Prep football: Hensley knew it was time to retire
He was hard to find for a week or so, but Ralph Hensley was in attendance Friday night to watch George Washington top Lewis County in the Class AAA playoff quarterfinals.
Hensley confirmed that he had retired from coaching following the Warriors' 2-8 season. In six seasons with Riverside, Hensley put together a 26-35 record. The largest high school in Kanawha County has not reached the playoffs since 2007, Hensley's first season as head coach after an eight-year stint as an assistant to Dick Whitman.
One reason Hensley did not immediately respond to inquiries regarding his retirement was that he was out of the area. Hensley, who retired from teaching after the 2010-11 school year, said he retreated to his native Mingo County for a few days following the season.
In fact, he sent his All-State ballot to this office from Williamson via certified mail to ensure its arrival from an area notorious for tricky mail delivery. It was one of the first five ballots filed by coaches from across the state.
As an aside, Mingo Central Coach Yogi Kinder has been sent five All-State ballots in the two seasons of that school's existence.
"Cost me eight bucks, but I wanted to make sure you got it," Hensley said. "I know we didn't have a great year but there's some kids that played for us that I really think deserve some mention."
There's been a school of thought around the Kanawha County prep football world that says Hensley remained on as coach after ending his teaching career for the sole purpose of chasing the county's all-time wins record, held by Whitman. That's too simple to be true.
Whitman ended his coaching career in 2006 after 181 wins. Hensley entered the 2012 season with 174 wins, and thus finishes his career five short of tying his old boss and older rival. The two were the coaches at DuPont (Whitman) and East Bank (Hensley) when those schools were combined to create Riverside in 1999.
Plenty of coaches have retired or left their posts for other positions in the six seasons that I have served as chairman of the All-State football committee for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. In fact, Hensley's stepping down pushes that number to 70 since 2007.
There are currently 116 football-playing schools in West Virginia. High school football coaching is not a long-term job for many.
It was for Hensley. When a person is in a career field in which he enjoys success, it is hard to step away even for presumably greener pastures. Of those who have left their jobs in the last six years, few have followed through with filing an All-State ballot after their final game.
Doing so is not the action of a man with his goals fixed on personal glory.
"I could have come back next year and got it, or another year," Hensley said regarding the record.
He then shook his head.
"It was just time," he surmised.
Hensley won Class AA state championships at East Bank in 1989, 1990, 1993 and 1996. He also gave rise to a number of current coaches in the area. He gave GW Coach Steve Edwards Jr. his first coaching gig as an East Bank assistant, and Capital Coach Jon Carpenter is a Hensley protege as well, having played for him at East Bank and coached with him at Riverside.
What remains in the wake of Hensley's departure is an opportunity for Riverside to forge its own identity, rather than one so obviously tied to one faction or another of its constituencies. The job is sure to attract its fair share of seekers after debuting on the Kanawha County Schools hotline Monday.
Names that have been common to recent coaching searches (former Nitro and WVU Tech Coach Scott Tinsley, South Charleston offensive coordinator Donnie Mays) and several relative newcomers to the head coaching carousel have been identified by various sources as having interest in the position.
The posting closes on Nov. 28.
Whoever is hired by Riverside Principal Valery Harper has a challenge ahead of them in gleaning more talent from the hallways and onto the football field. He also has the opportunity to remake the football image in Eastern Kanawha County into one not tied to the past, but to the future, a key requirement for the athletic success of most consolidations.