Back in Red

After spending the last four years in Minnesota, Thomas Hammock returns to Wisconsin where his college coaching career, and already has a couple ways of making Montee, James White and the rest of the UW backs more productive in 2011.

MADISON - After four seasons on the wrong side of the rivalry, Thomas Hammock is back where it all started.

A graduate assistant at Wisconsin in 2003 and 2004, Hammock was hired by UW coach Bret Bielema on February 23 after spending the last four seasons at Minnesota, the last of which as the co-offensive coordinator.

Hammock, 30, was the only coach retained at Minnesota when Jerry Kill took over as head coach in December, in part because of a recommendation by Bielema. Minnesota running backs averaged 4.1 yards per carry under Hammock's guidance and last season, the Gophers backs had just one fumble in 411 touches.

Hammock certainly knows the position. Not only did he coach Garrett Wolfe at Northern Illinois to the MAC player of the year honor, Hammock ranks ninth on the Northern Illinois all-time rushing list with 2,432 career yards, topping 1,000 yards as a sophomore and junior before a heart condition cut his career short in 2002.

Although Wisconsin's running backs had only one fumble in 506 carries last season, Hammock sees a lot of area he plans to improve among UW's talented running backs, and shared those with Badger Nation Saturday.

Badger Nation: Over the last seven years, have times changed all that much?

Hammock: No, it's still the same feeling, still the same excitement and wanting to try to get these guys better. I want to try and help these guys become better players and help this team win.

Badger Nation: As soon as John Settle left, your name was near the top of a lot of people's lists because of the familiarity with this school and the Big Ten. When this job opened up, was it on top of your want list in terms of interest in the job?

Hammock: You know, truthfully, since I have been coaching, I have never looked for a job. I was appreciative that Coach Kill decided to keep me on his staff at Minnesota and I was working hard to stay there and do a good job. But when Coach Bielema called me, that was something that I started to think about.

He recommended me to Coach Kill, called him in the midst of our transition and told me that I was a guy that he should think about keeping. It obviously worked out. When this opportunity came, he had a chance to talk to Coach Kill, went through the right protocol and got in touch with me.

Badger Nation: Was it something that you jumped at or something that you had to think about for quite awhile?

Hammock: He told me that it was something that I had to do what's best for my staff at Wisconsin and if I fit that picture, it was something I certainly would be interested in. Fortunately, it was.

Badger Nation: Has it been interesting being on both sides of the rivalry?

Hammock: It has, but as a coach you really don't think about it that way. You just think about what the best opportunity is for my family. I certainly explored it that way.

Badger Nation: When you watched Wisconsin from the Minnesota sideline and from the home sideline, has the tradition of power running behind a power line changed all that much from your vantage point?

Hammock: Playing against them, the thing that impresses me is the guys up front. They really create a lot of movement, change the line of scrimmage and make it really good for running backs.

Badger Nation: What have you enjoyed about working with this group of running backs here, specifically James White and Montee Ball?

Hammock: I like the way they work every day. I like their commitment, their attitude, their focus, their determination. I was impressed with some of the things they did today (Saturday) and hopefully we can keep moving forward as we continue this spring. When I talk about fumbles, I talk about when we go to a live scrimmage and there were no fumbles. That's something we talk about, pride ourselves on and focused on it at all times.

Badger Nation: As a new coach coming in with two backs that have had success, what were some of the things you looked at on tape to get a feel for what you had?

Hammock: I watched every play from last season and just studied the plays specifically and how these guys can make those plays better. Some times when you have a lot of success, they think they've done everything right. We sat down and watched some of the plays with the running backs, I said, ‘Listen, the line is giving you 10 yards and you are getting 10. That's not good enough.' If the line is giving you 10, you need to make that 15 or 20. There were so many shoe-string tackles, one-arm tackles that I think mentality wise, if we work on that every day in practice, I think it will show up on Saturdays in the fall.

Badger Nation: Was that for both James and Montee?

Hammock: Yes. James needs to continue working on being a pass protector. We all have weaknesses and the biggest thing we can do is minimize our weaknesses. I am not going to go through every guy's weakness but at the same time, that's something we studied in the offseason. This spring, we'll work on those things that we need to improve at. The way you run the ball is the same way you have to protect. That's got to be your mentality because if it's important to you, you'll do well at it.

Badger Nation: Do you sense these guys know despite the yards they ran for last year, there is still a lot left out there?

Hammock: Yeah I think they realize that and I always preface it by saying they have a lot of success but … If you preface it that way, how can we look to improve? The great ones are always looking to improve. There are a bunch of great backs around the country and if you rest, somebody else is going to pass you. You need to create that type of atmosphere and competitive environment. I don't bring up the Rose Bowl because I wasn't here. The only thing I can do is move forward and help them finish it the right way. I am a guy that likes to accentuate the positives.

Badger Nation: Where is your recruiting territory going to be?

Hammock: I've got Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.

Badger Nation: Have you recruited in that area before?

Hammock: I haven't, but it's exciting to get out there. The thing about recruiting is that recruiting is recruiting. If you can recruit, you can recruit anywhere. I never did South Florida (for Minnesota), but I had a bunch of kids come up and play for us. Everywhere you go, you've got to be new at something. We've got a bunch of kids on the list that we are getting after, try to get these kids here and see if we can get these kids interested in Wisconsin.

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