Henson may try for 'last hurrah'

Updated: January 26, 2005, 4:49 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Ailing New Mexico State coach Lou Henson retired Saturday, 21 wins shy of becoming only the fifth Division I basketball coach with 800 victories.

The story was first reported by ESPN.com's Andy Katz.

The 73-year-old Henson, in a wheelchair and frail, hasn't coached this season. He had planned to return Jan. 8 but was hospitalized Jan. 6 with pneumonia.

The team is 4-13 this season under interim coach Tony Stubblefield. Henson retires with a career record of 779-413, the sixth winningest in Division I history. Among active coaches, only Bob Knight has more victories.

Stubblefield will meet with NMSU athletic director McKinley Boston on Saturday afternoon as well as the board of regents to discuss his future.

Stubblefield, 34, will be a candidate for the permanent position. But there will be plenty of interest, notably from Arizona State assistant coach Tony Benford, Oklahoma State assistant coach James Dickey and former SMU coach Mike Dement.

"I have always been a very demanding coach. I expect my players to give 100 percent or they come out of the game," Henson said. "I can expect no less of myself. So because I am physically unable to give my all, I am taking myself out of the game."

A source told Katz that Henson may still coach one or two games near the end of the season as a "last hurrah," if his health permits.

Henson smiled as he greeted crowds at Fulton Athletics Center. Accompanied by wife Mary, Henson received several standing ovations from players, school officials, longtime friends and at least two former school presidents.

Henson, whose right leg remains paralyzed as a result of his recent viral encephalitis, gingerly pulled himself from the wheelchair and stood at the podium. He called the decision to retire "an easy one" because of his health.

"I'm happy that he's finally letting go of such a huge responsibility," Mary Henson said.

Henson coached last season despite being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. The cancer is now in remission, but in September he was hospitalized with viral encephalitis.

University president Michael Martin said the school had hoped Henson could coach the Aggies long enough to reach 800 victories.

"It would have been a great marketing tool, but we're not here just to win basketball games," Martin said. "Coach Henson coached here and at Illinois with the highest level of integrity. The quality is so high that in my mind he has 8,000 wins."

Henson retired at Illinois in 1996, but he returned to coaching a year later at New Mexico State, his alma mater. In the seven seasons since, the Aggies have had four 20-win seasons.

"He has every reason to have a big ego and never practices it," Martin said.

Senior writer Andy Katz contributed to this report.

ALSO SEE