Son of former Demon to play at Kinnick tomorrow
When the Iowa and Tennessee Tech football teams clash in a non-conference game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, there will be one player on the field with ties to Washington. And he won’t be on the Hawkeyes’ sideline.
Tennessee Tech free safety Taylor Hennigan is the youngest son of Mike Hennigan, a 1969 Washington High School graduate.
Mike Hennigan may be the best football player to ever come out of Washington High School. He was a defensive end on possibly the best football team in Washington history, the 1968 squad that went a perfect 9-0 with big victories over Mt. Pleasant and Fairfield.
Hennigan went on to play two seasons at Parsons College, and after Parsons dropped its football program, he transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he was an all-conference selection for the Golden Eagles’ 1972 Ohio Valley Conference championship team.
After his college career ended, Hennigan was drafted in the fourth round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. He played four years for the Lions and three more for the New York Jets, playing middle linebacker and special teams. Hennigan is the only football player from Washington who has ever played in the NFL.
Near the end of his playing career, Hennigan decided he wanted to give coaching a try.
“I was in the farm equipment business with my dad there in Washington,” he said. “As my pro career came to an end, I worked with him for six months and then went back to the NFL for six months. But when it came to an end, I decided I wanted to go on with football.”
Hennigan was hired to coach linebackers at East Tennesee State in 1980, and one of the first linebackers he worked with was Mike Smith, who is now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Hennigan was hired as the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina in 1982. He moved to Memphis State in 1984 to coach inside linebackers, and in 1985 he coached defensive ends at Temple University. He returned to his alma mater in 1986, spending 10 years as the Golden Eagles’ defensive coordinator before serving as Tennessee Tech’s head coach from 1996-2005.
Hennigan, 59, is now “basically” retired, but still volunteer coaching at nearby Cookeville High School. But he’s missing tonight’s game, making the 10-hour trip to Iowa to watch his son play in tomorrow’s game at Kinnick Stadium.
Taylor Hennigan began his career at Tennessee Tech as a wide receiver, and he played on special teams as a true freshman. Because the team had a shortage of defensive backs, he moved to play free safety last season.
“He’s done a nice job,” Mike Hennigan said of his son. “He’s a hard worker. He gets in the weight room and really works hard at it. I think that’s something the coaches were attracted to.”
Taylor Hennigan began this season second on the depth chart at free safety, but due to an injury he may see more playing time in tomorrow’s game against the Hawkeyes.
“This is kind of a neat opportunity for him,” Mike Hennigan said. “He might get a chance to play a little more this week. He’ll be on the field in the kicking game, if not defense.”
It’s also a neat opportunity for Mike. Growing up in Washington he idolized the Hawkeyes.
“As a boy growing up so close to Iowa City, that’s the program I would read about in the paper every Sunday,” he said. “We would also go to games and buy knothole tickets. For a dollar we could get in and watch the game on the grass in the end zone. I remember doing that a number of Saturdays and watching the Hawkeyes.”
Despite growing up a Hawkeye fan, he’s not going to be cheering for them tomorrow.
“I’ll be wearing more purple than black and gold,” he said.
All four of Hennigan’s children will be in the stadium for tomorrow’s game. His two oldest sons, Michael and Zac, will drive to Iowa tonight, and daughter Morgan is coming in from Kansas City. Of course Taylor will be on the field.
Following the game, Hennigan plans to drive down to Washington to visit his parents, Bill and Mary Ann Hennigan.
“When I was coaching we made a trip up to Iowa State and played a game at Ames,” Hennigan said. “It was good to see family that is still in the state, and we hope to do that this trip.”