It reads like a script from a movie:
Born in a covered wagon at a place called Eden; grows up wanting to be a preacher; but instead becomes the fastest man in the world and later develops into one of the nation’s greatest football coaches of his generation
But, it’s not a movie. It’s the life story of Gwinn Henry, turned the College of Emporia into a football powerhouse at the small college level, before making his mark with the Missouri Tigers.
Before Henry was a successful coach, he was a track athlete – and a very talented one. He was called the “fastest man in the world” in 1911 when he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds. He was so good that he was chosen to the 1912 United States Olympic team without a tryout.
But, just prior to heading overseas to Stockholm, Sweden – a place where Jim Thorpe would become “the greatest athlete in the world” – Henry’s wife Amy became seriously ill.
Henry stayed home from the Olympics, but never once regretted his decision.
Gwinn Henry was born in 1887 in a covered wagon near Eden, Texas. At the age of 17, he entered Howard Payne University where he played football, baseball and track. Later, he transferred to nearby Southwestern (Texas) College and attracted national attention by contributing all 11 points in a victory over the University of Texas.
Despite his love for football and horse riding, Henry’s best sport was track where he sizzled on the cinders. Known as the “Texas Flyer”, Henry won the national champion in the 220 in 1910 and also set a world record in the 125-yard run and tied the world mark in the indoor 75-yard dash.
But, as a football coach, Henry really excelled. From 1918 to 1930 at the College of Emporia and University of Missouri, Henry led his teams to 74 wins against just 32 losses.
At Emporia, Henry coached two undefeated teams and had a combined record of 34-4-4. At Missouri, his teams defeated Nebraska three straight years, posting an overall record of 40-28-9. But, Henry was about more than just wins and losses. He was one of most respected coaches in the country and was called by one noted sports writer as one of the true gentlemen in the sport.
“Never have I known a coach who in his heart has a deeper love of his boys than Gwinn Henry,” said sports editor C.E. McBride of the Kansas City Star. “More than that, if I had to name a football coach, in my opinion, (who) had worked his way deepest in the hearts of his boys, I believe I would have to name Gwinn Henry.”
Henry coached at the University of Missouri for nine years, winning three Missouri valley Conference championships in 1924, ‘25, and ‘27. He also finished second three times. He became the athletic director at the University of Kansas in 1937 and took over football and track coaching responsibilities during World War II. He retired from coaching and administrative work in 1943. He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1969.
Henry also won a Border Conference Championship in 1936 at the University of New Mexico and coached the St. Louis Gunners an independent pro football team for one season. Henry died on May 16, 1955, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.