Q&A: Newly hired WIU head coach strives for return to ‘Leatherneck legacy’

Myers Hendrickson, a former Western Illinois wide receiver, became the school’s 31st head coach on Dec. 17 (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

By Dan Verdun

Myers Hendrickson first came to Macomb in 1999 at the age of 11 when his father, Mark, was on the Western Illinois coaching staff. Mark Hendrickson served as Leatherneck offensive coordinator 1999 to 2007 and then as head coach 2008 to 2012.

On Dec. 17, WIU announced the hiring of former player Myers Hendrickson as the 31st head coach in Leathernecks’ history.

According to his WIU biographical sketch, Myers Hendrickson “competed as a wide receiver for Western from 2009-11, playing in every game during his last two seasons. As a senior, he was named Phil Steele Preseason College Football Second Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) as a punt returner.

“The three years also saw him land on the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) All-Academic Team each season, along with receiving the Dr. Frank Sorenson Award for Academic Achievement – awarded to the student-athlete with the highest GPA on the football team.”

As the head coach at NAIA Kansas Wesleyan University, Hendrickson led the team to an overall record of 30-4, which included two Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) championships in 2019 and 2021.

WIU opens spring practice in late March, which culminates in the annual spring game at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 22. 

Prairie State Pigskin caught up with the 32-year-old Hendrickson last week.

Get to know Myers Hendrickson in this Q&A session:

Your father coached at Western Illinois. What was it like living in Macomb as a boy and ultimately playing for your father at WIU?

I cherish everything about being a Leatherneck. To me, it’s more than a mascot. It’s more than a logo. It’s really a way of life. If you’re a Leatherneck, you’re a Leatherneck for life. That was something I felt from a young age.

With my dad coaching at Western Illinois, I had a special connection to the program . . . It created a lot of lifelong memories and  relationships.

My dad is not on (WIU’s) staff in an official role, but he’s still around. At Kansas Wesleyan, he shared an office with me. He was there with me every step of the way for three years. A lot of our success is due to him

What are some of your memories of that time? Who are some of the players you admired?

It’s a long list, and it goes on and on. My mentor is Frisman Jackson. The incredible thing about Fris is that it came full circle. He was my position coach here, my wide receivers coach, so I played for Fris here at Western. I remember watching him play here at Western and then in the NFL. He came back here and coached. I talk to him all the time. He recently took the Pittsburgh Steelers receivers (coaching) job.

Everywhere he’s been, he’s invited me in. I spent time with him in Tennessee when he was with the Titans. I’ve been in coaching ever since I was done playing and every step along the way Fris has taken me into whatever staff he’s been on to help me grow and learn. He’s not only taught me the game on the field, he’s taught me to coach. He’s been a huge mentor in my life.

There are others of course: Rich Seubert, Mike Scifries, Eddie Hartwell, Lee Russell, Russ Michna, JR Niklos  . . . the list goes on and on with the incredible Leatherneck legacy here at Western, but at the top of the list is Fris for being the most impactful on my life.

How does your passion of Western Illinois University help you as the Leathernecks head coach?

Western never left me. It’s a part of who I am. When you go to school somewhere, when you play somewhere, it has a special meaning. There’s no substitute. 

Western Illinois University has always served as a huge sense of pride in my life. Wherever I go I talk about Leatherneck football and being a Leatherneck. That part never leaves you, so when I had the opportunity to come back it was exciting for me.

One thing that we have here is that it is a “Tradition of Tough”. I’ve got a sense of pride that I believe only a Leatherneck can have. There’s something about that when you’ve lived it, breathed it and played it. There’s blood and sweat in the locker room and in the weight room. You have an instant connection to the current roster. It also helps me speak to our recruits and their families. I can talk about my experience here at Western Illinois off the field, academically with professors, professionally and socially and athletically. I’m not going to ask players to do anything that I didn’t do. I was given a great student-athlete experience here. It was total, not just as an athlete here. I can speak to all those things firsthand.

(Note:  Hendrickson was a business major at WIU. He did an internship at ADM and worked with John Deere.)

My major emphasis was supply chain management. At Western Illinois you get hands-on experience. Those things allow our students to be successful. I’ve sat in the library. I’ve sat in the writing center. I’ve sat in the classrooms. Those are all things I can share with my recruits, players and their families.

WIU plays in arguably the toughest FCS conference. How do you approach that challenge knowing resources are far from equal within the league, when you’re competing against the North Dakota States of the FCS world?

I look at challenges as opportunities. I was fortunate to be here around some great players and coaches. We had chances to win some of those big games. I got to be a part of it as a student-athlete in a really small (playing) role, but I know the blueprint of what it takes to be successful. 

To me, when you talk about resources, we’re people-rich. We’re people-driven. That’s the thing you’ll hear when you ask alums what’s so special about Western Illinois. That’s what makes Western Illinois such an incredible place.That’s the difference.

Many have marveled at what you were able to do in a short amount of time with your spring recruiting class. How did that happen?

We put a huge emphasis on our backyard. As with anything, you’ve got to start somewhere. So, we started right here in the Midwest. I wanted to recruit high school players and build a foundation for a great program. We signed the majority of our players from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. That was really critical to me. When you look at that 2010 (playoff-bound WIU) team you saw a lot of players from across Illinois. There are two former Leatherneck players on my staff who went to high school in Illinois. We want to become a destination for this region and build sustainable success.

The thing I want to talk about with recruiting is that we’ve process-driven. We’ve got a process that we put in place in which we get to know student-athletes. We did have a really short window to do it, but I felt like we accomplished that. We were excited to build relationships with the student-athletes, family members and had some outstanding visits on campus as well.

You had incredible success at Kansas Wesleyan over the past three years. Your offense appears to have run quite a bit of four wide receivers and one running back sets. Understanding that your staff is still getting to know your roster, what could your WIU offense potentially look like?

I’m a big believer in fitting the offense to your personnel. I want to be able to be very versatile and also very dynamic with the ability to run or pass out of any formation. You have to play to the strengths of your players. From a football standpoint, that’s one of the things we’re most proud of at Kansas Wesleyan. We were able to adapt our offense to what our players did well. That was the key to our success. We don’t want to force our system onto a roster; we want to see what our best players can do.

On defense, Kansas Wesleyan had an amazing number of tackles-for-loss and sacks. Was that scheme, talent or a culmination of many factors?

At Kansas Wesleyan, we really believed in putting a ton of pressure on the opposing quarterback. So we based out of a four-man front and had a lot of success with good pass rushers. That was really important to me, to put that pressure on the quarterback and get penetration into the offense’s backfield. 

It all starts up front on offense and defense. That’s what makes both the offense and defense go. Good line play is key.

The transfer portal has changed college football as we know. How do you view the portal?

The portal certainly has changed the landscape of the game. It allows players more freedom to be able to move into whatever situation they feel is advantageous for them. We’re tying to recruit graduates of WIU, that’s the challenge of the portal . . . Sometimes the players are seeing media attention for being in the portal and it’s not always ideal for everyone. 

Everybody’s situation is different. I’m all for the transfer portal because I think players should have the freedom to play where they want to play. However, to build a sustainable foundation I think you want players that stay for four years, five years in a program. That’s how you become a model program program and have sustainable success. 

The portal is something you have to be careful with, both as a player and as a coach.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I felt incredible support. I’m really excited about Dr. (Guiyou) Huang, our university president, and the vision he has for Western Illinois University as well as Danielle Surprenant, our athletic director. We share a vision, and she already had an outstanding vision, for our athletic department as a whole. I’m really excited to work under her leadership.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: