BEFORE DAN HENNING was run out of Charlotte, he was Draw-Play Dan. Carolina would have the ball third and 13, Jake Delhomme would drop back to pass and - Henning would order him to hand the ball to a running back.
Henning's offense was mostly conservative. There were few tricks and little daring. Just the facts, ma'am.
Fans blamed Henning, who was Carolina's offensive coordinator from 2002-06, for every incomplete pass, every turnover and, especially, every draw play. They even booed him at Fan Fest. He probably is the most reviled assistant in Panther history.
He was fired after the 2006 season. A source says it was because he lacked stamina.
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Henning is 67, one year older than Mick Jagger. The source says that instead of standing at practice or standing in camp, he'd wear down and look for a place to rest. What would players think when they saw him sitting on a helmet. If he didn't look vigorous, how vigorous could his offense be?
Perhaps it was his relationship with the team that wore out. Five seasons is a long time to work as a coordinator for the same coach.
Henning returned to Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.
In Miami, he has been reborn. Have you seen the Dolphins? They run the same plays you and your buddies will on Thanksgiving Day.
Go full speed to the maple, Ted Ginn Jr., take a hard left at the German shepherd, hurdle the garden gnome and I'll hit you in front of the mailbox.
"I think players, offensively, love having Dan there," says Miami coach Tony Sparano. "And I think Dan does a tremendous job from the play-calling standpoint and really understands how to attack people."
Henning might understand how to attack a defense, but he is as gracious as he is loquacious. The man can tell a story.
The Dolphins give the media 10 minutes with Henning. A spokesman says that 10 minutes usually gives Henning time to answer two questions. Perhaps Henning is slowing down. In the old days, 10 minutes would have given him time to answer one.
For years, I tried to talk Carolina coach George Seifert into letting me see his playbook. I asked the same question of John Fox when he replaced Seifert, and Fox said it was OK with him if it was OK with Henning.
Henning immediately handed me the playbook, which was the size of the real Yellow Pages but with better stock. He was so proud. It was his manifesto, a testament to 30 years (as of this season) in the NFL.
Although the playbook was Henning's, Carolina's offense was not. Fox's philosophy is to play great defense and minimize mistakes by running the ball.
Thus, the Wildcat was ideal for both coaches. It was safe and innovative.
In 2006, on the day before Christmas, the Panthers played Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. Delhomme was out for the third straight game with an injured thumb. Chris Weinke again was his replacement. Carolina had been hammered in Weinke's two previous starts.
So Henning reached back and employed the Wildcat, an offense as old as Mick Jagger. Running back DeAngelo Williams lined up behind center Geoff Hangartner, and the Panthers set a franchise record by running 52 times. Weinke threw seven passes. Atlanta had no idea what to do. Carolina kept the ball for almost 42 minutes and won 10-3.
If there's a reason Carolina won, it was this. Eight times Williams took the snap on third down and seven times he ran for a first down.
For one afternoon, even Panther fans loved Draw-Play Dan.