Bennie Ellender (1925–2011)

Former Tulane University quarterback Bennie Ellender served as head football coach for Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County) from 1963 through 1970, amassing one of the most successful winning records in the school’s history.

Bennie Ellender Jr. was born on March 2, 1925, in Sulphur, Louisiana, to Bennie Ellender Sr. and Alice Gray Ellender. He attended Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was quarterback, running back, and safety for the football team in 1943–44. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returning to college at Tulane, where he again played on the football team in 1946 and 1947. In 1949, he married Bette Howard; they had no children.

Ellender began his career at what is now ASU when he served as an assistant coach in 1962 under head coach King Block. In 1963, Ellender was elevated to the head coaching position. He led the school to a 52–20–4 record over eight seasons, earning the highest winning percentage in school history at .711 for a coach with more than one season at the school.

He took the ASU team to three Southland Conference championships and three consecutive Pecan Bowls, in 1968, 1969, and 1970—winning the 1969 and 1970 games. With an undefeated record under Ellender of 11–0 in 1970, ASU was named national champion of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Small College Division.

After his 1970 undefeated season, Ellender was recruited to return to his alma mater Tulane, where he served as head football coach from 1971 through 1975. Under Ellender’s leadership, the Tulane team went to the 1973 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl playing against the Houston Cougars, who emerged victorious. He retired from the Tulane football program after the 1975 season.

Ellender’s overall coaching record was 79–49–4, and he took his teams to four post-season bowl games, of which they won two. He won an NCAA College Division National Championship (1970) and three Southland titles (1968–1970). In 1970, Ellender was named the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) College Division Coach of the Year.

Ellender was inducted into the ASU Athletic Hall of Honor in 1982 and the school’s Ring of Honor in 2000. He was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year four times (in 1964, 1968, 1969, and 1970) and led ASU to the league title for three consecutive years (1968–1970).

Remaining in Louisiana after his retirement, Ellender worked in real estate and in the oil-field services industry. In addition, he helped coordinate the East team for the East-West Shrine Game in Palo Alto, California, a game that helps fund a Shriners burn unit.

After a lengthy illness, Ellender died on December 22, 2011, in Metairie, Louisiana. He is buried at Garden of Memories in Metairie with his wife, Bette, who preceded him in death by about six months.

For additional information:
Becnel, George. The Southland Conference: Small College Football, Big Dreams. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2015.

“Bennie Ellender: The Art of Winning.” In 100 Years, 100 Voices: Arkansas State University Centennial Celebration. Jonesboro, AR: ASU Alumni Association, 2009.

“Bennie Ellender Coaching Record.” (accessed October 5, 2020).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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