Henderson Travels Long Path to Hall of Fame
Triton football coach Don Henderson sat in his office during a blustery day last week. Since he also serves as the school’s athletic director, he was in the middle of rescheduling several contests that were derailed due to rain and snow in the area.
“If this were earlier in my career, I’d kick you out of here,” Henderson laughed. “It’s a lot easier now that I have a system in place.”
As you can see, Henderson is a no-nonsense guy who has instilled his philosophies on the Triton football team in a tenure that has lasted 26 years (29 if you include three years as coach of a Hayfield/Dodge Center co-op from 1987-1990). The result has been three state football championships (1994, 2000 and 2006), a state runner up (2010), 236 career wins. That resume has been capped off with induction into the Minnesota State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame last weekend.
While his accomplishments are listed in full, his path to getting to this point was one that sent him all over the place.
Growing up in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Henderson was a coach’s kid as his father, Roy, coached football and wrestling at the school. Because of his behind-the-scenes look at how the coaches were operating it made Henderson not only want to play football, but become a coach as well.
“My dad and the other coaches at Belle Plaine always hung out together,” Henderson recalled. “I always looked up to them. They were well respected in the community and I liked the fact they were respected. It was just something that I always wanted.”
During his career, Henderson wasn’t the biggest standout on the field, but he took his time as a learning experience while playing a variety of positions. Upon graduation, he went to Minnesota-Morris as a college freshman before transferring to Worthington Junior College where he played as a quarterback for a year.
That following fall, Henderson would have his first opportunity in coaching as he didn’t yet have his associate of arts degree and couldn’t transfer to another school. At that point, the coaching staff approached him to be the team’s offensive coordinator.
“I thought that I wanted to be around and work with kids,” Henderson explained. “What better way to do that than coach? I think that really sparked me early in my career.”
After a year in the coaching booth, Henderson transferred to Winona State. Although he battled injuries on the field, he made the most of his time off of it as he became an assistant at Winona High School before eventually landing a job in Winnemucca, Nevada as a teacher and varsity football coach.
With three seasons in Nevada under his belt, Henderson returned to Minnesota as he accepted a teaching job in Red Wing. While the job was an opportunity to return to his home state, the district had a rule in place that first-year teachers couldn’t coach a sport.
“I found out how much I really missed coaching,” Henderson would say of that year. “When the job came open [at Dodge Center/Hayfield], with some quality name dropping, I had a lot of connections. Everything just kind of worked out.”
One could say that it might have been some fate that Henderson would wind up in the Triton area as his dad coached at Dover-Eyota prior to heading to Belle Plaine. Among his battles there, he would face Wally Hitt, who is the legendary Dodge Center coach that the field the Cobras play on is named after. He also played in college with longtime West Concord football coach Lorry Gunhus, which was another solid connection to have.