One of the first things University of Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock tells his players at the start of each new season is that no one on the team will outwork their position group.
Hammock doesn’t mind admitting he stole that from another coach, Matt Canada, who also happens to be the UW football team’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
When Hammock was a freshman and sophomore running back at Northern Illinois, Canada was his position coach.
“One thing about (Canada), he’s going to work his butt off,” Hammock said. “He’s a great competitor. He’s always going to want his group to be the hardest-working group on the field.
“I remember as a player, our first meeting, he’d say, ‘We’re going to be the hardest-working group on the team.’ All these years later, that’s the first thing I tell my guys. I believe that. I think it’s a direct correlation between the way you practice and the way you play the game.”
Canada smiled when Hammock’s story was relayed to him.
“We’re going to have a good battle if that’s the case,” Canada said. “Because that’s something the quarterbacks are going to hear, too.”
The Badgers returned to the field for the start of spring practices last week. The Canada-Hammock dynamic is a welcome jumping-off point for a coaching staff that includes six new faces.
Many of the new coaches are working with each other for the first time.
Canada and Hammock have never worked together as coaches, but at least they know each other well.
“My excitement to be at this place has certainly been talked about,” Canada said. “But my excitement in getting to coach with Thomas is great, too.”
Hammock rising star
Hammock is the only holdover coach on offense, entering his second season under coach Bret Bielema. As such, Hammock is an important link to the things on offense that won’t change.
“I think it’s been critical, to have that voice, to kind of balance what was said in the past as well as what’s said now. ... because there’s a lot of verbiage we kept, moving forward, but there’s also a lot of things we changed,” Bielema said. “I think the marriage of that together has been real good.”
After interviewing for at least two jobs in the offseason, Hammock returned to an expanded role in the program, adding the duties of recruiting coordinator.
Hammock is regarded as a rising star in the profession, which comes as no surprise to his former position coach.
When looking at the production of the running backs last season — especially Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball — Canada saw plenty of Hammock’s imprint.
“He’s turned out to be a tremendous coach, which all of us who were around him as a player knew he would be,” Canada said. “Great football mind, has great ideas, coaching these guys extremely well. (He) maximized Montee’s talents, you can see that last year.
“No disrespect to the previous coach (John Settle), who had (Ball), but certainly Thomas came in here and got the most out of him. Tremendous credit to Montee, there’s no doubt, but Thomas, I think, deserves a lot of credit for that as well. I know Thomas was very influential in ‘Coach B’ talking to me. I owe him a lot for that.”
Hammock, in turn, credited Canada with shaping some of his basic tenets as a coach.
“He coached me my freshman and sophomore years,” Hammock said. “Those are the years you spend the most time developing who you are as a player and what you’re about as a player.
“Coach Canada really did a great job of molding me, molding some older guys in the program. I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I got older, I really gained a great appreciation for everything he did for me.”
Canada was involved in recruiting Hammock, so Canada knows Hammock’s parents and has been in the family home.
“I can’t say enough great things about him as a person,” Hammock said.
When Hammock got a chance to call plays at Minnesota near the end of the 2010 season, he called Canada for advice.
“I called him up and tried to pick his brain over some common opponents,” Hammock said. “He gave me some great insight and great detail about how to attack opponents.”
Not only is Hammock assuming more responsibilities, his position group figures to once again lead the way on offense. Running back is easily the strongest and deepest position on the team, with Ball, a senior, junior James White, sophomore Jeff Lewis, redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon and freshman Vonte Jackson.
“A year ago at this time I walked in said, ‘We need to make guys miss at the second level. How do you do that? You’ve got to practice it every day,’ ” Hammock said.
“That’s why, last season, Montee was able to have the success he had making guys miss. He gained a bunch of (extra) yards to help the team win. We’re going to try and do the same thing this year. We’re going to try and find something we need to improve on, because there are a lot of things we can do better and a lot of things we will do better.”
In the process, Hammock will make sure nobody works harder than the running backs.
Although he might have to keep an eye out for the quarterbacks.
“There’s no question, you can see Thomas in the way his guys played,” Canada said. “That’s been throughout time and certainly with Montee now.
“There’s no doubt, there’s a philosophy, there’s an attitude, that Thomas’ kids have.”