For Thomas Hammock, a return to Northern Illinois University is more than just a triumphant homecoming. For Hammock, accepting the job as the head coach at his alma mater brought an emotional sense of closure to a playing career than ended more than a decade ago.
"I never wanted to be a coach," Hammock said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Jan. 31. "I never wanted to coach guys like myself. I was difficult, I was hard-headed, I was stubborn, I was all those things."
Hammock racked up 2,432 yards on the ground for the Huskies from 1999-2002, good for 13th in program history. However, Hammock changed his views when a heart condition forced him to hang up the spikes before he graduated in 2002.
"When I had to stop playing I started looking at different things that I wanted to do with my life," he said.
Hammock spent eight years coaching at Northern Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota before accepting a job as the Ravens' running backs coach prior to the 2014 season. Hammock spent the past five years coaching with the team under John Harbaugh, but he never took his eyes off the possibility of coaching at his old school.
"I always wanted to come back to Northern Illinois because it was a special place to be. It was a special time in my life," Hammock said. "So that was the goal, and I've had different opportunities every year to do different things. But my goal was, 'Hey, if I stay in Baltimore, continue to learn under Harbaugh and try to take everything I can get from this place, then if Northern Illinois every opened up I would be ready for the opportunity."
Hammock took in everything he could learn from his time with Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens' staff.
"I don't think I've been around a better leader of men, from how he's able to handle veterans to young players, the way he goes about his business day to day," Hammock said of the Ravens' head coach. "He never flinches, he has a vision, he has a plan. He sells the plan to the coaches; the coaches sell the plan to the players. And the thing about Harbaugh is this guy is calm in the midst of a storm, and that's one thing I want to take away from him."
Along with the experience gained with the Ravens, Hammock will return to his alma mater with an impressive set of credentials. The Ravens boasted one of the top running games in the NFL this season, finishing second in the league behind only Seattle in rushing yards.
During the past two seasons, Alex Collins (a fifth-round draft pick) and Gus Edwards (an undrafted free agent) have broken out as key weapons for the Ravens' offense. He also coached current NFL running backs James White and Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin, along with former running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball.
Hammock hopes to bring his running back expertise to Northern Illinois, a program whose history is rich with talented running backs. He mentioned former Huskies LeShon Johnson, Mike Turner and Garrett Wolfe as examples of the running backs the school has produced throughout the years.
"There's a history of guys having great success coming from the [Mid-American Conference] program. That's what we're going to sell," Hammock said. "I think the opportunity I'm looking forward to is to win here and to win MAC championships and do it the right way with great individuals and help them develop along the way."
Hammock also knows that his return to DeKalb, Ill., is more than just an opportunity to win football games.
"It has come full circle," Hammock said. "My senior year I never had a chance to go through senior day, so my parents never had a chance of going through that moment of saying, 'Hey, my son played four years, he's graduating, he's been a model student-athlete.' And so at my [introductory] press conference I wanted to take a minute to recognize my parents, because they never had that moment."
For more from Hammock, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox