Top Priority for New NIU Football Coach Thomas Hammock Must Be Bowl Wins

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Thomas Hammock officially returned to Northern Illinois University after having spent the last five seasons as the running backs coach with the Baltimore Ravens. As a player, Hammock rushed for 2,432 rushing yards in his NIU career (1999-2002), which still ranks 13th all-time in school history. The currently 37-year-old Hammock returned to DeKalb, to serve as running backs coach under Joe Novak during 2005-06.

In Hammock’s first season, future Chicago Bear Garrett Wolfe rushed for 1,580 yards and 16 touchdowns in just nine games as NIU won the MAC West Division and appeared in the MAC Championship Game for the first time. The next season, Wolfe rushed for an national high 1,928 yards as the Huskies reached the Poinsettia Bowl.

thomas hammock

A former running back and running back coach is coming home to his alma mater, and leading a program known first and foremost for running backs. Is this a perfect fit all around?

“Definitely,” Hammock said today during our exclusive conversation. “We want to make sure we maximize our talent at that position. Because that’s one position that can make a difference in your team.”

Hammock articulated the emotions of landing his dream job:

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to have the opportunity to come home to a place that I love, to the school that has meant so much to me. I can’t wait to get started with the players and have a chance to put a product on the field that the alumni and fans will be proud of.”

The Huskies have utilized their ground-and-pound strategy to build a program and a brand that is arguably the MAC standard for excellence. The 2010s are not over yet, and NIU already has seven MAC West division titles and four conference titles this decade.

thomas hammock

That’s borderline dominance, but it stands in stark contrast to the complete disaster that has been their recent bowl history. NIU football has faced opponents great and small, elite and mediocre, but the result has remained painful and ugly.

Hammock’s predecessor Rod Carey, who left to take the Temple job, began his tenure with the 2013 Orange Bowl (following the 2012 season). The MAC’s only BCS bowl appearance ended in a 31-10 loss to Florida State, who would go on to win the national championship the following season.

Carey would then lead NIU football to five more bowl games in his six seasons on the job, losing every single one. Aside from the 2013 Poinsettia Bowl, which ended in a 21-14 loss to Utah State, the rest were all blowouts, with NIU coming no closer than 21 points in any one of them.

First and foremost, NIU must win a bowl game and end this drought. The fan base is clamoring for this. NIU fans are sick and tired of seeing their team embarrassed when they appear on national TV over the holidays. In order to do that, they have to proverbially show up when they get there. During the Carey era, the Huskies often looked like a team disinterested in playing bowl games, and certainly conveyed an image of being ill-prepared.

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Thomas Hammock says that winning in the postseason will be of great importance.

“Bowl games are important, because bowl games get you started for the next season,” Hammock said in Chicago.

“You want to end the season with some positive momentum, so you can say in 2020, we won our bowl game, we have some momentum and with the rule that you can play guys up to four games (and retain a redshirt season)- that’s a great time for young athletes to develop.

“Play ’em in the bowl game, they can have some success and then go into the next season expecting more.”

NIU Athletic Director Sean Frazier talked this morning about Thomas Hammock leading the program to the next level: “It’s time for us to get back to the New Year’s Six Bowls. We need to get back there. We were there, we know what that looks like. The players have made it clear that that’s their objective.”

Said Hanmock of Frazier’s lofty goals: “he has a vision for this program and it’s up to me to take the steps to reach his vision.”

The quest for Thomas Hammock and company begins August 31 when Illinois State comes to town to kick off the 2019 season.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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