In the weeks following the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs on Jan. 16, Adam Henry took some much-needed time for himself.
Then, shortly after the NFC Championship Game, a former player of Henry’s reached out to him. Odell Beckham Jr., who Henry coached both in college and in the NFL, was heading to Super Bowl LVI with the Los Angeles Rams.
“Pops, why don’t you come to the Super Bowl?”
But Henry declined. The 2021 season had been a difficult one for him on a personal level, and he needed a break for his own mental health.
Growing up as the youngest of eight children, Henry was the last of his siblings to leave their childhood home. It was part of the reason he was especially close with his parents.
But his father eventually developed Alzheimer’s and dementia. Over time, he forgot who Henry’s mother was.
It was devastating, and she died just before the start of the Cowboys' 2021 season.
“She didn’t really want to be here anymore,” Henry said.
The Cowboys were selected to play in last season’s NFL Hall of Fame game, and the team started training camp early as a result. Henry traveled to his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, for his mother’s funeral on a Saturday, spent Sunday heading back to Dallas and flew to Oxnard, California, for training camp on Tuesday.
Henry’s father passed away on Jan. 24, eight days after the Cowboys lost to the 49ers. Henry had gone to visit him in the days following the loss, leaving for Dallas the evening before he passed.
In the span of seven months during one season, Henry had lost both of his parents.
In all his 25 years of coaching, Henry had never really taken a break. He’d missed his loved ones’ funerals, weddings, birthdays and get-togethers because of his demanding duties as a coach. But now, for the first time, he just needed some time away.
“A lot of times, we just go in this society,” Henry said. “We just don’t take a break mentally to just recollect and reassess.”
It was during this period that Indiana head coach Tom Allen reached out to Henry with an opportunity: a return to the college ranks, coaching wide receivers at Indiana.
Henry had worked in the NFL since 2015, where he coached Pro Bowl talent including Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, all of whom bring different strengths to the field. Those are the type of players recruits grow up watching and model their own styles after.
Henry credits his late parents for teaching him to handle all of those diverse talents and personalities. He said raising eight children while balancing their relationships to one another proved incredibly helpful.
“The best coach I’ve ever had,” Henry said.
Prior to his time in the NFL, Henry got his start coaching wide receivers at McNeese State University, his alma mater. Many of the players he coached at first weren’t typical recruits and would be more accurately labeled as athletes.
They came to McNeese State with experience playing basketball or baseball, while others played quarterback or running back in high school.
It was Henry’s job to sculpt them into wide receivers.
Henry first coached Beckham Jr. and Landry at Louisiana State University. LSU had a history of producing great defensive backs, with an occasional wide receiver making the leap to the NFL. Henry saw it as his duty to change that.
It was easy with Beckham Jr. and Landry given how eager they were to learn, Henry said. The two constantly worked to improve their skills, to the point in which they broke two of the program’s Jugs football throwing machines provided to receivers for workouts.
Henry matched their eagerness to learn with his own desire to teach. He studied education at McNeese State and earned a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. It’s a skillset he’s applied throughout his career, and one he’s eager to bring to Indiana.
“When they believe in you, and they know how much you care, then you can really teach them,” Henry said.