When Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock announced he would return to the Camp Randall sidelines next season, Bret Bielema & Co. avoided more than simply the hassle of interviewing and selecting yet another new coach.
Hammock – widely considered one of the Badgers’ top recruiters and one of the pre-eminent young position coaches in the country – was one of the candidates for, most likely, the same position for NFL’s St. Louis Rams. Although there is no official evidence that the former Northern Illinois tailback was offered the job, it seems quite likely that he was, since the Rams are still searching for a coach and CoachingSearch.com reported his interview went “very well.”
Many fans were already writing off the talented coach, who was one of just three members of Bielema’s staff from last season who would return in 2012, as an unfortunate byproduct of the Badgers’ notable success between the hash marks. With former UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst darting for Pittsburgh and carting former tight ends coach Joe Rudolph and former linebackers coach Dave Huxtable with him to the East Coast, the turnstile that was the Wisconsin coaching staff was one of Badgers’ fans top concerns this offseason.
The loss of Hammock would have only added to the worrisome turnover levels, but the coach’s renewed commitment to the Badgers further acted as a sign that Madison is no longer just a temporary stop on the route to the top but rather a final destination for nationally-recognized coaches. No longer is Madison known for the nostalgic playing days of Ron Dayne that garnered Wisconsin football national attention at the start of the 21st century.
Although both ended with tears sliding down the faces of UW’s stars in Pasadena, back-to-back Rose Bowls remain an undeniable sign of a top tier program. Hammock, who drew the Rams’ interest after serving just one year as Wisconsin’s running backs coach, clearly believes the Badgers will continue to expect BCS Bowl appearances and play accordingly.
After being hired last February, the Jersey City, N.J., native’s words on the strength of the running back tradition at Wisconsin now appear more genuine than ever before.
“Like I tell recruits, ‘What better place is there for a running back than Wisconsin?’” Hammock said. “I feel the same way as a coach. What better place for a running back coach than Wisconsin”?
It sounds like a cheesy line to pump up the ego of a talented four-star running back, but it also reflects on the fact that Wisconsin is developing into and deserves to be a primary option for fleet-footed ball carriers across the nation.
Analysts and fans alike may point out that Wisconsin football has made its name on the run-heavy offenses that crank out 1,000 yard rushers every season. It’s no surprise, then, that a running backs coach wants to stick around at a school where he can laud every recruit with the powerful line that they could be the next Montee Ball, who rushed for 1,923 yards and a still hard-to-believe 39 total touchdowns this season. In that view, one of the nation’s best up-and-coming college coaches turning down an NFL job only reaffirms that the Badgers boast one of the most recognized rushing traditions in the country.
However, with the jump to the pros, Hammock would have seen a significant pay increase and set himself up nicely for consideration for NFL offensive coordinator openings farther down the road. Instead, he chose to stick with a premier Big Ten program that continues to creep deeper into the national landscape and, much like Chryst in the past, wait for the perfect opportunity.
Loyalty to the school where he worked as a graduate assistant in 2003 and 2004 only carries so much weight in big-time decisions like whether to take an attractive job alongside NFL sideline giant Jeff Fisher. Ultimately, the decision for Hammock undoubtedly came down to “what is the career outlook of staying in Madison compared to heading for the Gateway Arch”?
Piling onto the ever-growing stack of evidence that Wisconsin is an alluring place for the top coaches in the country is that the Rams turned to the Badgers in the first place when looking to fill a void on their own coaching staff. If UW was not building an elite program, NFL teams simply wouldn’t attempt to hire away its premier player developers.
John Settle, Wisconsin’s tailbacks coach from 2006-2010, was similarly lured away by the NFL’s Panthers to take over the same spot in Carolina, establishing a pipeline between Camp Randall and the pros in which Badger fans should take pride.
The threat of losing one of the few lasting sources of stability in Hammock may have been nothing more than a momentary scare for Wisconsin fans hoping for another Big Ten title-producing 2012 campaign. But, they must remember that even though such moments first appear to lack any favorable angle, these situations are an unfortunate effect of the glorious climb to college football’s peak.
Convinced Hammock only stayed because he felt like he owed it to Bielema, or wanted the chance to guide Montee Ball to a Heisman this season? Let him know by tweeting @imccue.