MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sammie Henson, who has excelled as a wrestler and as a coach, has been named West Virginia University’s eighth head wrestling coach, Director of Athletics Oliver Luck announced on Monday.
“We are excited to have Sammie Henson join the Mountaineer family as our new head wrestling coach,” says Luck. “Sammie has experienced much success as a wrestler and a coach, and he knows what it takes to win. He brings a lot of excitement, energy and enthusiasm, and understands the work ethic that all Mountaineers share.”
Henson, who brings with him 17 years of coaching experience, has coached more than 20 All-Americans and five NCAA national champions. In those 17 years, Henson has never had a season without an All-American and has raised the level of success in each of those years.
A native of St. Charles, Mo., Henson comes to WVU from Missouri, where he spent the last two seasons as head assistant coach. In just two seasons at Missouri, he assisted in producing the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2013 in addition to leading the Tigers to two consecutive conference titles and seven All-America finishes, including one national champion this past season.
“First of all, I want to thank Oliver Luck, Keli Cunningham and Terri Howes and the rest of the athletic staff at West Virginia for believing in me,” says Henson. “I know they were searching for the right person to lead West Virginia wrestling and they found the right person for the job. This is a great fit for me and my family, and I look forward to changing the culture to making West Virginia wrestling among the nation’s best.”
Prior to Missouri, Henson was the assistant head coach at Oklahoma from 2009-11. While there, he helped secure the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, coached seven wrestlers to All-America status at the NCAA Championships and helped the program become the top academic squad in the Big 12 during his tenure. Before Henson arrived at Oklahoma, the Sooners hadn’t had an All-American in two years.
“I want to thank Brian Smith (head wrestling coach at Missouri) and the University of Missouri for the opportunities that they have presented to me and preparing me to become the head wrestling coach at West Virginia,” says Henson. “My style of wrestling and coaching is something that Mountaineer fans and the administration will be proud of. I’m excited about this opportunity and can’t wait to get started.”
Prior to his stint with Oklahoma, Henson served as the head assistant at Cal Poly (2007-09), volunteer assistant at Nebraska (2006-07), along with stops as an assistant at Army (2002-03) and Penn State (2000-02).
During his time at Penn State, Henson assisted head coach Troy Sunderland in taking the Nittany Lions from 35th in the country to sixth with a pair of top-five recruiting classes in just two years. He has mentored numerous national champions, such as Michael Lightner (Oklahoma), Byron Tucker (Oklahoma), Paul Donahoe (Nebraska) and J’den Cox (Missouri), along with several All-Americans, Big 12 Champions, Big 10 Champions and Pac 12 Champions, including: Shane and Dane Valdez (Oklahoma), Witt Durden (Oklahoma) and Josh and Scott Moore (Penn State), Chad Mendes (Cal Poly), Chase Pami (Cal Poly), Boris Novachkov (Cal Poly), Jarrod Patterson (Oklahoma), Zach Bailey (Oklahoma), Kyle Terry (Oklahoma), Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma) and Eric Lapotsky (Oklahoma).
Henson has been widely recognized as one of the elite assistant coaches in the country. Tim Foley of Intermat rated him as the best in the nation in an article from 2010, stating that "Henson's intensity is legendary and seemingly always transferred to his grapplers. There is nothing coincidental about his arrival in Norman and the Sooners impressive 2009-2010 turnaround."
Along with collegiate coaching, Henson is also the current head coach for the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, which has more current world and Olympic wrestlers than any other wrestling club in the United States. Out of the seven freestyle wrestlers who represented Team USA at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, three came from the Sunkist Kids. Included in that group is Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs at 74 kg/163 lbs. Also representing the United States in the Olympics in 2012 were Sam Hazewenkil (55 kg/121.3 lbs. and Tervel Dlagnev (120 kg/264.6 lbs.).
“In addition to his record on the mat as a competitor and coach, two things really stood out to me about Sammie,” adds Luck. “First, he has an excellent record academically during his coaching career and that is important to us provided our recent issues,” adds Luck. “Secondly, at all his stops, Sammie has had a vibrant role in the regional training centers to help amateur wrestlers train at the highest levels. Regional training centers make huge impacts with collegiate and amateur wresters, and we are excited to re-establish the dormant wrestling training center here.”
Henson's resume as a competitor speaks for itself. He went on to become one of the most celebrated wrestlers in the history of the United States, as one of just a few wrestlers in USA history to earn three world medals. In 1998, Henson became a world champion for Team USA at the World Wrestling Championships, in Tehran, Iran, which eventually led to him winning the John Smith Award for USA Wrestler of the Year. He earned a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games at 55 kg (121 lbs.) in Sydney, Australia, and won the bronze medal at the 2006 World Wrestling Championships at 35 years of age.
Additionally, Henson was named USOC Athlete of the Month of September 1998, and was a finalist for the Sullivan Award in 1999 for his efforts in the World Championships. In all, Henson has won more than 15 freestyle titles at the international level.
Henson started his collegiate wrestling career at Missouri, where he was a Big Eight Champion and All-American for Missouri in 1991. He then transferred to Clemson, where he became a two-time NCAA Champion, finishing his career with a 71-0 record. He was named as Clemson's Male Athlete of the Year in 1994 and was inducted into the Clemson Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000. Henson returned to Missouri in 1995 to earn a degree in parks, recreation and tourism management.
Henson and his wife, Stephanie, have four children: Jackson, Wyatt, Ruby and Georgia-Kate. They also have two dogs Biggie Smalls and Nelly.