On the same day that Oklahoma State later that night in Tempe, Arizona would unleash defensive tackle James Castleman on the offensive side of the ball in the Cactus Bowl win over Washington, Hammerschmidt and the lame duck staff at the University of Houston was getting hammered at frigid Amon Carter Stadium on the TCU campus by Pittsburgh in the Lockheed-Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Early in the fourth quarter the Cougars trailed the Panthers by 25 points.
Looking back on it, down by 25 points in freezing playing conditions, knowing that he was going to be without a job when he walked out of the stadium after the game, Hammerschmidt has an interesting, even optimistic, take looking back on it. You know hindsight plays in there.
"It was fun. You get into games like that, maybe only a couple of times in your career," Hammerschimdt said looking at the deficit and not all the surrounding circumstances. "That was the biggest comeback in NCAA history and we didn't even know it until afterwards because during the game you are into it, calling plays, and thinking how are we going to get the ball back. Then somebody tells you about all the stats and the crazy stuff afterwards."
You wonder just how much the surrounding circumstances had to do with what happened. Obviously, Houston had nothing to lose. The staff was coaching their last game. The players knew it was their last time together and new coach Tom Herman would be coming in and at the time was likely watching but being the OC of Ohio State had a lot on his plate. It was a throw caution into the freezing wind situation.
"That was a dream game, we were just trying to... I was talking to the offensive line coach when we were down by 19 points and were trying to get running back Kenneth Farrow a thousand yards," Hammerschidt remembered. "We thought we needed 28 yards to get Farrow a thousand so we thought, 'we'll do that and then we'll throw a wide receiver screen and see how that goes.' That play went for about 70 and the rest is history. We started rolling after that and the rest is history."
Obviously, Hammerschidt was looking for a job after the bowl season and he thought he had one back home. A former standout high school quarterback in San Diego and with lots of experience recruiting and coaching out west Hammerschmidt was on his way to his next job a few weeks later. At least, he thought so.
"But Coach (Mike) Gundy called and I was going out to San Diego State to interview for that quarterback coaching job for Rocky Long, a job I had wanted for a long time since I'm from San Diego. The plane hit the ground and I don't know how but the phone rang as the wheels touched down and Coach Gundy must have had knowledge of when we were landing. He timed it perfect, and I jumped on it as soon as he asked because you can't turn down this place. It is too, got too many good things going, got great players."
Hammerschmidt had recruited against Oklahoma State while at Houston. He knew how the Cowboys program was working and it turns out he knew some of the assistant coaches making it work.
"Tim Duffie and I had coached at Colorado State. We were on opposite sides of the ball, but I respect the heck out of Duff and he is one of the top recruiters in the country," Hammerschmidt explained. "I knew Glenn (Spencer) through Ted Roof and knew what Glenn had going here.
"Then Coach Gundy hires other guys I know. He hires Marcus Arroyo and spring ball starts and he shows up. We were at Wyoming together and he was our offensive coordinator. Great guy and you talk about smart. Marcus is a good one. Greg Adkins comes as O-line coach and that was a steal from the [Buffalo] Bills. I knew Greg back when he was at Marshall and I was at VMI. We coached against each other and I followed him at Georgia and Tennessee and we've know each other for awhile. It is a great staff.
"Coach Gundy is up there and I've worked for some great ones like Steve Spurrier and Sonny Lubrick and Coach (Jim) Wacker (TCU), who I wasn't around for very long," he continued. "Coach Gundy does a great job of bringing people together and he has that feel. Sonny had that feel that you just wanted to go to work for him and you wanted to be on his side. That is the feeling you get here."
Every story I have written involving Hammerschmidt since his arrival mentions that he is flipping sides of the ball and moving from offense over to defense. He has coached both and I love that concept. I first saw it when I was in college and then Oklahoma State head coach Jimmy Johnson asked then defensive coordinator and stellar assistant Pat Jones to move over and coach the offense. It worked.
Now defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer says it is working with Hammerschmidt coaching safeties in the defensive room.
"I'm glad you talked to Glenn about that and I'm glad he thinks it can help," Hammerschmidt grins. "I played defense in college and then coached defense in college my first years at Duke, VMI, Colorado State, TCU, I was graduate assistant at linebackers and secondary there. I started out on defense and I remember Sonny Lubrick asking me to switch over and then about three years later I was co-offensive coordinator there.
"I thought it helped the first time I moved over by knowing how defenses attacked and with formations how I could move defenders around. Things the defenses didn't like it. Once you know one side of the ball pretty well then you can bring some things to the table like quarterback reads, option routes, and what guys are looking for. What they like to call on third down versus man coverage, versus zone. Obviously, nobody has all the answers but hopefully, I can help out with some of that."
He's done well with personnel too. The safety position returns tough and smart Jordan Sterns, who Hammerschmidt can't say enough good things about. But he likes all of his players including Tre' Flowers and corner-moved-to-safety Jerel Morrow, Tre Roberts, Dylan Harding, and three new freshmen.
Now it's up to see if an old safety, with some extensive offensive experience, can teach his guys some new tricks. He sure ought to be able to reverse roles from last Jan. 2 and help them preserve a big lead, which hopefully will come up often this season.