1992 Roncalli High School graduate Mark Henninger wanted to be the first head football coach at Marian University. He interviewed for the job in 2006, when the school was starting a football program from scratch. It was his first head coaching interview.
"It was pretty obvious I wasn't ready for this undertaking at the time," said the 39-year-old Henninger. "I'm ready for it now."
Marian introduced Henninger as the second head football coach in school history Thursday. He takes over for program founder Ted Karras, who built the Knights from nothing into NAIA national champions in just six seasons.
"Me being here is just an absolute blessing," said Henninger, "surrounded by great people and fantastic tradition. I'm looking forward to starting right away."
Henninger is familiar with collegiate startups. He helped with the creation of the football program at North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount. He became head coach of the Battling Bishops in 2008. He led NC Wesleyan to a 26-25 record over the past five seasons.
Henninger's best season at NC Wesleyan was 2009. He was named USA South Conference Coach of the Year as the Battling Bishops went 8-3 (7-0 conference) and played in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"My approach to coaching is to develop the entire being," said Henninger. "I want to win as many games as I can. We're going to take our academic responsibilities here seriously. We're going to be active in the community. Our society is in desperate need of positive male role models and positive male leadership. I'm going to have 100-plus positive male role models on my team."
Marian officials say Henninger was chosen from about 125 coaches who expressed interest in the job.
"I didn't know who (Henninger) was when he came to interview," said Marian Director of Athletics Steve Downing. "I saw a guy out here in a suit and I thought it was a player. I told him he's going to have to wear an eye patch or scruff himself up to make himself look older, because he looks just like the guys he's going to be coaching. But he has a great mind."
Henninger played football at Roncalli for legendary coach Bruce Scifres, who has won six state championships at the south side Indianapolis catholic high school. Henninger went on play defensive back at Wittenberg University. He went to college to become an accountant, but chose coaching instead. He started as a graduate assistant at Millikin University in 1996.
Henninger says he has wanted to bring his family back to Indianapolis for the last few years.
"I'm from here. My wife's from here. It's a chance to get the kids closer to their grandparents. There's something to be said for Midwestern values. I loved my time in North Carolina. But we're clearly ready to come home.
Henninger takes over a program that won the NAIA national championship with a 30-27 overtime victory over Morningside College (Iowa) on December 13, 2012. The Knights have reached the quarterfinals or better of the NAIA playoffs each of the past three seasons.
Henninger and his wife, Jen, have three children: Jack, Mary and Abigail.