blood, and if you thought we used to be physical, the coaches we’ve added will bring a whole new dimension to our physicality… Quarterback pressure and a focus on turnovers.

 

Donnie is even featured in a video series for youngsters teaching about how to play secondary. If you want to learn the guts of the position, check out the video. This is a highly respected coach who can obviously commuicate the ins and outs of the defensive back positions and the fact he's part of a video series only exemplefies his expertise in the secondary.

"Defensive Backs: Safeties" (video) by Donnie Henderson (VHS)

This is just a funny piece I stumbled across which exemplifies Donnie’s sense of humor. He and Coach Herm Edwards apparently caught a Patriots cameraman trying to steal their signals a few years ago. What did they do you ask, send in fake signals and waved to Beel Beelichick’s (see south park) undercover agent. 

Edwards had made the proper adjustments before the game to avoid Belichick stealing the defensive signals. They went into the game knowing this was a practice Belichick employed and when they saw the camera, they put on a show.

 

 Finally, I’ll close with a scout's overview of Coach Henderson; it’s very positive and is a good well-rounded breakdown of the man who’ll teach our secondary.

 

Scouts take: Fiery guy with a lot of intensity and a demand for excellence from his players ... runs an aggressive defense with a lot of exotic blitzes and man-to-man coverages ... loves to gamble and attack ... gets in players' faces and will challenge them ... a little bit of a yeller and screamer, but also organized.

When asked about his style, Henderson said, ''It will be tough love.''

 I can't wait to see the results this coach brings!

Below are links to some of the articles on Donnie.

1 http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/052308/jag_281997668.shtml

2 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9902E2DF1538F934A15752C0A9629C8B63

3 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E3DD143CF937A3575BC0A9629C8B63

4 http://blog.mlive.com/highlightreel/2006/01/kirwan_lions_hire_donnie_hende.html

5 http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/jets/2008/03/02/2008-03-02_4_years_before_scandal_herm_edwards_wave.html

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