Introduced as Furman’s new head football coach by director of athletics Mike Buddie on December 19, 2016, Clay Hendrix in one season has already helped reinvigorate a Paladin football program long accustomed to success.
Hendrix, a former standout Paladin offensive guard and assistant coach who returned to his alma mater following a decade as an assistant coach at the United States Air Force Academy, directed Furman to an 8-5 campaign and Football Championship (FCS) playoff appearance in 2017, improving on a three-win 2016 season and defying a preseason No. 7 Southern Conference tab by playing for a share of league title in the regular season finale en route to finishing a consensus No. 20 in two major FCS polls.
That Hendrix was able to orchestrate an impressive rebound of Paladin football was just what Buddie envisioned when he named him the 23rd head coach in the history of Furman football, which dates from 1889.
Following a pair of narrow, heartbreaking losses in its first three games a year ago, Furman reeled off seven straight wins — the program’s longest run of success streak since 1999 — en route its first appearance in the polls since 2014. The winning streak helped the Paladins garner their first playoff berth and postseason victory since 2013, and was recognized for its significance by Hendrix landing consensus SoCon Coach of the Year honors in voting by his peers and media.
Fueling Furman’s resurgence was a staple of former Paladin greatness and hallmark of Hendrix’s coaching DNA — a balanced, high powered offense (32.6 ppg) driven by an effective running game and efficient passing attack (168.54 rating). Also playing a key role was a young, aggressive Paladin defense that led the league in sacks (34).
All told, 13 Paladins earned All-SoCon honors in 2017, highlighted by All-America center Matthew Schmidt, who extended Furman’s unmatched tradition of producing Jacobs Blocking Award winners by becoming the school’s 13th recipient (and seventh Hendrix pupil) to capture the prestigious honor.
Furman’s successful 2017 campaign extended Hendrix’s legacy of notable success and consistency, underscored in the fact that in 36 years of collegiate football, spanning his years as a player and as an assistant coach, he has been part of 30 winning teams that have combined to go 290-156-3 (.649).
In 10 years at the Air Force Academy, where he coached the offensive line and served as offensive coordinator for five seasons, as well as associate head coach over the last seven campaigns, Hendrix played a pivotal role in the Falcons producing some of the top rushing attacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). That productivity translated into a 77-53 record (.592), nine bowl game appearances, and four Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies, which is awarded annually based on head-to-head results among the three service academies.
Air Force led the Mountain West Conference (MWC) in rushing and ranked in the top 10 nationally eight times in the last 10 years due, in part, to the quality work of Hendrix-directed offensive lines. All told, 19 Falcon offensive linemen garnered all-conference recognition and 21 players under Hendrix’s guidance landed Academic All-MWC honors during his tenure in Colorado Springs.
In 2016 Air Force posted a 10-3 record and 5-3 mark in the MWC, won its fourth Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy this decade, and defeated South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl following a 27-20 win over 19th-ranked Boise State on Nov. 25. The Falcons ranked third nationally in rushing offense (322.8 ypg), seventh in FBS in third down conversion percentage (51.4), and averaged over 451.4 yards per game in total offense along with 34.3 points per game.
The victory over Boise State represented the latest in an impressive list of Air Force triumphs with Hendrix on staff. In 2014 the Falcons defeated 21st-ranked Colorado State (27-24) during the regular season and knocked off Western Michigan (38-24) in the Idaho Potato Bowl to complete a 10-3 campaign. In 2010 Air Force downed Georgia Tech (14-7) in the Independence Bowl, a year after beating 25th-ranked Houston (45-20) in the Armed Forces Bowl. In his first season there, the Falcons handed Notre Dame its biggest setback (41-24) to a service academy since 1963.
Hendrix paved his way to Air Force with an exemplary 19-year record of accomplishment as an assistant coach at Furman, where he served as offensive line coach each year, recruiting coordinator for three seasons, and assistant head coach over his final five campaigns. From 1988-2006 he helped the Paladins post a 155-77-1 record (.667), including a 100-45 Southern Conference mark (.690) that led to six league championships, 11 NCAA FCS (formerly I-AA) playoff appearances, a national runner-up finish in 2001, and 1988 national championship — the first by a SoCon member school and private university in FCS history.
Over his final eight seasons on the Paladin staff (1999-06), Furman registered a 73-28 record (.723) and 47-14 worksheet (.770) against SoCon competition en route to three league championships, seven FCS playoff berths, 2001 national runner-up campaign, and seven top 10 final national rankings.
Hendrix-directed offensive lines and powerful rushing attacks were central in one of the greatest eras in Furman history. In 1999 Furman knocked off North Carolina (28-3) on the strength of a 177-yard rushing performance by tailback Louis Ivory, and in 2000 averaged a school record 307.1 yards per game rushing to spearhead Ivory’s run to the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. The next year a Paladin line featuring three All-Americans keyed an 12-3 campaign, highlighted by a 24-17 playoff semifinal road win over Georgia Southern that halted the Eagles’ NCAA record 39-game home winning streak.
In 2005 a potent Paladin ground game was central to Furman scoring 64 touchdowns and averaging 470.0 yards per game — both school standards.
In recognition terms, 25 Hendrix-coached players earned first team all-conference honors and 13 garnered All-America laurels during his Paladin assistant coaching tenure. In addition, five products — center Steve Duggan (1990), guard Ben Hall (1999), tackle Josh Moore (2000), tackle Donnie Littlejohn (2001), and tackle Ben Bainbridge (2004) — captured the SoCon’s Jacobs Blocking Award. A sixth recipient, tackle Joel Bell, who was recruited and developed by Hendrix, garnered the award in 2008.
Three of Furman’s SoCon leading 15 Academic All-Americans — guards Eric Walter (1990 & ‘91) and Adi Filipovic (2006) — are Hendrix products.
A native of Commerce, Ga., where he was a three-sport standout in football, wrestling, and golf as a prep, he starred as an offensive guard on the gridiron, helping Commerce High School to a 13-1 record and 1981 Class 2A state championship.
He came to Furman in 1982 on a football scholarship under head coach Dick Sheridan and over the next four years, including three seasons as a starter under the tutelage of offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, played a role in the Paladins posting a 39-10-1 record, winning SoCon championships in 1982, ‘83, and ‘85, and finishing as national runner-up his senior year — a season that saw him earn all-state recognition. Furman also recorded impressive wins over South Carolina (1982), Georgia Tech (1983), and North Carolina State (1984 & ‘85) during his playing tenure.
Following graduation in 1986, he joined Sheridan’s staff at N.C. State for the 1986 and ‘87 seasons — the first of which featured a Peach Bowl appearance. The Wolfpack beat ACC regular season champion Clemson in 1986 and the seventh-ranked Tigers again the following year.
He returned to Furman in 1988 as offensive line coach under head coach Jimmy Satterfield and his influence quickly led to success as Furman registered a 13-2 record and claimed the NCAA FCS championship with a 17-12 triumph over Georgia Southern.
He and his wife, LeeAnn Hedgpeth ‘90 of Taylors, S.C., have two sons, Cal and Mac.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT CLAY HENDRIX
“What an incredible opportunity to bring in Clay Hendrix, who is as complete a person, football coach, recruiter, and competitor as we could have here at the Air Force Academy, to lead the football program at Furman University. Clay and LeeAnn were tremendous representatives of our program and will certainly be the same for Furman.”
Troy Calhoun, Head Football Coach
Air Force Academy
“Furman has hit a grand slam in the hiring of former Paladin Clay Hendrix. I had the honor of working with coach Hendrix while coaching at the Air Force Academy and competing against him when at Appalachian State, and he is outstanding. Clay’s knowledge of the game, emphasis on fundamentals, ability to motivate his players, evaluate student-athletes, and recruit make him one of the top coaches in college football. As good a coach as Clay Hendrix is, he is a better person and wonderful role model to everyone."
Tim Horton, Running Backs Coach
“I had a chance to work with Clay Hendrix at Air Force, my alma mater, and was there when he came for his interview in 2006. He is a great man and an outstanding person and football coach. I could not be happier for him with the opportunity to get back to his school. He will do a great job!”
Jemal Singleton, Running Backs Coach
“There is no better person than Clay Hendrix — a class act all the way and a tremendous football coach who will represent Furman in an outstanding manner. He is more than deserving of this opportunity and comes from a long legacy of winning and championship football. His players absolutely love him. He drives them hard — in the right way — and has that right combination that allows him to get the most out of them. I’m really excited for Clay and LeeAnn and know of their love for Furman. It’s a dream come true, and I know he will be successful as Furman’s head coach.”
Tim DeRuyter, Head Coach
Fresno State (2012-16)
“Clay Hendrix is one of my all-time favorites and one of the smartest — if not the smartest — players I’ve ever coached. He’s been successful everywhere he’s gone, and I wish him nothing but the best in his new position at Furman.”
Robbie Caldwell ‘76, Offensive Line Coach