The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

July 11, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Hammond Luck’s latest innovative hire

MORGANTOWN — We certainly all must agree that Oliver Luck’s start in recreating the West Virginia University football program got off to a rather shaky start due to his indecisiveness in the head coaching situation, but once he moved he did so not only with certainty, but with an innovative approach that may revolutionize the way football administration is approached.

His willingness to gamble on an unproven head coach in Dana Holgorsen was simply the start, for that began taking it down the road where Holgorsen could add in Daron Roberts, a coach whose route to the job was as unorthodox as they come, playing no football beyond high school while gaining an undergraduate degree at Texas and a pair of law degrees from no less an institution than Harvard Law School.

Now Luck and Holgorsen have created a coordinator of recruiting operations and did so by filling it with Alex Hammond, 30, yet another graduate of an esteemed law school who describes himself as “not a traditional gym shorts and whistle guy.”

His route took him from the University of Texas, where he was friendly with Roberts, who was behind his recruitment by Luck and Holgorsen, to Northwestern Law, the government and then the NCAA, where he was involved in compliance.

He brings with him the kind of enthusiasm that comes with someone who has always dreamed of a career in intercollegiate sports even if he was not an athlete, and a new way of thinking, much as Luck and Holgorsen and Roberts themselves have injecting into the WVU football program.

He prefers to think that he and the others are in on the ground floor of changing the model of a football program in a school like West Virginia.

“You can look at me and say, ‘He wasn’t a college football player,’” Hammond said. “I’m not a traditional gym shorts and whistle guy. But I am bringing a skill set somewhat like Daron where I have the educational and professional background with an experience at the NCAA. Now we’re adding the next component.”

His familiarity with NCAA rules will help, no doubt, but do not think of him as a compliance person. That is an athletic department level job, not just football. His value will be in seeing that they understand the rules and use them in their favor without risking violating them while on probation.

“I do have an in-depth knowledge of the rules, and the one thing we are going to be at West Virginia is in compliance,” he said. “You look at Ohio State, you look at Oregon, you look at North Carolina ... traditionally strong programs that get in trouble.

“I can tell the coaches what we can do to maximize efficiency within the framework of the rules.”

The meat and potatoes of his existence, however, is in creating a recruiting system that is efficient and has the proper direction. Do not confuse him with being a recruiter. As pleasant and intelligent as Hammond

is to talk with, the coaches are given the face-to-face recruiting duty by the NCAA.

“In recruiting you have to target the best high school players you can and try to get them to come to West Virginia,” he said. “I believe you have to look at it from the macro level. You have to create — whether it’s with facilities, whether it’s with academics, whether it’s professional development — a program on the field which they want to be part of, but I want to take the recruiting role and say all these other non-X-and-O factors that recruits look at and have them say WVU is on top of this.

“You have to understand what kids look at and develop a program where kids say, ‘West Virginia is going to take care of me on the field, in the classroom and make it a true family environment.’”

The approach will be different than in the past. Camps will be aimed more at prime prospects and winning them over. Organization will be greater, and it will be approached more on a businesslike level than in the past.

Much of this will be the result of Hammond’s trip to WVU. He had always been in love with football and understood that its strength was more than the game itself.

“It’s teaching leadership. It’s giving athletes a skill set and lessons, and that has been attractive to me,” he said. “The game of football can be used to so many more things and life lessons. Hopefully, we are going to create a program where hopefully they will make The League, but also go on to be leaders in their hometown and productive members of society. Football is a great avenue for that.”

In truth, even his time in law school was seen as a step toward eventually getting into intercollegiate athletics.

“Intercollegiate athletics is a passion of mine because it is one of the things in society that can be used to really improve kids’ lives. My goal going to law school was never ‘I am going to be a corporate lawyer, a billable-hour guy.’

“Law school is phenomenal training, whether it is taking vast amounts of information and synthesizing it down to what’s important. What do I need to know? It also teaches you problem solving. The law degree is very valuable, but it doesn’t need to be valuable just as a corporate attorney or in the courtroom.

“That skill set will translate into a lot of things. I wanted to take that training and put it into a realm where my passion was. The plan didn’t deviate. It always was to get into the intercollegiate world with my degree.”

Someday, he hopes, he will be running a department of his own, but right now he is taking the first step on that journey.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @bhertzel.

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