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Badger RBs coach Hammock to face former team

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
November 9, 2011
— Thomas Hammock was prepared for the question.

And Hammock, in his first season as Wisconsin’s running backs coach, didn’t flinch.


The goal this week, as UW (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) prepares for a road game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against rival Minnesota (2-7, 1-4), is the same as the previous nine games.


“We’re just trying to win,” Hammock said. “Just trying to win.”


Victories were rare during Hammock’s four-season stint at his previous stop—Minnesota.


Hammock was the Gophers’ running backs coach from 2007-’09 and last season was promoted to co-offensive coordinator. He took over the play-calling duties for the final five games after head coach Tim Brewster was fired and was the only member of the staff retained by new coach Jerry Kill.


Kill announced last December that Hammock had been retained. About 2˝ months later, Hammock left Minnesota for UW.


According to Hammock, Bielema called Kill and told him Hammock would be a worthy hire but added that one day he might try to hire him away. When John Settle left UW after last season to become the running backs coach for the Carolina Panthers, Bielema targeted Hammock.


“Obviously it worked out,” Hammock said. “When this opportunity came, he talked to coach Kill, went through the right protocol. Then he got in contact with me.


“I told (Bret) you have to do what you feel is best for you staff at Wisconsin. And if I fit that picture, then I certainly would be interested.”


And why not?


The Gophers’ record during Hammock’s four seasons in Minneapolis was 8-24 in the Big Ten and 17-33 overall.


Minnesota went 0-4 against UW, which owns a


seven-game winning streak in the rivalry.


Hammock hadn’t gotten a look at Paul Bunyan’s Axe until he came back to UW.


“I learned how to deal with adversity, how to handle losing and how to respond,” Hammock said when asked what he learned at Minnesota. “I learned a lot about me as a coach. When things are bad, how are you going to respond as an individual?”


The Gophers went 2-3 with Hammock calling the plays and former UW assistant Jeff Horton serving as interim head coach. The victories came in Game 11 at Illinois and Game 12 against visiting Iowa. The 27-24 victory over the Hawkeyes was Minnesota’s first in that rivalry in four seasons.


“I think the way we responded at the end last season was a positive for those kids,” Hammock said, “and therefore a positive for us as coaches.”


Hammock learned about dealing with adversity long before he accepted his first coaching job—as a graduate assistant at UW in 2003.


Hammock rushed for 1,083 yards as a sophomore at Northern Illinois in 2000. He followed that performance by rushing for 1,095 yards as a junior in ‘01.


His playing days ended when doctors discovered a potentially life-threatening heart ailment. Playing was out and Hammock was a spectator in 2002 when Northern Illinois played at UW. Coaching was an option, however.


“It was definitely difficult at the time,” Hammock said. “But everything happens for a reason … I think it helped me. I think it shows your character, what you’re about, being tough-minded. All those things you try to teach your players.”


Hammock initially wasn’t in love with the idea of coaching.


“I knew how I was as a player and I could be difficult at times,” he said, grinning. “It never crossed my mind to be a coach. But not being able to play and finish my career got me the itch to maybe try to make a difference in the coaching profession.”


Hammock sent an email to then-UW head coach Barry Alvarez, who brought Hammock on board as a graduate assistant before the ’03 season. Bielema joined the UW staff as defensive coordinator in ‘04 and liked what he saw in Hammock.


“Coach (Alvarez) said: ‘He is a good coach,’ ” Bielema said. “I watched him coach. I watched him handle people, handle players. And then when he left I watched his career.”


Hammock returned to Northern Illinois after two seasons at UW and coached the Huskies’ running backs in 2005 and ’06. Brewster hired him at Minnesota before the ’07 season and after four seasons with the Gophers, Hammock returned to UW, where his coaching career began.


“Coach Alvarez gave me a shot,” Hammock said, “and it kind of snowballed from there.”


Extra points


-- Dallas Lewallen, a redshirt freshman guard from Berlin, had surgery on his left knee last month and will be sidelined until the spring.


-- Free safety Aaron Henry (ankle) is expected to play against Minnesota. Defensive David Gilbert (foot) is questionable.


-- Wisconsin’s Nov. 19 game at Illinois will start at 11 a.m.


-- Junior tailback Montee Ball was named the Big Ten’s co-offensive player of the week. Chris Borland was defensive player of the week.



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