By Geoff Sherman, Marian (Ind.) Sports Information Director
INDIANAPOLIS - Marian University (Ind.) head football coach Mark Henninger has been named the 2014 American Football Coaches' Association (AFCA) NAIA National Coach of the Year, the association announced on Tuesday (Jan. 13) at its annual convention.
Henninger, who just completed his second season as head coach at MU, is the first MU head coach to earn the national honor. He led the Knights to an 11-3 record and a national runner-up finish. The Knights, who were ranked seventh at the time, fell in the 59th Annual NAIA Football National Championship game to No. 8 Southern Oregon, 55-31, in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Dec. 19.
He joins Texas Christian's Gary Patterson (NCAA-FBS), New Hampshire's Sean McDonnell (NCAA-FCS), Colorado State-Pueblo's John Wristen (NCAA-DII) and Wisconsin-Whitewater's Lance Leipold (NCAA-DIII) as the 2014 AFCA National Coach of the Year award winners.
Henninger's Knights opened the 2014 campaign with a 65-38 defeat to then-No. 16 Saint Xavier at home, and it looked as if it might be a long season. But, a 25-yard touchdown pass in the waning seconds gave MU a 24-20 win at Wisconsin-Oshkosh in week two. The season took off in week three when Henninger guided the unranked Knights to a 31-18 win over then-No. 1 and defending national champion Grand View (Iowa) on the road and propelled MU into the top 25.
A 20-7 defeat to Robert Morris (Ill.) changed the landscape for the entire season in week four. Henninger said he spoke to the team after the defeat and that "this was where the season turned" because they began to come together as a family.
That defeat sparked a nine-game winning streak in which the MU defense stood tall and the offense answered the call when necessary. In the final week of the season, Henninger guided MU to a 51-18 win over perennial power Saint Francis (Ind.) to claim his first MSFA Mideast League title, the program's third title, and the automatic berth in the NAIA Football Championship Series.
Henninger's Knights steamrolled through the playoffs with a 34-3 win over then-No. 10 Georgetown (Ky.) and a 34-6 road win over then-No. 2 Grand View (Iowa) before a 41-21 win over then-No. 4 Morningside (Iowa), which spent eight weeks at No. 1 in the poll, to earn the berth in the title game.
Henninger coached the nation's second-ranked run defense, fourth-ranked pass offense, seventh-ranked scoring offense, 12th-ranked pass offense and 14th-ranked total defense in 2014. The 11-3 record is the second-best record in program history and marks the fourth time in just eight seasons in which MU has reached the postseason.