March 2, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- It was during a critical stretch when his staff was short-handed that Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema gained a greater appreciation for Thomas Hammock’s skills and savvy as a recruiter.
That would eventually lead Bielema to recruit his second-year running backs coach -- Hammock -- as UW’s recruiting coordinator. He replaces Joe Rudolph, who had the title before moving on to Pitt.
“I was obviously with Thomas a lot in January and he impressed me,” Bielema said. “I really thought he had a good touch in recruiting and a good lay of the land.
“He knows what I like, what I expect and how we operate and do things.”
Besides owning a reputation as one of the Big Ten’s top recruiters, the 30-year old Hammock has some prior experience in this role, having served as an assistant recruiting coordinator at Minnesota.
“You definitely have to be organized,” said Hammock, who spent four seasons with the Gophers before joining the Badgers, “because now you’re not just organizing yourself.
“You’re also trying to get nine other guys organized, so you have to be a little more forward thinking to make sure you maximize everyone’s time.”
That type of organization, he said, extends to “making sure we’ve got the right people in the right (recruiting) areas and we’re on the right type of kids for our program.”
Hammock, a former 1,000-yard rusher at Northern Illinois, got his start in the coaching profession as Badger graduate assistant under former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez.
“I know what has been successful here,” Hammock said. “You have to have guys who love football and will do whatever it takes -- and do whatever they’re asked -- to help the team win.”
Hammock, one of three holdover assistants, believes that the infusion of six new coaches on the staff has created a very energetic and positive environment for growth in areas like recruiting.
“It has been great,” he said, “because you have a bunch of new ideas on different ways to do things with guys who have been (recruiting) in different areas with different backgrounds.
“At the end of the day, you still have the core of what Wisconsin has been and will continue to be, and you want to keep that as consistent as possible.”
As a by-product of the coaching turnover on his staff, Bielema pointed out, “We’re exploring some new (recruiting) areas and giving our guys some new opportunities.”
Incoming linebackers coach Andy Buh, for example, will be assigned the St. Louis area and Texas. Buh did some national recruiting during his time on the Stanford coaching staff.
“We’re going to probably explore that a little bit with Andy because he’s had a little experience in Texas,” Bielema said. “The bottom line is that we’re aware it hasn’t been a bad area for us.”
Three potential starters in the secondary attended Texas high schools: Shelton Johnson (a returning starter), Devin Smith (an injury redshirt) and Marcus Cromartie (a New Orleans transplant).
“I want to give everybody a chance to have two unique areas,” Bielema said. “Ben Strickland will be our in-state recruiter, but we also gave him Atlanta. We’ve dabbled in there in the past.”
As far as Bielema’s two other holdovers, Chris Ash will continue to recruit in Chicago and Charlie Partridge will stay in Florida, along with taking over the Pittsburgh area.
Bielema said that Zach Azzanni will be in Ohio, Mike Markuson in Minnesota, and Eddie Faulkner in Indiana and Michigan. Each of the coaches will have additional responsibilities, too.
Faulkner’s territory will include Cleveland, Bielema said, while Matt Canada will handle “surrounding areas” in the Midwest and recruit nationally for his position group: quarterbacks.
“The position coach has to have a hand in the guys who are coming or they’ve approved at their position,” said Hammock. “That’s the relationship that is going to carry the most weight.”
He was addressing the fact that a recruited player -- let’s say a running back -- will be spending the next four or five years at Wisconsin with his position coach; Hammock, in this case.
Hammock, a Jersey City, N.J. native, will recruit New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.
“What makes a good recruiter,” Hammock said, “is a guy who can establish key relationships with the players and know the people who are going to help with the decision-making process.
“You have to identify those people early and get them thinking why Wisconsin is a great place. Then you have to get them on campus and do a great job of showing them everything we have to offer.
“As a recruiter, you also have to be thorough and leave no stone unturned. You have to be persistent and disciplined, and you have to be a person of your word.
“If you say you’re going to do something, then you should do it. I strongly believe in that.”
The UW staff is in the midst of getting ready for spring practice, which begins on March 22.
“We’ve got a bunch of easy-going personalities and the guys have meshed extremely well,” Hammock said of the diverse mix of assistants. “It has been fun to be around different people.
“As a coach, you’re always trying to get better. It’s just like what we tell our players, ‘If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse because you don’t stay the same.’
“Getting around some of these new coaches allows us to continue to grow and learn and expand upon what we do individually.”
The offensive staff meeting room has been particularly busy. “When spring ball starts,” Hammock said, “we all want to be talking the same language, ‘Wisconsin offense.”’
That would be out of respect to the players.
“Because they’re going to do exactly what you want them to do,” Hammock said, “and if we’re all saying the same thing we can have better communication and get everybody on the same page.”
Taking over as the recruiting coordinator is something that Hammock takes pride in.
“Anytime somebody (Bielema) has confidence and faith in you,” he said, “and they ask you to take on more responsibilities it allows you to grow as a person and a coach in this profession.”
Hammock recently had an opportunity to interview with the St. Louis Rams. From a professional standpoint, he recognized that it was in his best interests to go through the process for the experience.
“Any time you can present yourself and your program in that light, it only helps you down the line as a coach,” he said. “It was the NFL, and it was just an honor to be asked (to interview).
“The one thing about me is that I believe in this place (Wisconsin) and I wanted to get back here,” added Hammock, who served as a GA in 2003 and 2004. “I’m very happy to be here.”
Hammock was speaking for wife, Cheynnitha, and their daughter. As further proof, he said, “We just bought a house here last week. We want to put roots down here -- this is where we want to be.”