First-year Furman coach Clay Hendrix is a Dick Sheridan disciple who was part of the wave of Paladins who rode into Raleigh in 1986 to save NC State’s football program.
Sheridan had just been named national coach of the year after leading Furman to the 1985 Division I-AA (now FCS) national title game. Hendrix had been a three-year starter as an undersized offensive guard on those big-scoring teams that won three consecutive Southern Conference titles.
He was the perfect model of what Sheridan always looked for on the offensive line: small, quick and intelligent athletes who could get out and block.
Along with five assistant coaches, Sheridan brought Hendrix with him to NC State as a graduate assistant, a position he held for two seasons until returning to Furman as the offensive line coach for 20 years. He spent the last 10 years as an assistant at Air Force, including seven as the associate head coach.
Last season, when Furman alum Bruce Fowler resigned after six seasons, both Hendrix and NC State assistant coach Des Kitchings were candidates to become head coach at their alma mater. Kitchings was offered the job and accepted contract terms, according to media reports, then changed his mind and opted to stay with the Pack.
Hendrix was hired shortly afterwards, a move Sheridan, who posted a 52-29-3 record in seven seasons in Raleigh, fully supported.
“Clay brings the same work ethic and intelligence he had as a player to coaching,” Sheridan said. “He’ll be as successful as any coach can be at Furman. He’ll work hard to be successful.”
The 54-year-old career assistant says he’s eager to build the same kind of program he played for under Sheridan with hallmarks that include intelligent, intentional recruiting, strong discipline, hard work and a dedication to academics.
He believes he can have the same kind of success the school knew under Sheridan and Jimmy Satterfield, the coach who led the team to the I-AA national championship in 1988.
“I think it is something that can still be done if you recruit the kind of high-character players who want to get a good education,” Hendrix said.
“It’s something we will have to build again. Right now, we only have nine seniors on the team, and we are playing 18 freshman [one of which is redshirt freshman offensive guard Caleb Auer, son of former Wolfpack player Neal Auer].
“That’s something we need to reverse.”
Saturday, Hendrix brings his 0-2 team for a noon game to Carter-Finley Stadium, where he knew little except success as a player and a graduate assistant.
In 1984, the Paladins bulled over the Tom-Reed coached Wolfpack with a 34-30 victory that included 304 rushing yards by the Paladins’ option-oriented offense. It was Furman’s third consecutive season with a win over a bigger Division I-A (now FBS) opponent, after beating South Carolina in 1982 and Georgia Tech in 1983. They added a fourth the next season with a 42-20 blowout of the Wolfpack in the last meeting between the one-time Southern Conference rivals.
Quarterback Bobby Lamb, with good protection from Hendrix and the rest of the offensive line, threw a school-record four touchdown passes, while the Wolfpack could not find the end zone, even with first-team All-ACC quarterback Erik Kramer and an offense that rolled up 508 total yards. It was the lowest point of Reed’s three-year tenure as head coach.
“We were awful,” he said after the game.
Not long afterwards, following three consecutive 3-8 seasons, NC State athletics director Willis Casey, who had tried to lure Sheridan to Raleigh in 1983, made his famous “If you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em” decision to bring the coach and a good portion of his staff to Raleigh.
They made an immediate impact, with a thrilling 1986 season that included a blowout of Clemson, last-second victories over Wake Forest, North Carolina, South Carolina and a controversial loss to Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
“That was a team that had some talent when we got there, though they were not very good when we played them my senior year,” Hendrix recalled. “They had quarterback Erik Kramer and wide receivers Haywood Jeffires and Nasrallah Worthen. They had a lot of talent.”
Hendrix spent two seasons as a graduate assistant under Sheridan, then began his full-time coaching career back at Furman. He has fond memories of his time with the Pack, even though the 1987 team was 4-7, one of only two losing seasons Sheridan ever posted as a head coach.
Though he never worked for Sheridan as a fulltime staff member, Hendrix said “everything I’ve ever done as a coach, you can see a little bit of Coach Sheridan in all of it.”
They’ve stayed in touch through the years, as Sheridan does with all of his former players. The 76-year-old Sheridan — retired in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, since he left NC State following the 1992 season — plans to be at Carter-Finley on Saturday to see his two former teams face each other.
“That puts a little more pressure on us,” Hendrix said. “You always want to perform well in front of someone you have that much respect for.”
Sheridan has similar affection for Hendrix, who he encouraged to pursue coaching when his playing career ended.
“I’ve never discouraged any of my former players from pursuing coaching, but some of them know what it takes more than others,” noted Sheridan.
“I knew Clay would be good at it, just from the way he went about things as an assistant and the way he learned the game.
“He was so smart, which is what we required of all our offensive linemen back then. They were usually smaller, so they had to rely on always being in the right place, always knowing what they were supposed to be doing.”
Hendrix realizes it will be a different setting than where he played and coached during the 1980s. The stadium complex has had nearly $200 million in improvements in the last two decades, and a crowd of nearly 60,000 is expected, which is about the combined total of fans who saw the Wolfpack and Paladins play their last two games.
“It’s been about 20 years since I have been to the stadium,” said Hendrix, even though he has a niece who graduated from and a nephew who attends NC State. “It’s amazing all they have done there. There were a lot of things that weren’t very good back when I was there, but they have obviously improved a lot.”
As a graduate assistant, Hendrix remembers conducting practices on the often-flooded practice fields adjacent to Derr Track and makeshift indoor walk-throughs at the Jim Hunt Horse Complex at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.
He remembers working with line coach Robbie Caldwell and other graduate assistants to clean out the College Inn so freshmen could move in the summer before Sheridan’s first year at State.
He knows it’s not the same place.
“Without a doubt, our kids will be excited to go up there and play,” he explained. “I’ve told them, the field is the same and all we can do us go up there and do what we have worked on.”
Though Hendrix admits that he’ll feel a little bit more under the gun in front of his former coach.
“It does put a little more pressure on you, knowing he’ll be up there watching,” said Hendrix.
Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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