Cross brings NFL experience to UW
To have once coached in the National Football League, it’s certainly implied that you have a great knowledge and understanding of the game of football.
But for newly appointed special teams and safeties coach DeMontie Cross, it’s his grasp of the game as well as his moxie that makes him an effective coach.
“His voice – it’s a lot to know X’s and O’s but sometimes that voice and that confidence – I think the kids, they see DeMontie up in front of them and realize he knows this business, and he’s been a nice addition to our staff,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said.
Cross, a former free safety at Missouri from 1994-96, spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Bills in various capacities, including special teams and linebackers, before joining the UW staff in February.
According to Bielema, Cross has been floating around on the head coach’s radar for quite a while, saying he first tried to hire Cross three years ago.
The two became acquainted years ago when both were coaching in the Big 12. From 2002-03, Bielema stood as Kansas State’s co-defensive coordinator while Cross acted as Iowa State’s outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.
The two crossed paths a few other times after Cross accepted a job at Purdue in January, and he couldn’t decline an opportunity to join Bielama at Wisconsin when a position on the staff opened.
So Cross left West Lafeyette for Madison.
“I got to know him through the Big 12 conference and some other things and playing against him and then … those things carried on, and then we got to know each other a little bit and talk ball and when an opportunity came for me to join his staff, I couldn’t pass it up,” Cross said.
Cross has definitely thrown himself into his new job. During team scrimmages, Cross can be found standing about 40-50 yards behind the line of scrimmage, eyeing the safeties and barking words of encouragement or critique above the usual cacophony of coaches.
Cross said one of the biggest differences in going from the NFL to the college game is practice time. Time is limited in college football for practice time, whereas in the NFL practice can go on as long as the coaches want.
Nevertheless, after about two and a half weeks of his first spring camp at UW, Cross already believes he’s got a harmonious relationship going with his players.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “I think the chemistry is there from the guys. … I just want to come in and do my role and do my part to help us continue the success.”
Huxtable drawn to Badgers’ style
When University of Central Florida defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable decided to leave the Golden Knights to become the linebackers coach at Wisconsin, many wondered why.
Why would a coordinator of a top-25 ranked defense with 29 years of coaching experience choose to become a position coach at this point in his career?
For Huxtable, the answer to that question stems from the brand of football Wisconsin has to offer.
“Wisconsin has been one of the top football programs in the nation,” Huxtbale said. “I just love the kind of football that Wisconsin plays. It’s smash mouth football – it’s a physical brand of football … its what I think sets this place apart from other programs in the country.”
The Badgers are coming off a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance – two accomplishments that made the opening appealing to numerous coaches around the nation.
But Huxtable was drawn to Wisconsin football’s collective identity – an identity that matches perfectly with his coaching style.
“The toughness of the program, the discipline of the program and that whole style of play is attractive to me because that is my personality,” Huxtable said.
From the moment Huxtable stepped foot in Madison, he was ready to make his mark on the UW defense.
He wants his linebackers – and the defense as a whole – to be more aggressive in 2011. Members of the defensive coaching staff – led by co-coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge – have already begun to make some changes to the defense, intending to make the Badger ‘D’ a more physical, fast-flowing unit.
“We all hope that’s what the defense will be,” Huxtable said. “Chris [Ash] is doing a great job, along with Charlie [Partridge]. We are trying to instill that state of mind in these guys, and I think they’ve bought into it.”
Count middle linebacker Chris Borland as one of the players who’s bought in to Huxtable’s style.
“He’s just a football man, and everybody likes him,” Borland said. “He’s brought a lot of energy to the program.”
Senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym can tell you all about that energy and enthusiasm.
“I remember the first day I met Hux he was watching film, and I was in on a play and he called me out,” Butrym said. “I actually appreciated that. That’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for, and that’s definitely the sign of a good coach who wants everybody to do better.”
Back where he started, Hammock aiming to preserve tradition
For a running backs coach, it doesn’t get much better than Wisconsin.
Well, the opportunity to coach the Badger running backs opened up when John Settle decided to leave UW for the same position in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.
With Settle gone, potential candidates to fill the spot saw this: a chance to coach two of the best young tailbacks in the country, with Montee Ball and James White returning after stellar seasons, and a chance to manage those running backs in one of the most run-heavy offenses around.
In the end, UW head coach Bret Bielema appointed a familiar face to the highly sought-after position when he hired former Wisconsin graduate assistant Thomas Hammock, who most recently coached the running backs at Minnesota.
The running back tradition at Wisconsin is tremendous, and it was a definite draw for Hammock, but he says he was equally excited to work in conjunction with the other aspect of UW’s impressive running game – the massive offensive line.
“It starts with those guys up front. They keep getting bigger and bigger and better and better, and it makes my job easier,” Hammock said. “I just need to make sure my guys are making that last guy miss and working on finishing plays, and I think we’ll be where we need to be.”
As far as the running backs are concerned, Hammock expected to see plenty of skilled tailbacks in cardinal and white when he arrived, but he didn’t expect to be so impressed with their collective work ethic.
“I knew there was talent here, but I didn’t know how hard they worked,” Hammock said. “That’s the thing that really surprised me – just how hard they work to get better. And that’s what you want as a coach – good players that want to work to be great.”
Hammock spent the last four seasons coaching the running backs at Minnesota and served as the play-caller last season before taking the job with UW.
He had to make the difficult decision to leave new Gopher head coach Jerry Kill, and he admitted the move was tough for both parties, but Hammock wanted to continue his career in Madison – the place where his life as a college coach began.
“I started my career here and had a bunch of positive experiences here,” Hammock said. “Wisconsin is a program built on tradition. It’s something that intrigued me to come back.”