With his introduction as the 30th head coach of Bowdoin football (1-8), B.J. Hammer finds himself in a familiar spot: a hole.
For the second time in four years, Hammer, a native of Carmel, Indiana, is taking over a struggling football program. When he took the top job at Allegheny College in 2016, the Gators had exactly one more win in their three prior seasons than the number of actual alligators in Meadville, Pennsylvania—that is, one—paired with 29 losses. Three seasons later, the Gators posted a 6-4 record, finishing fourth in the competitive Northern Coast Athletic Conference standings.
Over the last three seasons, the Polar Bears are 1-25. Lightning, they say, doesn’t strike twice. But does the Hammer?
The Polar Bears are betting that it does. And at first blush, that’s not a wholly unreasonable wager to make. Viewed from a thousand feet, Bowdoin and Allegheny have similar institutional profiles: both are small liberal arts colleges with comparable enrollment numbers and similar football budgets. And about his gutter-to-glory turn-around at Alleghany? “There’s no magic pill for that,” said Hammer. “You’ve gotta go to work.”
And go to work they will. In his first meeting with players, Hammer announced that the team would train six days a week during the offseason, an increase from the five days of years past. “Trashcan Tuesdays”—don’t eat a big breakfast—will become a staple of the team’s fitness routine.
There are, however, a number of significant institutional differences which may come into play. At Allegheny, Hammer capped his roster at 115 players (which, for a time, included one female player as a backup kicker). At Bowdoin, he will have to make due with approximately 76, limiting his on-field depth and exaggerating the effect of every inevitable injury. But more importantly, Hammer will likely have significantly less of a free hand in his recruiting choices.
At Allegheny, the average composite SAT scores range from 1050-1270. At Bowdoin, it’s 1360-1510. This isn’t meant to be snobbery—it’s just statistics. Less rigorous admissions standards mean a larger pool of recruits. Like every staff before his, Hammer’s team will still have to compete for qualified recruits with Williams, Amherst and Middlebury, all of whom have historically more successful football programs.
Hammer thinks he can overcome this hurdle by expanding the breadth of his search. “We’re going to look outside [of New England] a little bit,” said Hammer. “I’ve coached in California, I’ve coached in the Midwest. I have connections down in Florida [and] Arizona. I think we can do a great job bringing some kids in from different areas of the country that can add a lot not only to our football program but to our school.”
But the clock is ticking, and loudly. If J.B. Wells’ short tenure is any indication, the powers that be expect marked results within three to four seasons—the exact amount of time it took Hammer to transform the Gators from a losing squad to a winning one. Is three years enough time?
“We’re ahead of where we were at Alleghany,” said Hammer. “It may be quicker, it could take a step longer, but I believe it can be done in that time.”
As for his staff, expect some changes. Though five of J.B Wells’ seven assistant coaches will stay on, Hammer himself will take over duties as the defensive coordinator, and will likely bring in a new offensive coordinator as well as one additional position coach.
“I [have] some guys that coached with me at Allegheny who I think would be outstanding fits with me at Bowdoin,” Hammer said. As for a timeline? “I would like to have them here February 1.”
Yet Hammer’s greatest advantage may be that, for all his recent heroics at Alleghany, he also knows what it takes to win, and to keep winning. At Wabash College, where he was a student before joining the football staff as defensive coordinator, Hammer coached a team that went 51-7, winning two division titles and competing for the NCAA Division III national championship title three times. Having been on both sides of the win-loss column, Hammer’s objective at Bowdoin is, in his words, straightforward: “Teaching people how to win.” Welcome back, Polar Bears, because class is in session.