Getting To Know: Jeff Hammond
Coach Hammond Finishes Out His Second Year At North Texas
Head coaches are at the front and center of every college athletic team. Their assistant coaches are tirelessly working behind the scenes, juggling multiple things at once. What are their stories?
Every Wednesday during the summer, MeanGreenSports.com will be featuring an assistant coach from a North Texas team.
Not many head coaches leave a successful situation to look for a new challenge, but that’s exactly what Jeff Hammond did when he parted ways with TCU in 2010. The two-time Mountain West Coach of the Year had his fair share of success as head coach of the Horned Frogs, a four-year stint that included four NCAA appearances and a top-25 team ranking. In 2012, Hammond joined the staff of DFW rival SMU before ultimately making his way to North Texas in 2013.
We caught up with the Mean Green’s associate head coach to discuss his arrival to Denton, the most notable player he’s worked with and how he plans to reach the NCAA tournament in 2016.
How’d you get into coaching?
“The very first coaching job I had was in high school coaching in California. I had taught as a teaching pro for many years and I wanted to get back into the team environment.”
What brought you to Denton and what do you like about it?
“I have been friends with Coach Lama for a long time and he had contacted me to see if I was interested in the associate head coaching job. I had been over at SMU and this job seemed like a good scenario for my long-term plans as a coach.
“There are so many things I like about being here. I love the size - we’re a bigger school with big football. The coaches here are great, the AD is great and the associate AD is great. Everything is just in harmony here, and I really feel at home due to the nature of the relationships I have here. Coach Lama and I have good synchronicity and our expectations are very high. There’re just a lot of positives here for the student-athlete.”
You have experience in making the NCAA tournament with other teams and making runs once you’re there. How will you get to that level with North Texas?
“That’s a good question. We expected the last two years to make the NCAA tournament and so we were obviously disappointed when we did not. The bar is set very high by Coach Lama. To meet that bar, we just need to get better. Everything’s a process and we’re going to get better in recruiting and on the court. As long as you work hard, things work out and that’s how things are in life. If you put the time in and you do a good job and you be efficient, things will turn out well. Trying to win the conference title every year is asking a lot, and even though we didn’t get it done the last two years we plan on attaining that this year.”
What are some positives about recruiting foreign players and then coaching them?
“With the advent of the Internet, the world is just a smaller place. When it comes to recruiting, the marketplace is now the entire world. It has been in tennis for quite a while, but now that’s the case even more due to the Internet. When you’re competing at a very high level, it would be ignorant to limit ourselves to just local or American players and ignore the global market. The great thing is we recruit good character kids, regardless of where they’re from. We’re looking for great attitudes, great energy, kids that want to play at a high level after college. So no matter where they’re from, our number one goal is to make them better tennis players.”
Can you think of any specific student-athletes that you have coached that have had such great achievements that you feel rewarded?
“I always hate to single out any one player, but Nina Munch-Soegaard is the one player that really stands out. She started out at number three for us at TCU and became an all-American. She got as high as No. 6 in the singles polls, got to the semis of the indoor individuals, made the NCAA tournament, and I could go on. She was a great player coming in but she really had to earn her stripes.
“I think I could go down the list with many of our players. The day-to-day grind makes you better as an athlete regardless of the sport. If you’re putting in the hours and your coach has a good eye, you’re going to get better. The mental side of it’s big. I think I’ve seen improvement with just about everybody on the team in keeping their mental game together during match play and trying to implement the things that we talk about in practice.”
You’re in between courts during match play. What kind of specific advice do you give to the players?
“Going into the match we have a scouting report on the other team, and we never want to overload our players with too much information. Once we see the other team play and we can confirm that the scouting report matches what we’re seeing, we know we may have a lot of information to give to our players so that they can attack a weakness or play to an opponent’s strength. Basically we try to devise a plan but try to keep it simple. Too much information all of a sudden can make a player think too much or get out of the zone. If something’s already working then we obviously let them keep playing.
“We’re there for support. We’re there for tactical and strategical help, but at the same time we don’t want to oversaturate the player. We need them to be focused and dialed in on the moment.”
If someone came to you and wanted to be an assistant coach, what’s one thing they probably wouldn’t know about your job?
“We do this for the passion of the job. You spend a lot of time as a junior player focusing on your skills and trying to get better. Once you become a coach, you’re looking at the game from the other side. Once you do this, you spend a lot of time analyzing your sport. For me, I’m always looking for what the latest trend is - what’s the newest, what’s cutting edge in terms of training, what’s the best way for us to communicate with our players.
“The big thing is that as as assistant coach, you’re working on the budget, recruiting and always trying to make the players better. You’re also the janitor and the van driver and the grocery clerk. You’ve got to be prepared to wear all the hats and enjoy every moment of it. Fortunately, for me this is the perfect job. The tennis world is pretty small and those of us that have gotten in at an early age tend to stay because of the satisfaction you get from watching your players grow on the court and as people.”
Getting To Know Archive
June 3 - Chris Cosh
June 10 - Derek Mackel
June 17 - Daniel Dobson