How Drew Henson ended up with the Yankees

Submitted by Leaders And Best on June 6th, 2013 at 10:39 AM

An oral history by ESPN's Michael Rothstein that looks back on Drew Henson's recruitment and how he ended up with the Yankees. Unfortunately, the article does not cover the part most people are interested in: Henson giving up his senior year at Michigan to play baseball full time. Hopefully, there is a Part II.


Toasted Yosties

June 6th, 2013 at 10:59 AM ^

He preferred waiting until a recruiting class was signed before offering kids in the next class.  It's interesting, seeing how the 2014 class is nearly nine months away from signing day and we have offers out to kids in 2015 and 2016.  Is this more Michigan changing or Michigan adjusting to the changing world of college football recruiting?


June 6th, 2013 at 11:06 AM ^

I would have to say its more about how things are done today than anything.  With football camps and social media blowing up the way they have it's extremely easy for a kid to get noticed early and if you are not one of those teams who show interest early,  you often end up in last place because you havent shown any love.  It's a vicious cycle.


June 6th, 2013 at 11:07 AM ^

It's such a shame he didn't play his senior year.  He was performing at a Heisman level at the end of his junior year.  His performance against OSU was one of the best I've ever seen by a Michigan QB.  Things could have so different if he'd stayed.  We'd have probably won the Big Ten in 2001 and beaten Tressel in his first matchup, and who knows from there on.




June 6th, 2013 at 11:44 AM ^

You can't underestimate what a boost Tressel got from that first victory in 2001.  They were an underdog and won in Ann Arbor for the first time in 14 years.  After that, he was already a legend in Ohio.  If he'd lost that game, that first year would have been remembered as a disaster (they went 7-5 as it was) and his tenure could have been a lot shakier.



June 6th, 2013 at 12:16 PM ^

I was there too and while it may have "embolded" their fan base the fan base doesnt recruit or play in any of the games.  I am hard-pressed to come up with players or coaches that would've not attended OSU if we win in 2001.  

Now...if we're going to replay the 2001 game with different QB can we make Marquis Walker hold on to the damn ball in the endzone?


June 6th, 2013 at 12:21 PM ^

The fanbase may not recruit, but it can create an atmosphere around the program that can make it easier, or harder, to recruit.  When pretty much an entire state is hailing you as the program savior after winning one big game, that's got to make recruiting a lot easier.  On the flip side, when a coach is under a lot of local scrutiny (as RR was here), recruiting locally can become a lot more challenging.


Space Coyote

June 6th, 2013 at 11:27 AM ^

And with sports, particularly ones like college football, there are so, so many.

Sometimes my mind just sort of floats off, like Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja when he meets with his master in the clouds, and I get lost for one or two or forty minutes before snapping back to reality. It's really a problem.


June 6th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

I've done some close analysis of 2001 (and 02 and 03, for a still-unfinished evaluation of Navarre's career) and it's clear Henson would have elevated the team much higher if he were playing. Navarre simply wasn't ready that year, and he was placed in a difficult situation with most of the rest of Michigan's offensive talent turning over. The best offensive player that year was Marquise Walker, who had a great season and was a good player but is never confused for one of Michigan's best receivers ever. 

But the rest of the offense was dreadful, Carr's least-talented offense. Only 2006 is close in its ineptitude. Chris Perry and BJ Askew shared the RB spot and were both ineffective; after Walker's 81 catches, the next most productive receiver was BJ Askew with 24... and next was Bill Seymour with 23. 

The defense, still recovering from its dreadful 2000 season, was not much better. Honestly, 2001 might have been the least talented team Carr ever fielded. 

And yet all three regular season losses were very winnable. The Washington loss, which we all forget because it was September 8, 2001, was controlled by Michigan until Washington returned a blocked FG for a touchdown and then a swing pass bounced off of Askew's hands and into a defender's for a TD. It was a typical opening road loss for a Carr Michigan team, but flukier than you'd expect. We all remember the clock game, which was loss #2. And then in the OSU game Navarre played execrably, yet Michigan still nearly came back to win.

It's not a stretch to think that with a senior Henson playing effective football, all three of those games would have been wins. Now, you have to remember that Carr Michigan teams always seemed to lose at least one game they shouldn't have, and perhaps they would have in 2001, but even with Navarre and an offense that played rather poorly for long stretches of time, Michigan was soooooo close to flipping those games.

And that's with lousy talent. Now, they were outmatched by Tennessee and would have been with Henson on the field, and of course if they were actually undefeated they would have played Miami in the Rose Bowl that year and been demolished. 

But, ironically, 2001 ends up being one of the years where Michigan played closest to its roster potential in the post-Brady Carr era. The real disappointment is not that they had four losses in 2001; the disappointment is that with all of the massive improvements in talent and experience in 2003, they only had one loss fewer.

Now, would Henson returning have turned the tide in later years? Perhaps Navarre is better prepared and less criticized in 2002, and Michigan's performance upgrades a bit. But beyond that I see little difference for him.

Would a 2001 OSU win have turned the tide against Tressel? Unlikely. The problem Michigan had with Tressel is that he held a very similar coaching philosophy to Lloyd Carr, but executed it much better. Beating OSU in 2001 neither gets Tressel fired nor does it flip the top Ohio recruits Tressel put a fence around in the 00 decade; nothing would change.



June 6th, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

Good points.  Maybe you're right - one year may not have done that much in the long run to change things (I agree about Tressel being better at actually executing the defense/field position philosophy than Carr).  Still . . . if we'd have gone 11-0 in the 2001 regular season, maybe we'd have reaped the benefits in recruiting and gotten another difference-maker or two.  And maybe, with a loss to us in 2001, OSU goes into the 2002 game feeling a lot of pressure to end the losing streak, plays tight, and we steal another in the Horseshoe?  When Cooper was there, I felt like they were pretty well-coached in general, but we seemed to be in their heads.  When they won in '01, that seemed to put all that to rest.  



June 6th, 2013 at 4:00 PM ^

In all the coulda, shoulda, woulda talk about if Henson had stayed, I look at what it might have meant for UM.  Like you, I don't think it's far-fetched that if Henson plays in 2001 UM is probably playing Miami for the NC in the Rose Bowl.  UM would have had a 5 yr stretch from '97 - '01, where they would have won the Rose Bowl and a NC, played in the BCS title game and won the Orange Bowl with a couple of 9-3 years sprinkled in and a Heisman trophy winner in Charles Woodson. 

Henson would have probably been in serious contention for the Heisman too.  A decent season and he's probably at least invited to NYC. 

That's a heck of a 5 yr run for any program.


June 6th, 2013 at 4:48 PM ^

George Steinbrenner (OSU alum/fan) absolutely didn't want Henson to stay for his senior year. Her was a kid who was good at baseball, so he threw a big contract at the kid and lured him away from Michigan. He did it not for his baseball team, he did it for the OSU football team.


Blue Durham

June 6th, 2013 at 11:24 AM ^

I know other people have speculated on this, but I wonder how much of a role George Steinbrenner's ties to Ohio State (post-grad study '54-'55 and a graduate assistant under Woody Hayes) really played in the Yankee's signing Henson.


June 6th, 2013 at 1:41 PM ^

Quote from the article:

The only team that was willing to draft me, pay me first-round money and allow me to play football in college and baseball in the summer time was the Yankees

I do not beleive that Steinbrenner makes this offer if Henson was the starting QB for Ohio.  He probably enjoyed screwing up UM's season with an outside chance that Hensen develops.

I'd ask him, except he is dead.


June 6th, 2013 at 11:34 AM ^

The agreement to not recruit another QB in the next class still irks me, whether it was Henson's or Carr's idea.  The favoritism even extended to playing time over Tom Brady when he didn't deserve it.  I'm sure glad Hoke has the opposite attitude of having to earn it every day, at every practice.


June 6th, 2013 at 12:17 PM ^

The article doesn't make it clear, but the recruiting pledge to Henson was to recruit no QBs in the class a year before his, not a year after.  The year after Henson, we signed two QBs  (Navarre and Mignery).  I don't think the pledge ultimately made a big difference.  Any QB we'd have signed in 1997 would have probably ridden the bench for four years and then moved on, or would have transferred. 

Also,  everything I've heard suggests that the two-QB system was actually done as a favor to Brady, not Henson.  Henson reportedly outperformed him in fall camp but as a nod to his experience, Brady was given a shot to hang onto his job.  The staff expected Henson to quickly seize control of the QB position but surprisingly, Brady did instead.


June 6th, 2013 at 12:23 PM ^

What have you heard? I'm not sure I buy that.

1. Brady needed no favors. If Henson were legtimately better, he would have started--but the reports all suggested that no clear #1 had emerged. And it seems reasonable to think that, based on their demonstrated on-field performance and Henson's spring absence, Brady had a better command of the offense.

2. The coaches certainly did have to worry about keeping Golden Boy Henson happy, since if he felt he weren't getting a good shake he could just take the money and go play baseball. It seems much more plausible that Henson was close but not there, and to placate him and keep talent on the field they gave him a chance to win the job on the field.

3. It certainly would make sense that the staff would expect Henson to seize the job, but I would think that would be with the added on-field experience rather than his superior practice performances. It is quite plausible that Henson lacked Brady's polished command of the offense, but that the coaches figured playing whole quarters would accelerate his growth and allow his talent to emerge.

4. I was one of the guys who thought Brady should have been given the job, but that was partly due to my old-fashioned "the experienced guy should start" feeling. Of course, his on-field performances were visibly better. It's worth saying, though, that even if Brady had started the second half of the MSU game there is no guarantee that Michigan wins. And it was the (reasonable) benching of Anthony Thomas against Illinois that really killed us there. Ah, what might have been.

The real question is, could Michigan have beaten Florida State that year? I think they would have had a chance.


June 6th, 2013 at 12:49 PM ^

From what I've heard, most of the staff felt that Henson outperformed Brady in fall camp, or at the very least equalled his performance (and the tiebreaker goes to the younger player).  The one staff member lobbying for Brady was the QB coach, Stan Parrish.  The platoon was a compromise.  Brady, as the incoming starter, was allowed to keep starting but it didn't really mean anything - each QB got a quarter of game action in the first half.  Apparently, Carr/DeBord expected Henson to win out, and were actually surprised that Brady kept performing well.  That was apparently the reason why the platoon dragged on for half the season, even when it seemed clear that Brady was playing better.

FWIW, I was also in the pro-Brady camp for the same reason (I don't like playing inexperienced QBs if it can be avoided).  I was surprised to hear all this.  


June 6th, 2013 at 2:10 PM ^

They revisted this subject on WTKA a couple years back and you covered everything correctly.  Carr was higher on Henson than he was on Brady.  He was following the same attitude that Bo Schembechler displayed in 1975 when he chose Rick Leach to be the starter as a freshman.  The mindset then was that if the young guy is playing as well in practice as the older more experienced guy, if it's that close, then you should stick with the young guy.  And that's what Carr wanted to do but the rest of the offensive coaching staff told Carr, are you nuts?  You've got to start Brady.

Going into the 1999 season, my mindset was to give Brady a very slight edge because of experience but I wouldn't have minded either as the starter at the time.  Brady was not fun to watch all the time in 1998.  There were many times that he made me want to pull my hair out.  And although he was playing better as the season went on, he still managed a few mind numbingly bad plays every game.  For instance, those two horrible interceptions he threw against Arkansas in the bowl game completely blew our lead and we had to rely on some late Hawg mistakes to pull out the win.  There was a world of difference with Brady in 99, though.  I was not expecting him to improve that much.  He was never flashy, he just went out and won. 

Drew Henson has probably been the most all around talented Michigan QB in my lifetime.  He had great mobility AND a fantastic arm.  His throws were like lazers and commentators regularly admired them on replays.  They were a thing of beauty.  His accuracy was impressive as well in 2000.  Very few interceptions.  What he could have done had he come back in kills me. 


June 6th, 2013 at 11:50 AM ^

Osu alumns felt they had a better team than 6-6, most felt they had a 9 win team and possibly better with Cooper..   So to go 6-6 in year one under tressel and lose to Michigan they were feeling was a step back from Cooper to make things even worse.

Wots I heard is tressel was told beat michigan or else. 



That said, Henson, had he returned Michigan was going to a bcs bowl and a few things gone right could have played Miami in the title game.....though that miami team was sic, I don't know anyone would have wanted to play that team....but Henson, Terrell and Walker ....I would have taken that shot.....


June 6th, 2013 at 11:57 AM ^

Unless you have convincing evidence of that, I find this post extremely hard to believe. There may have been some alums underwhelmed by Tressel's performance, but one mediocre year recovering from years of Cooper's mismanagement does not cause one to get fired, even at OSU. 

David Terrell did not play for Michigan that season, either.


June 6th, 2013 at 3:30 PM ^

I don't think you're being entirely fair to John Cooper. Aside from his well-documented and glorious trouble beating Michigan, he only had two bad years at the end (6-6 in 1999 and 8-4 in 2000). In 1998 he not only beat Michigan and won a BCS bowl but could have made the BCS title game with better special teams play against Michigan State (28-24 loss).

There's no way Ohio State would have fired Tressel after one year, though, without him having done something pretty awful off the field.



June 6th, 2013 at 8:17 PM ^

Exactly right. I don't think Michigan's 2000 win alone caused Cooper to be fired. It was the embarrassing loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and the absolutely dreadful behavior by players off the field during the bowl trip that finished the job. The program, at that point, was out of control.

Remember Tressel's speech at the basketball game? We all remember the part where he guaranteed the fans would be proud of OSU on the football field in November, but that was the conclusion of a statement promising that they would also be proud of the players in the community and in the classroom. There is a reason he said that.

Even if it turns out he was lying.


June 6th, 2013 at 12:17 PM ^

1, I don't think anybody would fire a coach after one year, no matter how disappointing their first season was.

2, I think we would have had a good chance to make it to the Title Game, but probably would have lost to Miami. I mean that team was stacked, they had like 17 or 18 1st Round NFL picks. We probably could have kept it closer than Nebraska, which didn't even win their conference.

MnB in Nashvegas

June 6th, 2013 at 12:06 PM ^

Really good stuff from Rothstein. I hope he goes into why he didn't make it in baseball. I've heard anecdotally that it was because he couldn't hit the curve ball, but that seems too simplistic to me.


June 6th, 2013 at 3:27 PM ^

"The only team that was willing to draft me, pay me first-round money and allow me to play football in college and baseball in the summer time was the Yankees." - from the article

I always found that part interesting as there likely would have been several teams in on Henson if he had committed solely to baseball from the start. As I recall, sometime in 2000, he was actually traded to the Reds' organization with a few prospects for Denny Neagle, then traded back to the Yankees the very next season for Wily Mo Pena. I believe that's when they promoted him to Columbus and that's when he began to struggle sadly. 

Like the OP, I hope there is a second part to this as well. Despite not panning out in the MLB or NFL, he has somehow found his footings back in baseball now as something I think he is probably in a unique position to be (and a good one potentially, I think) - a coach. 


June 7th, 2013 at 5:28 AM ^

The myth that is out there and unfortunately has become common sports "knowledge" is that Henson split time, or even started games at Michigan while Tom Brady was there.  Brady was always the starter and took the most of the reps by far those 2 seasons.