Ash, assistant have long history prior to reaching Rutgers
Not many ears perked up when Aaron Henry was officially announced as the assistant defensive backs coach for the Rutgers football team Dec. 28 to become the sixth assistant named to Chris Ash’s staff.
When fans researched his name, they found a former Wisconsin safety who was cut by the Oakland Raiders after training camp turned graduate assistant at Arkansas.
But Ash knows the Immokalee, Florida, native better than most.
Henry played under Ash when he was the defensive backs at Wisconsin in 2010 and 2011, earning All-Big Ten honors at safety in his senior year.
“As a player, I knew Aaron had all the characteristics to be a talented assistant coach one day,” Ash said in a statement released when Henry was officially introduced. “He is a smart, energetic young man who knows how I want the secondary to be developed.”
After getting cut from the Raiders, Henry continued to train to achieve his dream of playing in the National Football League, working odd jobs in order to sustain himself.
“I went from the NFL to a middle school lunchroom professor telling kids to be quiet and settle down,” Henry said. “I was also coaching high school football in the evenings.”
Henry bounced from those jobs in Gold Lake, Michigan, after the football season to become a real estate agent in Wisconsin. After realizing he wasn’t a “real estate guy,” he began working at a homeless shelter in Milwaukee, where he led a ministry.
He finished his life as a nomad by returning home to Florida, where he said he found himself doing nothing. So he reached out to Ash, who was the defensive backs coach at Arkansas at the time, in hopes of returning to a career in football.
Ash went above and beyond for his former player.
“Ash reached out to (Arkansas head coach Bret) Bielema and they ended up keeping me up there, long story short,” Henry said. “In my first two months there, I lived with coach Ash for a little bit.”
Having known the Ash family from their time together in Madison, the transition was seamless.
“His family is incredible. Obviously I’ve known his whole family from the time he was at Wisconsin,” Henry said. “That dude is like a father to me. Blood couldn’t make us any closer. It’s special. I don’t even feel like I’m coming to work. It’s a family-like atmosphere.”
Ash has a reputation for his diligent work ethic. Henry observed it up close in his short stay at his home, yet it continues to amaze him.
“I don’t know how he packages some of that stuff into his mind,” Henry said.
Henry spent two years at Arkansas as a graduate assistant under Bielema, the second of which was without Ash, who was hired as a co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach under Urban Meyer at Ohio State in 2014.
When Ash was hired to replace former head coach Kyle Flood on the Banks this winter, he chose Henry to come along with him.
Appreciative of what his former position coach has been able to do for him, Henry is repaying him by absorbing whatever he can and putting forth his best effort to mold a young cornerbacks room at Rutgers.
“I’m working for, some would argue, the best defensive backs coach in the country,” Henry said. “I’m on a job interview every day with coach Ash … He put me in this position and I’m trying to learn from him and be a sponge. I can take the criticism. I can take what he’s trying to tell me and just try to grow from it … I told one of my buddies, if I can take half of what coach Ash is trying to teach — just half — then the sky is the limit.”