James Henry, Michigan assistant track and field coach, retires after 42 years

The Detroit News

Michigan track and field assistant coach James Henry is retiring after a 42-year coaching career with the program.

Henry, who announced his retirement on Tuesday, was the first Black head coach of a Michigan varsity athletics team when he was promoted in 1985 after four years as a UM sprints and jumps assistant coach. He became the winningest women's track and field coach in Big Ten history in 33 years as head coach as well as another four seasons sharing head coach duties with Jerry Clayton for the combined men's and women's program.

"My time at Michigan has truly been a labor of love — from student-athlete, to assistant coach, to the first Black head coach that the University ever hired, to co-head coach, and back to assistant coach. I guess that's what they call 'full circle.'" Henry said in a statement.

"I have had the pleasure of coaching numerous Big Ten and national championship athletes, and even being able to coach athletes at the Olympics. I have taken the most pride in watching so many of them do even more amazing things in their professional careers and lives beyond the track. I appreciate all the opportunities that have been afforded me over the 46 years I have been associated with Michigan track and field, and I wish the program nothing but success moving forward."

He was assistant coach in 2021-22 working with Kevin Sullivan, director of track and field/cross country.

"Coach Henry's Michigan career encompasses both his coaching legacy and his time as a student-athlete here, and there's something to be said about someone that has spent four-plus decades at one institution," Sullivan said. "You just don't see that a lot anymore, and it says a lot about the type of person he is, the coach he is, and the impact that he's had on young people's lives. We have all the banners and records and championships that show part of that legacy, but when you see what the young women who have been a part of his program over the years have gone on to do beyond their athletic careers, that truly shows what a positive impact he's had here at Michigan."

The Wolverines won a Big Ten-record 16 team titles between the indoor and outdoor seasons and earned a pair of third-place NCAA Championships finishes among eight national top-10 team showings under Henry’s guidance. He was 13 times named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and six times named the Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year.

He led the Michigan women to their first Big Ten Outdoor Championships team title in 1993. Of his 16 Big Ten team titles, 10 came in years when Michigan swept both the indoor and outdoor crowns — 1994, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2016.

From 2005 through 2009, the Wolverines had nine top-15 NCAA finishes, including a string of four straight top-10 showings in 2007 and 2008 that included third-place finishes at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Championships and 2008 NCAA Indoor Championships.

"James Henry has inspired generations of young people in his over four decades as a coach here at Michigan," Warde Manuel said in a release. "His desire to help each of his student-athletes become the best versions of themselves is as true to our 'Leaders and Best' philosophy as his teams' many athletic successes at the Big Ten, NCAA and international levels. Many have and will continue to follow in his footsteps as the first and longest-tenured Black head coach at Michigan. He is a singular figure in Michigan Athletics history, and on behalf of the department, I thank him for all his contributions to the University of Michigan and its student-athletes and wish him a happy retirement."