Pawhuska doesn’t full qualify as Matt Hennesy’s old stomping ground.
But, sort of.
The new Pawhuska High School football coach has had more than passing contact with Huskieland. He started Monday.
In 1990, Hennesy served one year as student-teacher and volunteer coach at Pawhuska High.
In addition, both his younger sister and brother are Pawhuska graduates.
He had already began his college football career (Kansas State) when his family relocated to Pawhuska.
“I’m super excited,” he said about returning to Pawhuska and coaching the Huskie football team. “I think it’s the right time.”
One thing’s for certain — Huskie football is headed to a whole new level of excitement.
“We will be no-huddle,” said Hennesy. “We’ll go fast. … Defensively, I’m always aggressive.”
Hennesy’s volume of strategy includes a plentiful number of onside kicks, swinging gates and 2-point conversions.
“I believe I haven’t kicked an extra point in 12 years,” said Hennesy. “We run of a lot of swinging gate. We onside it quite a bit.”
Based on his resume, Hennesy appears to be a superb fit to bring solidity to a program that has been disrupted the past few years by numerous coaching changes and legal controversy.
After his apprenticeship in Pawhuska, Hennesy landed at Jenks High School as the defensive coordinator in the early-to-latter-mid 1990s and helped coach three Class 6A state championship teams.
His other stops include Muskogee and his most recent gig at Locust Grove.
During his six years at Locust Grove, his Pirate teams compiled a 52-18 record and made on state semifinal appearance
Prior to his arrival, Locust Grove had recorded only two wins in three seasons.
He eyes that kind of challenge in Pawhuska, which is coming off a 0-10 season and other rugged adversity the past few years, coming off a big run in the late 2000’s, including an appearance in 2009 in the Class 2A state semifinals.
“They’ve just fallen on hard times,” said Hennesy, about the downturn in Huskie grid fortunes, adding, “it’s no one’s fault. It’s just what happened.”
But, there’s a growing optimism in town — despite last season’s woes — about Pawhuska’s football future, Hennesy said.
For one thing, Huskie athletes will have a full offseason to workout in the new weightlifting/conditioning facility.
For another, “we have a good group of players coming,” Hennesy said.
Pawhuska’s middle schoolers finished undefeated last autumn.
Hennesy added he’s been a good friend for years with Pawhuska athletic director Chris Walker and that “I trust the administration. … I think I’m the right fit and I think it’s going to be a good situation.”
Hennesy takes the place of volunteer head coach Joe Tillman, who recently resigned.
“I enjoyed my time here,” Tillman said. “The kids were fantastic. They fought Friday nights the best they could.”
But, low numbers — he cited a game last season in which he suited up 14 players to take on Dewey which had several dozen athletes available — took their toll.
A full-time educator and coach could be exactly what Pawhuska needs to push the football program forward, Tillman continued.
“In my opinion, they need a football coach that’s in the hallways and that’s in the classroom,” he said. “That’s how I grew up. … To be in that hallway I think is important.”
Tillman said he’s still committed “to promote the football team.”
Hennesy said he’s looking forward to sitting down with Tillman and “picking his brains,” about the team.
Hennesy also serves as a regional director for USA Football.
“I travel all over the United States in the spring,” he explained. “I’m going everywhere working with coaches and players.”
He said he believes the timing is right for him to coach at Pawhuska.
“We have a new weightlifting facility that’s unbelievable for Class A,” he said. “It’s better than those of most 3A or 4A schools. It rivals the Jenks and Tulsa Union facilities. “
The community’s commitment to build this new conditioning palace impressed Hennesy and played a major role in his decision.
He said he believes the administration and fans have the vision to revive Pawhuska football into a state power again.