TAMPA — Physically, John Hendrick feels the same as he did 14 months ago, and if there's a big difference in his demeanor, his wife hasn't noticed it.
"He's still intense," said Katherine Steele-Hendrick, his wife of 22 years. "He may know when to get off the boat a little sooner. I'd like to take a page from him that way."
A year ago, Hendrick was just returning to USF's coaching staff after suffering a heart attack on July 1. The 49-year-old, a defensive lineman in his days at Pittsburgh, admits that in the first few weeks of his recovery, he believed his coaching career was over after 26 seasons.
"I didn't think I was going to be able to come back," he said.
The physical limitations were one thing, but Hendrick wondered if he could motivate, if he could lead, if he could coach with the same fire.
"I didn't think I could do it emotionally like I normally do," Hendrick said. "I found I have no problems with that. I still get mad now and again. I still raise my voice now and again. But I think I'm a little more in control since the heart attack. I'll still get peeved now and again and go back to being me."
USF coach Jim Leavitt, who hired Hendrick in March 2007, had to talk Hendrick into returning. He turned the entire defensive line over to defensive ends coach Kevin Patrick and sold Hendrick on the idea of becoming special teams coach, a position he held at Mississippi State from 1995-2002.
"I really wanted him to work with me," Leavitt said. "He has a great heart. He's just a good person, and he's been a head coach before (at Division II Benedict from 2003-06). He's very organized, and he's been really good."
Hendrick took a physical on Aug. 12, one year to the day he was cleared to return, and passed again with flying colors. His heart attack occurred after he came home from a long walk, while he was doing sit-ups.
He can't work out in the weight room the way he used to, but he continues to push himself. Some days, it's just walking laps around the practice fields in midday heat. Other days, he'll go to the treadmill, ramp it up to its steepest incline and walk for a half-hour.
"It's forced me really to teach, to be more patient," Hendrick said. "I'm more patient than I've ever been as a coach."
Hendrick has always been a religious man — he's an ordained minister and will likely devote more time to that after he finishes coaching. If there's one thing his wife notices he has done since the heart attack, it's something of a sermon via text messages to her, their two children and a few players who share his faith.
"He's got a new purpose since the heart attack," she said. "Maybe he's here to help someone."
Most days, the texts are simply a Bible verse or two. Tuesday, it was Psalms 133:1 ("Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!) then 1 Corinthians 12, which speaks well to a close family or team still growing together.
"There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other," the verse reads. "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
Hendrick has worked closely with senior Delbert Alvarado, who will handle punts, kicks and, possibly, kickoff duties. His focus has been maintaining a positive attitude regardless of any one kick.
"Let's not internalize the negative. Let's find the positives in what we're doing," Hendrick said. "Were my steps good? Was my drop good? Those things were good, but I came across my body. That made my kick bad. Let's fix that."
Leavitt remains very involved in special teams and has all of his assistants working on a specific aspect of it. Hendrick is happy to lead that effort, thankful to be back coaching and ready for whatever life brings him.
"The Bible tells us we have to walk by faith and not by sight," he said.
Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and (813) 226-3346.