Former Hogs Coming Home

FAYETTEVILLE -- South Carolina secondary coach Dave Wommack began his career as a graduate assistant on Arkansas' strength staff in 1979, worked as a part-time coach from 1981-82 and spent three of his four seasons under Houston Nutt (2001-04) as the Razorbacks' defensive coordinator.

In all, the 48-year-old spent eight of his 27 years in the collegiate coaching ranks with the Razorbacks. And Wommack jokingly said he's flattered Arkansas is rolling out the red carpet in honor of his return on Saturday afternoon.

"It's great that they're having homecoming for me," Wommack said.

Wommack is one of three South Carolina assistants with Arkansas ties that will be running out of an unfamiliar locker room when the teams meet Saturday during the Razorbacks' homecoming. South Carolina co-defensive coordinator John Thompson worked for two seasons in Fayetteville (2001-02). And former Arkansas running back Madre Hill, who holds the school's single-season rushing record (1,387 yards in 1995), coaches the Gamecocks' running backs in his first season as an assistant.

The Ties That Bind
"It's going to be real unusual," said Thompson, a Forrest City native who graduated from Central Arkansas in 1978. "I can remember going back to (former coach Ken) Hatfield, (former receiver) Lance Alworth, Jon Brittenum. That's just how you grew up in Arkansas and it's still that way. Every Sunday I can get a paper and I'm going to look at Arkansas' scores and (Central Arkansas). That's the way Arkansas is.

"I'm going to see a lot of red (Saturday) and it's really going to be a different feeling. The older we get, it's easier to focus. Maybe when I was younger, I'd get more emotional about some of that other stuff. But we've got our hands full."

Wommack's homecoming, perhaps, will be the most intriguing after he was fired by Nutt last December. The Razorbacks surrendered 397.2 yards, 24.5 points and turned in one of the worst statistical seasons in school history. Arkansas went 5-6 largely because of its defense, which was plagued by inexperience and little depth.

Looking back, Wommack believes Arkansas was affected by the NCAA investigation that hurt recruiting. The problems were evident last season in frustrating losses to Texas, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and LSU.

"I take total responsibility for what happened last year, but I think we went through some real growing pains," Wommack said. "I think it still goes back to the recruiting from two, three years ago now. I think the timing was so bad from the standpoint of the (NCAA investigation) and the recruiting killed us. And losing those 23 seniors and five juniors that came out, it just left the cupboard bare.

"(Safety) Vickiel (Vaughn) had more snaps than anybody returning and it wasn't very many. There was no dominant player up front. It was a difficult situation."

Wommack tried to combat the weaknesses by working around the clock. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. hoping to solve Arkansas' eye-popping problems, spent all day patching holes and went home exhausted. But the hard work didn't pay off.

Nutt said firing Wommack was one of the toughest decisions he ever made, but hired long-time friend Reggie Herring a week later. Wommack said there are no hard feelings about his departure. In fact, his son Kane is a walk-on fullback with the Hogs.

"I think you just have to put those things behind you and except the fact that it is a part of this profession," Wommack said. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt me when it happened because it did. For me, (Arkansas) was a place close to my family and friends and all those other things. It's part of it. I understand it."

A Fresh Start
Wommack has landed on his feet, rejoining long-time friends Thompson and Tyrone Nix -- another former Southern Miss assistant -- at South Carolina.

Thompson, who left Arkansas after the 2001 season to become defensive coordinator at Florida in 2002, was looking for a job after going 3-20 in two unsuccessful seasons as East Carolina's head coach. Spurrier named Thompson and Nix co-defensive coordinators. Wommack joined the staff as defensive backs coach.

South Carolina is ninth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense (24.5 points a game), 10th against the run (168.1 yards) and eighth in total defense (345.4 yards). Thompson was replaced by Nix as the play caller before the 16-15 win against Tennessee last week. But the coaches said the transition will take time.

"(Wommack) and I both went through a situation last year and we can kind of lean on each other and share some things," Thompson said about his resignation at East Carolina late last season. "But you know what, we move on. There's a reason for everything. And we think that there's a reason that we're here right now and we're just going to do the best we can here."

Said Wommack: "It's a great opportunity to work with a guy like coach Spurrier and it was more comfortable for me (rejoining Thompson). You never know what's going to happen when those things happen to you. But it's been a good experience."

Hill was the third coach with Arkansas ties to join Spurrier's staff last winter after spending one season as a graduate assistant in the Razorbacks' weight room.

He led the SEC in rushing as a sophomore in 1995 and set single-season records for rushing attempts (307) and yards. He also set an Arkansas single-game record when he rushed for six touchdowns in a 51-21 win against South Carolina.

Nutt didn't have a place for Hill on his staff, but had no problem recommending him when Spurrier inquired last winter.

"He did a great job in the weight room for us," Nutt said. "Great relationship with the players. Any time there's a former player who has rushed for 1,000 yards, there's instant credibility, instant respect. He's just a super person, great character who worked hard and did a good job for us while he was here."

The Task At Hand
All three South Carolina assistants hope the Gamecocks can become bowl eligible at Arkansas' expense Saturday.

None of them have coached from the opponents' sideline in Razorback Stadium and Thompson said he's excited about the opportunity. Wommack, who will be in the visiting coaches' booth in the press box, said it's going to be a "big game."

But both said there won't be much time for nostalgia against the Razorbacks.

"You really don't get all caught up in that," Thompson said. "I think I thought more about coming to Fayetteville, coming back home to Arkansas probably during the summer than you do right now. I think about some people that I would really like to sit down and visit with, but you jut don't have that time. It won't happen on this trip.

"Maybe I can take a trip to the Ozarks for fun another time."


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