NIU Coach Thomas Hammock on Ravens Transition From Ray Rice (Exclusive)

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Newly minted Northern Illinois football coach Thomas Hammock spent the past five seasons as running backs coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and his first year on the job was tumultuous to say the least. During Hammock’s third month on the job, the video of Ray Rice beating his fiancee was released, and the team promptly terminated the contract of the franchise’s all-time second leading rusher.

On Friday, Hammock, a NIU alum, was introduced to the Chicago media as the next head football coach. During the media session, Hammock was asked about how he grew and developed as a person during his time in Baltimore.

“One year in the pros is like two or three years in college,” Hammock responded, referring to on-the-field matters.

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Hammock further described “the volume of different defenses that you see week to week, and the amount of offense that you install.”

The new Huskies coach is only 37, but he grew and developed a lot during his time in the NFL.

The focal point of his position group was arguably the number one story in sports as the season began, and certainly the top story in the NFL that autumn. After the release of the elevator video, Rice was suspended indefinitely by the league office, but eventually  reinstated after he successfully appealed the decision in federal courts. The investigation into the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice case was led by none other than Robert Mueller.

“When I first got there, there was a situation that arose, it was a challenge,” said Hammock during our exclusive conversation.

“But I was able to sign Justin Forsett late in the process and he wound up having a Pro Bowl season as a journeyman running back- gaining more than 1200 yards.”

Rice never played professional football beyond his final season with the Ravens in 2013. Hammock only coached Rice that preseason, as the Rutgers graduate was suspended before the regular season started.

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“I had just got there, so I really didn’t know Ray as well, so for me it was just a matter of getting the most production out of the position regardless of who was there,” Hammock said.

And make it productive, he certainly did. The Ravens run game had finished a very poor 30th in the NFL the previous season (Rice averaged a very poor 3.1 yards per carry the previous season), but shot up to number eight (126.2 yards per game) in 2014. Hammock was able to get the running game completely turned around, and he did it without the guy that he was originally slated to built it around.

Forsett went to his first career Pro Bowl in 2014 as he rushed for the fifth most yards in the NFL that season. During his five years in Baltimore, the rushing attack finished in the top 11 in the NFL three times, including 2018 when the Ravens had the second-best running game in the league. Baltimore’s higher-ups rave about the job he did as a coach.

“He’s a very good coach that understands offense, both the pass game and the run game. He has done an excellent job of recruiting undrafted college free agents, one of which is Gus Edwards [Ravens running back],” said Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens General Manager and Executive Vice President.

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“I think that will help him be able to go into houses and recruit at Northern Illinois University.”

Said Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh:

“He’s a smart game planner, hard-nosed disciplinarian but a player’s coach at the same time. He relates to his guys really well. I just love him. He’s been a big part of our success and we’re going to miss him greatly, but our loss is Northern’s gain. They should be really happy to have him.”

The Ravens won the AFC North Division this past season, having gone 10-6 before then being eliminated by the Los Angeles Chargers on wild card weekend. Baltimore was indeed a ground-oriented team, finishing third in the NFL with 19 rushing touchdowns.

Hammock himself is a former tailback, as he’s part of the great NIU tradition at the position that includes Michael “the burner” Turner, Garrett Wolfe and others. Hammock still ranks 13th on the all-time list of Huskies rushers.

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As for Ray Rice and the Ravens, they settled out of court in January of 2015. Rice demanded $3.5 million in back pay, and although the details of the settlement were not made public, it is widely believed that he received most of the amount he sought.

Rice vowed to donate any earnings accumulated from the 2016 season to domestic violence charities, but no team wanted anything to do with him. Due to his heinous crimes off the field, he was essentially forced into retirement at age 27.

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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