Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Bret Bielema thought about having Thomas Hammock address the Badgers this week about the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, but decided against it because "there's already so much [attention] around that."
Yes, Hammock straddles the Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, having spent four seasons on Tim Brewster's staff with the Gophers (and rising to co-offensive coordinator last year), two months on Jerry Kill's staff (the only Brewster assistant to be invited back), and now a season as the Badgers' running backs coach Bielema lured him away.
Hammock's first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin, hired by Barry Alvarez in 2003. "Coach [Alvarez] had kind of say, 'Hey, he's a good coach.' And I watched him coach, and I watched him handle people, handle players, and then when he left, I watched his career," Bielema said at his weekly press conference in Madison. "I like what he's done. He's a guy you've got to calm down a little bit now and again, but a very, very good coach. I think the players like him."
They did at Minnesota. Hammock was the coach who recruited MarQueis Gray, and the one who broke the news to him in 2008 that he had to go home and retake the SAT. "Coach Ham was a great guy," Gray said earlier this year. "He made you feel comfortable."
But now he's at Wisconsin again, having decided when Bielema called that going to Madison would afford him a better shot at rising to coordinator again, since Kill's staff has so little turnover.
Hammock said he left with a great memory: Helping the Gophers win their final two games of their 2010 season, after Brewster had been fired, after everyone had assumed they would simply crumble. He's proud "of the way those kids responded," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Hammock has been a part of six Minnesota-Wisconsin games in his career, and his side has lost five of them. So when he was hired in February, he went to the Badgers' locker room just to look at Paul Bunyan's Axe.
He's not looking forward to having the focus on him this week, but can't avoid it. Both major newspapers that cover the Badgers published feature stories on him leading up to the Gophers game. "No, I don't enjoy that," Hammock told the Wisconsin State Journal. "This game has nothing to do with me. I won't take one carry or score one touchdown. It's about these kids and how they go about their business this week."
Bielema says he feels the same sort of spotlight when the Badgers play Iowa, his alma mater and the school where his coaching career started. Alvarez "said maybe a couple of things during the week" before his first trip back, Bielema said, "about, it's all about the play on the field. Don't let yourself get involved. ... I expect Thomas to handle [coming to Minneapolis] pretty easily."
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