DeKALB – Since he got his first job as a college football coach, Thomas Hammock said he wanted to be head football coach at Northern Illinois.
“This has always been my dream. I know you’re looking at me and saying, ‘Well, maybe not.’ It was. When I was a [graduate assistant] at Wisconsin, I knew I wanted to be the head coach at Northern Illinois University,” Hammock said at an introductory news conference Friday morning.
“It’s a great day to be a Huskie, and I expect all Huskies to unite,” Hammock added.
Hammock is the first African-American head coach in the football program’s history. He’s also the first NIU alum to be the head coach since Howard Fletcher (1956 to 1968).
“I feel that pressure of guys looking at me to say, ‘This is our program. How can we make sure to continue to move it forward?’ That’s the pressure I feel, not race or anything like that, Hammock said. “All I asked [NIU athletic director] Sean [Frazier] was, ‘Just give me opportunity in this process to interview. And if I win, I win. And if I don’t, I’m good.”
Most recently, Hammock coached the running backs for the Baltimore Ravens (2014 to 2018).
Hammock, who played for the Huskies from 1999 to 2002, was announced Friday as the 23rd head coach in program history. Hammock, 37, brings his family to DeKalb, including wife Cheynnitha, son Thomas Douglas and daughter Tierra.
Hammock previously served on the NIU coaching staff as running backs coach in 2005 and 2006, when Garrett Wolfe compiled 3,508 rushing yards in a two-year span. Hammock’s 2,432 rushing yards are 13th most in Huskies history.
“I want someone who [knew] this was their dream job,” Frazier said.
Frazier added an oft-repeated message about elevating the football program.
“We constantly talk about we have to move it to the next level,” he said. “One of the things we were looking for was someone to take our current championship success to the next level.
“It’s time for us to get back to those New Year’s Six bowls.”
Hammock’s long-standing relationship with Frazier could be traced back to the new NIU coach’s previous stint at Wisconsin, where Frazier said Hammock basically introduced Frazier to the passion that exists for NIU. Frazier and Hammock’s time at Wisconsin overlapped from 2011 to 2012.
“The first time I met Thomas, it was clear, clear. ‘My mission is to be the head coach of Northern Illinois University,’” Frazier said Hammock told him when both were at Wisconsin.
Hammock mentioned he does want the offense to catch up with the defensive reputation NIU has boasted. Hammock, who has coached pro-style, run-heavy offenses at NIU and in the Big Ten at Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as with the Ravens, did not commit to any particular offensive philosophies.
“We’re going to evaluate first before we start implementing anything, and that’s where it’s going to start,” Hammock said.
“We want to be good on offense. We want the offense to match the defense. If we can do that, we have a chance to take it where people want to go.”
Frazier acknowledged the program’s use of players’ perspectives in the search.
“It’s important to have the players involved at some point in the process,” Frazier said.
“They had a role of evaluation relative to understanding who the finalists are.”
NIU President Lisa Freeman introduced Frazier at the beginning of the conference.
“I’m confident in the ability of our new coach, Thomas Hammock, to continue our tradition of excellence,” Freeman said.
The NIU head coaching job came open when Rod Carey left the position after six complete seasons at the helm of the Huskies to become the head coach at Temple.
Now, former Huskies assistants Joe Tripodi, Brad Ohrt, Melvin Rice Jr., Walter Stewart and Craig Harmon are confirmed to join Carey at Temple.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh issued the following statement about Hammock to NIU Athletics:
“I just love him. He’s been a great 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.”
Hammock is on Twitter and can be followed @NIUCoachHammock.