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(Elizabeth Lewis - Daily Press)

Head coach Cooper Henderson, right, smiles during a press conference this morning with APS Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton, left. Henderson announced his resignation from the head coaching job but will remain with the Artesia Public Schools as athletic director. (Elizabeth Lewis – Daily Press)

Longtime Artesia High School head football coach Cooper Henderson and Artesia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton came together this afternoon to make an announcement that has quickly sent shockwaves through the community and the state – after 27 years, Henderson is stepping down as coach of the Bulldogs.

“Our community is well aware that the football program is a rich tradition and good things that have happened through the years with all the different directions,” Henderson said today at a press event at the APS Administration Building. “One thing we’re all interested in is the long-range of success of the program.

“From time to time, that’s going to include some changes. I feel like it’s the right time for the transition of head football coach.”

Henderson said he’s not quite ready to completely retire.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to be the athletic director for the high school as well as help any way I can to make that program successful,” he said. “I just feel like it’s a good time for a transition. I’m certainly not ready to retire and to stop working. I still have hopes to find ways to work with young athletes.”

Caton expressed his gratitude to Henderson.

“I’d like to tell Coach Henderson personally, on behalf of the Artesia Public Schools and the Board of Education, we appreciate the service that he’s given,” Caton said. “The young men he’s developed throughout the course of his career, not only as athletes but as young men that ended up productive citizens – he’s done a tremendous job, and he’s part of the reasons – one of the main reasons – why Artesia is the City of Champions.

“We’re extremely excited about the potential we have in our other programs as he continues to be our athletic director. We understand that there comes a time when everybody chooses the moment to step down. I did my best to talk him out of it, but we’re extremely pleased for Coach Henderson and his family. He told me he prayed a lot about it, and he feels this is the right decision. Today, I’d like to tell him thank you for being our head football coach.”

Henderson thanked his athletes, past and present, and his wife, Judy, for her support during his career.

“It has been a real joy. It was a very meaningful part of my life, and I definitely enjoyed the young men that came through the program,” said Henderson. “I would also like to thank my wife who was a huge part of my ability to do whatever I was able to contribute. I do look forward to hopefully making things happen for our young people.”

The APS will be posting the position of head coach and begin the search for viable candidates soon.

“We’ll probably post the position pretty quickly – before next week,” said Caton. “We feel like we have a number of viable candidates from inside. More than likely, we’ll take a look inside first and if we feel like we can’t find a replacement from within, we’ll do an outside search. We’ll accept applications from everyone, but we’re going to take a good look inside first.”

According to Henderson, he will likely not be a part of the hiring process for the next head coach.

“I will probably excuse myself if family ends up applying for the job,” said Henderson. “Honestly, I think we have a lot of good coaches on our staff. I really think that’s why we’re able to be successful and do what we’ve done. I would certainly hope that one of the people in the system would meet the needs for the next head football coach.”

Henderson has been coaching football since 1977, coming to Artesia in 1989 from Ruidoso. Over the course of his time with the Bulldogs, he compiled an overall record of 293-103-1 and appeared in 16 state championship games, 14 of which resulted in state titles for the program.