Homecoming for new NIU head football coach

By Jack McCarthy Chronicle Media

New NIU coach Thomas Hammock meets media and Huskies supporters last week. (Photo by Jack McCarthy / Chronicle Media)

Thomas Hammock has come home.

The 37-year-old Baltimore Ravens assistant was introduced as Northern Illinois University’s new head football coach during a Jan. 18 on-campus press conference and in a later appearance in Chicago.

“This has always been a dream of mine,” said Hammock, a former Huskie running back and two-time academic All-American. “When I was a graduate assistant at Wisconsin I wanted to be the head coach at Northern Illinois University.”

Hammock, who once lived in the Douglas Hall dormitory and met his wife, Cheynnitha, on campus, is the first NIU graduate since Howard Fletcher (1956-68) to run the program and first African-American.

“I’m humbled and honored to be here,” he said. “I know it comes with a great responsibility.”

Hammock succeeds Rod Carey, hired this month as Temple head coach.

The 23rd head coach in program history was introduced at the DeKalb press conference by NIU president Lisa Freeman and athletic director Sean Frazier.

“This is a huge hire,” said Frazier. “To be able to bring back a part of our tradition, particularly from the (Coach Joe) Novak era … and have someone who’s iconic in our history books is fantastic.

“We had a very good candidate pool,” Frazier added. “But Thomas quickly rose through the ranks … He was the clear choice.”

Hammock spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach with the NFL Ravens. He also served as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin, two seasons as an assistant coach (2005-06) under Novak and then spent time as an assistant at Minnesota and Wisconsin before joining the Ravens as running backs coach in 2014.

As an NIU assistant he coached Garrett Wolfe, who rushed for a all-time school record 5,164 career yards and led the nation in rushing with 1,928 yards in 2006.

As a player, Hammock was a three-time letter winner, rushing for 2,432 yards on 544 attempts which still ranks 13th all-time.

His career was cut short after one game during his senior year due to a heart condition. Hammock went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing from NIU and a master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis from Wisconsin.

NIU is coming off a Mid-American Conference championship season, the latest in a long line of recent successes that included a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2013.

Hammock is now charged with maintaining that high level.

“We’re going to recruit, recruit, recruit,” he promised. “Because if you’re going to take things to the next level, you have to have those players and those type of athletes who can make a difference.”

Hammock will have a lot of fans — including former coaches — rooting for his success.

“I told Thomas several times when he was playing for us that he could be a great coach if he’d ever go in that direction,” Novak said. “He’s a bright guy, he really is. He’ll be a great leader for the program.”

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