Having landed the job he said he has always coveted, new South Alabama head football coach Kane Wommack has placed his schedule on warp speed since arriving in Mobile full time shortly after leading the Indiana defense in its Outback Bowl game appearance against Ole Miss.
In his first head coaching position, the Jags’ former defensive coordinator (2016-17) said familiarity with the area and the school has helped as he has hired his staff and taken on the day-to-day tasks of his new job.
Wommack, 33, took some time recently to speak to Lagniappe concerning his priorities now that he is on the job full time and his expectations for the Jaguars’ program:
On his staff: “It’s really been rewarding, as you start getting everybody in the building. You had a thought in your head as to why you want to build a staff a certain way, but then all of a sudden the chemistry and the way they mesh with each other, that’s a fun thing to start seeing that. It’s pretty exciting.
“I’m really happy with the staff we’ve put together. Already you can see the mix of guys meshing and blending together. I feel like we’ve really got a great recruiting staff. I think I’m going to have to pull the reins in on them, which is good, because they just want to go sign, sign, sign, which is good, but we’ve only got so many spots. That’s exciting. I think as I look back I stayed really connected to the names [I had listed]. For years, even when I was D coordinator here before, I kept a list of names and kept checking to make sure I had a process. I’m going to go after coordinators first and once I get that done I know I have to get some technicians at the line of scrimmage but they have to have ties in our recruiting footprint. I have to go after X, Y, Z guys. It really just came together. And the support staff was huge and I think we really hit some home runs in our support staff hires.”
On becoming a head coach: “I think so,” he said when asked if the job was what he thought it might be. “I was talking with [my wife] Melissa the other night about this. It’s definitely what I thought I felt it would be in terms of the challenges of it and managing the time and making sure you’re focused on this and you have a priority list of how you want to hire a staff. I feel like I’ve navigated those things pretty well. The interesting thing is, I’ve lived my entire life like, ‘Hey, I’m getting a job, we’re moving,’ and all of that stuff. But when you’re the job and all of a sudden people start moving for you, you go, ‘Wait, you’re really moving aren’t you?’ Something that’s so familiar to me feels different. It just reminds you of the importance and the authority of this position and the focus you have to have to make sure you’re doing it right. When you say something, people move.”
On priorities now that staff is in place: “Our priorities right now are identifying our recruiting needs. So we’re watching film as to what we need to get, which is most certainly everybody in the building, all hands on deck. We’ve got to find some offensive linemen, which we will. We have to bring a few people into the fold who can be starters. We need a couple of starting offensive linemen and we can develop some of these other guys. We feel great about [former South Carolina quarterback] Jake Bentley. Major [Applewhite, offensive coordinator] is really excited about his skill set. Will Muschamp speaks very highly of him. We’re excited about getting him in the fold.
“Defensively, we really need a couple more outside linebackers and a couple more safeties. We’ll still do the 4-2-5 [alignment] type stuff but we’ll still do a 3-4 personnel. From what Steve [Campbell, former USA head coach] and his staff had, we still need a couple at that safety position because really that Husky position is really a safety for us.”
Evaluation of players coming back: “I would try to watch a game a day [while still coaching Indiana’s defense for their bowl game] and just start familiarizing myself with our personnel and really, Corey [Batoon, defensive coordinator] and Major have done a great job of really evaluating our personnel. Major has Rob Ezell [tight ends coach] and Gordon [Steele, offensive line coach)]up there with him, and they get their assignments done [in preparing Alabama for the national championship game] the last few weeks and then they kind of go off into their meeting room or wherever and watch South Alabama tape. It’s been good. They have a good pulse and feel for what we need right now and it is really helping us in recruiting in what we need to narrow down and accomplish.”
Recruiting focus: “We’ve got 11 spots right now and we can bring more in that would be midyear people, but that window is closing in. If we bring them, great, but I really don’t want to rush and take somebody that I don’t feel 100 percent about. There may be one or two more [midseason signees] but then again there may not. I feel like we’ve got to have some open positions. If the floodgates open, Mobile is a very attractive area in terms of the town and our facilities versus the teams we’re competing against. I think especially in the transfer market that’s a big deal.
“O line, outside linebacker and safety, if we can sign high school players at those positions that’s what we’re going to try to do. It will be a combination. At safety, we can really take more high school spots because we feel like we’ve got [Keith] Gallman and [Dewayne] Betts and guys who have played a lot of football here. We feel like we can take more younger guys in those positions, but if we can get a difference-maker who has played a lot of ball, we’ll bring a transfer into one of those spots too. On the O line, we have to get a combination of some experienced guys and new guys. We could sign up to four offensive linemen and if we did we’d probably break it up two and two — two transfer types and two younger kids. The same deal with outside linebacker. We’ve really got two spots for that and we could break it up one and one.”
Offseason and spring plans: “I think Major and the rest of the staff, we’ll probably have everybody in place by Wednesday [Jan. 13]. We’ll have all boots on the ground and then kind of get going from there. We’ll do a staff meeting and Zoom the guys in who are remote right now and we’ll be making sure we do a great job of evaluating our recruiting. Corey, we’ll start evaluating our defense, we’re running our system and what Corey and I have both done in the past. But we all have run my dad’s [Dave Wommack, former Ole Miss, Arkansas State, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator] system, but everybody has kind of put their own fingerprints on it. So we’ll go over that and how we’re going to install it for the rest of the coaches. I’ll do the same thing with Major and with our special teams coordinator. We’re actually going to run a lot of the same things we ran at Indiana. Tom [Allen, Indiana head coach] was really good at it, and we’ll try to utilize that model as well.
“Spring ball, we’re going to push back a little bit. We’re going to go a little later than we normally do. We don’t have dates for that yet but we want to give ourselves as much time as possible to get ready. And to be honest, there’s [probably] no way we’re going out for spring recruiting. I know we’re talking about it and all that stuff, and we’re going to prepare for it, but deep down I don’t think the high schools are going to let all these college coaches come in and go place to place.”
Return to Mobile: “Corey and I went to dinner and we were talking about this. He said, ‘Man, what a gamechanger this is; you know people, you’ve been here.’ When we drive around I’m not looking through a GPS, I’m telling guys, ‘This is over here and that’s over there.’ Even the guys who are from Mobile are saying, ‘Gosh, you know this place really well.’ It’s good, I really do. I love Mobile. I don’t know what it is, but I just love this city. Melissa is not here yet. As soon as the game [Outback Bowl] was over on Saturday [Jan. 2], I flew from Tampa to Mobile and I slept about 11 hours that night. That was my time to relax a little bit. And then I took Sunday and just kind of drove around and made some phone calls and such. I just drove all through Mobile. What I have tried to do is go to some of my favorite spots, which I have been to some of them already, and taken some coaches too. That’s what happens at night, just taking the guys out for dinner at night.”
Excitement level for upcoming season: “They did a great job of showing [Hancock Whitney Stadium] to us a few weeks ago when we flew down. What is fun for me is to watch these coaches come in here and watch their reaction to what we’ve built. It’s one thing to see pictures, but when you pull up and you see the practice fields and the indoor practice facility and the stadium and the fieldhouse, you realize, that’s all football. It’s unbelievable. It really just kind of blows your mind a little bit in terms of in 2008, we put pen to paper and said we want to create a football team and now here we are in 2021 and all these things are in place. It’s just amazing. That part has been really rewarding. It’s an opportunity to do some things that have never happened here. But I think half of that is the facilities and position we have put ourselves in as a university and an administration. Candidly, the other part of it is the right vision and leadership and the right people to come and accomplish that task, and I think that’s the part that has me the most excited, is blending all those things together.”
Reaction by recruits to staff, facilities: “I think there’s a lot of excitement because of the background of our staff. What we did at Indiana — Major Applewhite, Corey Batoon — you’ve got all these guys that have been at a lot of really good places, and they all have a lot of really great ties and some of the kids know them from other places, and oh, by the way, I’m going to South Alabama. It has been pretty positive. I think the other thing that has helped us in our league is getting Major Applewhite from Arkansas State, which helped a little bit. And candidly, Jake Bentley committed to Arkansas State a week ago and flipped to us the other night. I think there is a feeling that we can compete at the highest level of the Sun Belt from a recruiting standpoint because of the connections we have. From a momentum standpoint, we’ve got to keep those things rolling. We’ve got to use the Senior Bowl coming up as another momentum booster. I told the staff the other day, if we’re about to sign a kid and all you’ve got is a Nicholls State or Jacksonville State [prospect], we really need to ask ourselves, why do we want this kid? Is this a kid we want? If we’re not beating Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State and Troy on players, we need to ask ourselves why we are recruiting these players. I think that hasn’t been a priority these last few classes.”
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