Marion "Chief" Henley: Now here was a coach
Marion “Chief” Henley, one of the greatest football coaches most people never heard of, has died at his retirement home in Cocoa Beach, Fla.. Henley who was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, was 79.
Henley’s Picayune Carver High School teams won 64 straight football games in the 1960s, which was a record that stood until 2007 when South Panola exceeded that streak. Henley still holds the record for consecutive games won by a single high school coach because two coaches, Rickey Woods and Lance Pogue, were involved in the South Panola win streak.
“Our streak should have been a lot longer,” said Jackson resident Lap Baker, who played quarterback for Carver. “When our streak finally ended, it was on a controversial game played right here in Jackson against Jim Hill. The player who supposedly scored the winning touchdown for Jim Hill didn’t even have the ball when he crossed the goalline. That was after they didn’t run the clock to give them time to run another play. It was highway robbery.”
Henley’s Carver teams won 112 games while losing only six for a remarkable winning percentage of .949.
“He was the best coach I’ve ever seen, the smartest coach I’ve ever seen,” Baker said. “You have to realize that he never had an assistant coach. He coached everything: the linemen, the backs, the offense, the defense, the special teams — everything. He was a strict coach who stressed the fundamentals.”
Many high school teams would not play Carver in those pre-integration days.
“We scheduled games with junior colleges,” Baker said. “We played Prentiss Junior College on Thanksgiving Day and I’ll never forget how big those guys looked coming off the bus. They were twice our size but we beat them 27-6. Coach was a great motivator. He always told us a gnat could stop a freight train traveling at the speed of light if he just believed he could. He made us believe we could.”
At the time of his Hall of Fame induction, Henley described his coaching style: “I was the type of coach that let the players dictate what offense and defense we would run that year. If we didn’t have the personnel to run the split-T, we weren’t going to run the split-T. I tried to always mold my coaching to fit my players.”
Curtis Rockwell of the The Picayune Item interviewed Henley when South Panola broke the Carver streak in 2007.
“I’m not upset about it, I respect what they have been able to do,” Henley said. “I was just glad I could be a part of something that special, and to be able to help those young men make a difference. . . .our record has stood for a long, long time and I don’t think anything can take away from what we achieved.”
Carver left Picayune in 1969 when Carver and all-white Picayune High consolidated. Henley, who had the best coaching record in Mississippi, was assigned to be an assistant coach under a white coach with an inferior record.
“No way he was going to do that,” Baker said. “I don’t see how anybody could blame him.”
Henley coached for 23 more years in Baltimore before his retirement.
A memorial service will be held in Picayune. Details are incomplete.
Marion Henley’s obituary:
Mr. Henley was born in Biloxi, Mississippi on March 17, 1934 to Walter and Jessie Henley, who preceded him in death.
He taught and coached in the Baltimore (Maryland) County School system until his retirement in 1992.
He was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in April , 1993 because of his national football record of 64 consecutive games his team won while Coach at George Washington Carver High School in Picayune, Mississippi. In September of 2002, Marion was inducted into the Jackson State University Sports Hall of Fame.
Marion and his wife, Shelia traveled all over the United States and many countries abroad. In 2006, they moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Port Saint John, Florida. He enjoyed his retirement years surrounded by the many people who became their friends and extended families. He had a passion for fishing and sports. His fishing tales are legends and were enjoyed by all whom he told.
Marion is survived by his wife of 49 years, Sheila Salvant Henley and their sons, Craig (Juanita) of Phoenix, Arizona; Shaun (Dana) of Baltimore, Maryland; Lujuana Lyons, Cassandra Walker, Lisa Hyde (Calvin), Joseph Henley (Charlotta); and a host of Grandchildren, Great-grandchildren, relatives and friends. His son Andre and 3 brothers, Walter Jr.; John and Joseph Henley preceded him in death.
Marion’s memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at Saint Patrick’s Anglican Catholic Church of Port St. John, 4797 Curtis Blvd., on Tuesday, July 9th, at 6:00 p.m.