Cam Henderson

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Cam Henderson
Cam Henderson.jpg
Henderson at Marshall University in 1936
Sport(s) Football, basketball, baseball
Biographical details
Born (1890-02-05)February 5, 1890
Joe, Marion County, West Virginia
Died May 3, 1956(1956-05-03) (aged 66)
Huntington, West Virginia
Coaching career (HC unless noted)



Davis & Elkins

Davis & Elkins

Head coaching record
Overall 163–91–13 (football)
631–242 (basketball)
6–3 (baseball)
Accomplishments and honors
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Men's Basketball Championship (1947)

Eli Camden "Cam" Henderson (February 5, 1890 – May 3, 1956) was an American football, basketball, and baseball coach in the United States. He served as the head football coach at Muskingum College (1920–1922), Davis & Elkins College (1923–1934), and Marshall University (1935–1949), compiling a career college football record of 163–91–13. Henderson was also the head basketball coach at Muskingum (1919–1923), Davis & Elkins (1923–1935), and Marshall (1935–1955), tallying a career college basketball mark of 631–242. As a coach in basketball, he originated the fast break and the 2–3 zone defense, hallmarks of the modern game. His career mark for coaching is 800 wins against just 336 losses and 13 ties, a winning percentage of 70 percent in all sports.

Early life and education[edit]

Henderson was born in 1890 in the town of Joe in Marion County, West Virginia. He graduated from Glenville Normal School in 1911.

High School Coaching Career[edit]

Henderson began coaching at Shinnston High School in rural West Virginia, then moved to Bristol, West Virginia, where no gymnasium existed on his arrival. Henderson managed to have a gym constructed there, but poorly-cured wood and a leaky roof resulted in a slippery floor. Henderson began to distribute his defenders in "zones" to avoid the slick spots. He then developed an offense of "breaking fast" off a missed basketball, with two forwards tearing down each sideline and a point guard bringing the ball up the court quickly for a number of options. Henderson is credited with the creation of the 2–3 zone defense and the fast break in basketball.[1]

Collegiate Career[edit]

Henderson moved on to a head coaching position in football and basketball at Muskingum College in Ohio in 1919, but his greatest glory came during the period of 1923-34 as head basketball and football coach of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. Henderson coached the first undefeated (22-0) W.Va. collegiate basketball team (1924–1925) at Davis & Elkins and coached the first (proclaimed) D&E state collegiate football championship team in 1928. Henderson's 1933 team won the West Virginia Athletic Conference title. At Davis & Elkins, Henderson had a 220-40 record in basketball and an 83-33-6 record in football. His Davis & Elkins football teams beat much larger schools like West Virginia University, Army, Fordham, Villanova, George Washington and Navy.


Henderson assumed a position at Marshall College, now Marshall University, in 1935, after Marshall had hired Dr. John Allen from D&E to be President of Marshall (from 1935-42). Henderson was hired as athletic director and head coach for basketball and football. Henderson would win 68 football games and one Buckeye Conference title (a 9-0-1 season in 1937). He sent the Thundering Herd to a Tangerine Bowl (1/1/1948 vs. Catawba College) and he produced College Football Hall of Fame running back Jackie Hunt, who set the national scoring mark with 27 touchdowns in 1940. His basketball teams won 368 games and won the Buckeye Conference in 1936-37, 1937–38 and 1938–39, the final year for the league. He won 35 straight home games from 1944–47, started the 1946-47 season 17-0, then went on to a 32-5 mark and Marshall's only National Championship in basketball in the NAIB (today's NAIA) Basketball Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. Henderson also sent teams to the 1938 and 1948 tournament. His 1947-48 team won the Helms Foundation's Los Angeles Invitational by defeating Syracuse, 46-44.

Henderson's first All-Americans were Bill Smith for football (1937) and Jule Rivlin for basketball (1940). He sent numerous players to the professional ranks, including Frank "Gunner" Gatski (Marshall 1940-42), who is the Herd's only member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Gatski went on to play in 11 title games in 12 seasons with the Cleveland Browns (1946–56) and Detroit Lions (1957), winning four All-American Football Conference and three NFL titles with the Browns and one NFL title with the Lions. Henderson also recruited the first African-American to play at the formerly all-white colleges of West Virginia when he signed Hal Greer from Huntington in 1954. Greer helped Marshall to Mid-American Conference title in 1955-56, then led the nation in scoring in 1957-58 with 88 points per game. Greer signed with the Syracuse Nationals of the NBA, but went on to greatest glory with the Philadelphia 76ers by winning the title in 1966-67 and becoming a multi-year All-Star and MVP of the 1968 All-Star game. Greer, named as one of the top 50 players in the NBA 50th Anniversary, averaged 19 points per game (1,122 games played), five rebounds and four assists and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Marshall had three basketball wins over Tennessee and Colorado during Henderson's tenure. They beat the Dayton Flyers 17 times and topped teams like BYU, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Long Island, St. Francis, St. Louis, Loyola, Virginia Tech, Cal, Louisville, Denver, Wichita State, Miami-Florida, City College of New York, Xavier, Indiana State, Maryland, Murray State, Western Kentucky, Kansas State, Creighton, Hawaii, Washington, Idaho, Evansville, Pepperdine, Texas A&M, Memphis (State), Southern Miss and Virginia. Over 20 seasons they had only one losing campaign, going 6-10 in Henderson's first year. His teams won as many as 32 games and they won 20 or more games eight times. He produced the first-ever first round draft pick for the NBA, Andy Tonkovich, and produced All-Americans like Walt Walowac (two-times on Helms Foundation Teams, first in 1953, third in 1954 and scored 1,982 career points). NAIB All-Americans in 1947 and 1948 included Gene James, who played in the NBA, Bill Hall, Bill Toothman, Marvin Gutshall and Tonkovich. Rivlin was on the AP Little All-American team in 1940. Charlie Slack set a still-standing NCAA record of 25.4 rebounds per game for Henderson's final team in 1954-55, and finished his career with 1,916 rebounds and 1,551 points in four seasons. Slack and Walowac played for the Goodyear Winged Foots of Akron, Ohio, in national and international AAU contests, and Slack was an alternate for the 1960 Olympic team.

After a 6-4 season in 1949, Director of Athletics Luther Poling asked Henderson to resign his football position. Henderson would remain at Marshall as head basketball coach until 1955. His championship basketball team of 1947 spurred the move into the new Cabell County Veteran's Memorial Field House, a 6,500-seat arena that was Marshall's home from 1950-80. His final team in 1954-55 was 18-4, but the MAC prevented Marshall from accepting an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament. Henderson's failing health from diabetes forced him to step down after the season and he would die that summer.


Marshall has a Cam Henderson Award for the top student-athlete and the building that houses the athletic department and the 9,000-seat Marshall basketball arena are named the Cam Henderson Center. In 2007, Emmy Award-winning producer and director Deborah Novak and John Witek released "Cam Henderson: A Coach's Story" on public television and DVD to great acclaim. The film was honored with a first place Platinum Award at the Worldfest of Film in Houston, Texas.

Cam Henderson has been inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, the West Virginia Sports Writers Hall of Fame, the D&E Hall of Fame, the Marshall Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Head coaching record[edit]


Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Marshall Thundering Herd (Independent) (1935–1948)
1935–36 Marshall 6–10
1936–37 Marshall 23–8
1937–38 Marshall 28–4 NAIA Second Round
1938–39 Marshall 22–5
1939–40 Marshall 26–3
1940–41 Marshall 14–9
1941–42 Marshall 15–9
1942–43 Marshall 10–7
1943–44 Marshall 15–7
1944–45 Marshall 17–9
1945–46 Marshall 24–10
1946–47 Marshall 32–5 NAIA Champions
1947–48 Marshall 22–11 NAIA Second Round
Marshall Thundering Herd (Ohio Valley Conference) (1948–1952)
1948–49 Marshall 16–12 2–2 4th
1949–50 Marshall 15–9 5–4 3rd
1950–51 Marshall 13–13 2–6 6th
1951–52 Marshall 15–11 5–7 4th
Marshall Thundering Herd (Independent) (1952–1953)
1952–53 Marshall 20–4
Marshall Thundering Herd (Mid-American Conference) (1953–1955)
1953–54 Marshall 12–9 6–7 4th
1954–55 Marshall 17–4 10–4 2nd
Marshall: 362–159 30–30
Total: 362–159

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coach Don Casey & Ralph Pim, Own the Zone - Executing & attacking the zone defense, New York: McGraw Hill, 2008, pg.18 & 19


  • Books:
    • Marshall University 2007-08 Men's Basketball Media Guide, Huntington, W.Va., Chapman Printing, 2007.
    • Marshall University 2007 Football Media Guide, Huntington, W.Va., Chapman Printing, 2007.
    • "The Cam Henderson Story," Dr. Sam Clagg, Huntington, W.Va., Marshall University Press, 1981
    • "Sports In West Virginia," Doug Huff, Donning Company/Publishers, Virginia Beach, Va., 1979
    • "Marshall University: An Institution Comes Of Age 1837-1980, Dr. Charles Moffat, Marshall University Alumni Association, 1980
  • DVD:
    • "Cam Henderson: A Coach's Story," Deborah Novak/John Witek, WV Public Broadcasting, 2007
    • "Ashes To Glory," D. Novak/J. Witek, WV Public Broadcasting, 2000