COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Clay Hendrix, a Georgia boy without wanderlust, has, nonetheless, settled in at the Air Force Academy as the Associate Head Coach who teaches offensive linemen the skills of blocking on the run where overachievement is an everyday thing. Falcon players and coaches achieve success the old fashioned way. They earn it.
Growing up in Commerce, Clay became a Georgia fan — he saw Herschel awe in the sprints and Freddie Gilbert run the hurdles in high school — but has experienced the vagabond life which assistants often have to succumb to in order to remain gainfully employed. He is one of the highly regarded offensive line coaches in the country, one with deep affection for his Georgia roots.
He is not itching to leave his bird-in-the-hand status, understanding that the pay is good, the competition is stimulating but the good life for him and his family is sometimes as uplifting as the view and the Rocky Mountain High he experiences on a daily basis. The Wild Blue Yonder stands sentry in all its glory every afternoon when he takes the practice field.
He sometimes wonders if his counterparts at some major schools really have any fun. He appreciates that winning championships is the ultimate goal, but he questions what it is like to win a game and not being able to relax and enjoy it for thinking about the next game coming up; lose and your world is turned upside down.
It is not lost on him that while winning is important at Air Force, it is not the end of the world to wake up on Sunday morning and feel like you let the whole state down when Boise State thunders through Falcon Stadium like an F-16. Air Force, in this series, however, has thundered right back and finds exultation in that the series record is tied, 2-2.
There is something of an old home week feeling when Colorado State and Air Force meet up. Clay has enjoyed a long time friendship with Mike Bobo. At Furman, he tried to recruit Kirby Smart.
A conversation with Clay leaves you with an appreciation that having played and coached at Furman, he knows coaches on the east side of the country as well as an assistant at an SEC or Atlantic Coast Conference school. With Air Force playing teams like Fresno State, San Diego State, Utah State and Wyoming, he has the same contacts out West as he does in the East.
His knowledge of football and his countless coaching contacts suggest he could start a coaches employment agency tomorrow and find a place for a young assistant with greater results than the plethora of agents which abound.
Having found a comfortable and refreshing niche, his conclusion is that life is good, or can be, wherever you land. There is purpose at Air Force where it is important to appreciate the mission of the academy which is to train young men and women to be leaders of tomorrow.
Half the graduating class goes into pilot training. You remember Chad Henning, a lineman for the Cowboys? He played for the Falcons and won the Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the country.
As a pilot, he flew missions in the Gulf War. After four years, he was released from the Air Force and played on four Super Bowl teams, winning three, with Dallas.
Clay enjoys coaching such exceptional men of the Chad Henning ilk. The rewards go beyond winning. In Clay’s time at the academy, Air Force has won the Commander-in-Chief trophy — by defeating Army and Navy in the same year — enabling him to make three trips to the White House to visit the president.
He has learned that fans don’t really pull against “our kids.” They respect the commitment to the military, among other things, recognizing that football players at the academies take 18 semester hours. There is little free time for Air Force football players.
Clay’s best friend growing up was Bobby Lamb who is the head coach at Mercer. They played on a state championship team coached by Ray Lamb, Bobby’s father.
His family lived across the street from the Lambs. He and Bobby Lamb were inseparable, which leads us to an interesting story. Bobby, at one time, dated Clay’s sister, Paige. When they broke up, Paige’s mother asked what happened.
“I got tired of going out with Bobby and him insisting that we bring Clay along.”
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.