Bruce Hendrickson still holds the state record for most wins by a high school football coach with 351. Hendrickson won state titles at Seiling (1988), Okeene (1981) and Texhoma (1971) and coached at four other schools — Commerce, Wynnewood, Cordell and Wewoka — before retiring following the 2005 season. He wasn't thinking much about coaching football again when a chance meeting recently led to him accepting the job at Seiling once again. Over his career, which started off as an assistant at Fairfax, he's also coached basketball and baseball. While his career has had plenty of peaks, it's also had its valleys. Hendrickson was the coach at Wynnewood when Daniel Knowles collapsed on the field and eventually died during the 1999 season.
There were extenuating circumstances. I was at Seiling for 14 years. I have a home there. I was at a funeral a week ago Monday and the superintendent, who was a real good friend of mine, said after the funeral, ‘Come by my office, I want to talk to you.' One thing led to another and I'm back in it. I'm really excited about it.
When I quit at Cordell, my arthritis was giving me problems in my right knee. The last couple of years, I couldn't play golf, I couldn't exercise like I wanted to. About six months ago, I got a complete knee replacement surgery. I feel like I'm 30 years old again. I rode my bike five miles this morning. It's amazing. That was very important. If I hadn't had the knee replacement surgery, I don't think I would've considered coming back. That and it being Seiling. I already have a house there so I don't have to worry about a place to live. The other contributing factor is Seiling is eight-man.
I'd done everything I wanted to do in 11-man other than winning more state titles. I didn't have any goals or challenges when I left Cordell. The last two weeks, I've spent talking to coaches like Chuck Goodner, who was an all-state football player for me at Texhoma, Jim Kerbo at Tipton and guys like that. It's just like getting married to a 25-year-old woman at my age. It's a whole new deal. It's really reinvigorated my thought process. It's a fascinating game. It's a different ballgame. It's still blocking and tackling and it's still working hard and playing hard but it's different. I think this year is going to be a real learning process. It's a challenge. We're in probably the toughest district in the state.
I'd say that 35 or 40 percent of the kids that I will have, their daddies are former players of mine or I taught their mamas how to drive. I don't have to worry about any credibility issues or them being unsure of who I am.
I lived by myself when I was 14 and a freshman. I raised myself and have always been independent. I couldn't live with either of my parents and my granddad, who I just idolized, he had a duplex and he let me move in there. I worked and made some money that summer. I didn't even have a driver's license but I bought the best looking car in high school. It was a '61 Pontiac, white with red interior. I lived by myself but always had people staying over. They think you had a tough upbringing but at the time, I didn't think anything about it. It was just kind of like that, I just kind of raised myself.
I became a coach because I basically ran out of playing days. When you can't play anymore, you start coaching I guess. I was fortunate to play for some great coaches in Bear Jensen at Claremore and Red Rogers in college. Red started the football program at what was then Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore. We had some really good players and had several guys that went on to play in the NFL. Back then, they had a really good junior college conference with teams in Miami, Tonkawa, Connors State played. I kind of had a football background and in college, I just started thinking that's what I wanted to do.
My first head coaching job was at Commerce. I was playing golf with a superintendent friend of mine and he asked if I'd take the job. I didn't even go up there before taking it. I think we went 1-8-1 that first year and I learned more there than at anywhere I've been.
After that year, the superintendent at Texhoma called. He and I had taken some classes together at Stillwater. He said, ‘We've got a lot of talent, come out and visit with me, we'd like to have you here.' I looked around at a map and I was looking around Lake Texoma. I didn't have a clue where it was. So I look at the ledger and it said A-1. It was almost in China it seemed like. I was driving out there to interview with them and got to Bryan's Corner and called my wife and said, ‘Tell me to come home.' She asked how far I was from Texhoma. About 100 miles and she had me keep going. I took two or three films home with me. One thing I've always been able to do is recognize talent. I was there one year and we won a state championship. When I took the job at Okeene, it seemed like I was in downtown Oklahoma City.
When Daniel died in my arms — he was my baby boy — I just couldn't coach here anymore. There was something missing in my life. He would've been playing on Saturdays and Sundays. He was the best player I've ever coached.
When I was at Okeene, Keith Young, who was a very successful coach, went to Guthrie. I was helping with basketball. It was getting late in May or June and the coach they hired didn't want to go back to school to get qualified in math so he was out. Their second choice turned it down too. I had just come back from the state track meet and the superintendent called me on a Saturday and said he needed to see me in his office. I thought I was in trouble. I went in there and he asked me if I'd be interested in being the head basketball coach. I was coaching junior high anyway. They told me they were going to give me a $1,500 raise. I told them for $1,500, I'll take the band. I was the basketball coach there for four years and we went to the state tournament twice. Then I had a similar situation happen when I got to Seiling.
I know this sounds kind of silly but I never really thought much about the record. I was aware of it, don't get me wrong. Joe Tunnell and his record was something that was always there but it wasn't something where I thought I had to coach one more year to get that record. I have so much respect for Joe. He came to the game when we broke the record and wrote me the nicest letter after it was over with. I was fortunate enough to have good kids. People say I chased talent and to a certain degree I did, but Seiling hadn't been to the playoffs much when I got there. Cordell, they'd won like five games in three years. It just so happened things clicked and I think in the first year at Cordell, we were 9-3. If I get my kids to work hard and play hard, I feel like they're going to be winners, regardless of what our record is.
A little bit of retirement goes a long way. I feel like I'm 30 years old and I wasn't doing anything but yard work and baby-sitting and odds and ends. I've been up every night until two or three in the morning looking up stuff and figuring out how to adapt what I do to the eight-man game. We were running no backs and shotguns while most teams were still running full-house backfields. We'll probably get run-ruled several times. I'm just hoping to make it past that. I really think we can build a program here.