Andy Boogaard

Clovis football returns to prominence as coach Rich Hammond stands tall

Clovis coach Rich Hammond, pictured on the sideline in a game against Edison in 2013, has fired up the Cougars’ program.
Clovis coach Rich Hammond, pictured on the sideline in a game against Edison in 2013, has fired up the Cougars’ program. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Nowhere in the football bible does it say: “Thou must be a large man to be a successful coach.”

Clovis High’s Rich Hammond is testament.

He’s 5 feet 6 inches. Maybe.

He’s so short, his play chart dangles on a string from his waist to his shoes during games, his signature presence while bouncing on the sidelines.

He looks like a 12-year-old. Has the enthusiasm of one, too.

This is all that matters: There’s no questioning the size of his impact while resuscitating tradition at a program humbled when he took over seven years ago.

It was a hire in which John Sexton played a leading role.

Sexton, a 40-year local assistant at Clovis, Buchanan and Memorial and one of the most revered offensive coordinators the area has known, was exposed to Hammond while serving on a Clovis West search panel eight years ago.

Hammond’s hat was in the ring.

I honestly thought his height would hurt him somewhat no matter where he went, no matter where he applied. But once you got to know him, when you listenened to him and paid attention to his intelligence, he became 6 feet 3.

Longtime local assistant John Sexton on Clovis coach Rich Hammond, who stands 5-6

“I honestly thought his height would hurt him somewhat no matter where he went, no matter where he applied,” Sexton says. “But once you got to know him, when you listened to him and paid attention to his intelligence, he became 6-feet-3; stature meant nothing. I told the Clovis (High) people, ‘You better not screw this up.’ 

They didn’t.

The indisputable numbers are these: The Cougars, largely under coach Tim Simons, went 229-59-3 (.792 winning percentage), placed first or second in league play 20 of 24 years and won six Central Section titles from 1979 to 2002.

In the next six years, they went 28-40 (.412) and placed third or worse in league play each season – a stunning reversal of history that unfolded in an attendance area experiencing a significant change in a booming Clovis Unified School District that had sprouted to include, in chronological order, Buchanan, Clovis East and Clovis North since the mid-’90s.

In Hammond’s first season, in 2009, Clovis went 1-4 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference and 3-7 overall.

No panic, however.

This was a 30-year-old simply applying what he knew as an industrial and systems engineering major from San Jose State.

“An engineering degree, in essence,” he says, “is about managing people and solving problems.”

So Hammond – born in Visalia, raised for five years in Lindsay, then to Hollister and, all along, following the path of educators, dad Bob and mom Mary – began doing just that.

51-19Hammond’s record in the past six seasons after 3-7 start with the Cougars

Since then, the Cougars are 51-19 (.729), have returned to annual league contention – including two championships – and, above all, have once again demonstrated a hunger to play the sport coming out of Clovis High’s elementary feeders and Clark Intermediate.

Clovis, ranked fourth in the section by The Bee after reaching the Division-I semifinals in four of the past five seasons, is 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the TRAC entering a Friday night game against No. 5 Clovis North (5-2, 3-0) at Veterans Memorial Stadium that could decide the league’s title.

It will be here that Hammond will play chess with the Fresno Athletic Hall of Famer, Broncos coach Simons.

And Simons sees a rising star in Hammond: “He’s sharp, that’s obvious. He has a really good football mind. Each year, he adds new little variations and concepts. His teams play with a lot of life and enthusiasm. And he’s a real personable guy. He’s one of the more enjoyable guys I know as a rival coach.”

Cheryl Rogers, as Clovis High area superintendent in 2009, was most responsible for hiring Hammond.

“This wasn’t just about changing coaches for a program struggling,” says Rogers, who retired a year ago but still attends all Cougars games, home and away. “It was about wanting someone well-connected with kids, someone who could turn around a program quickly, someone who had demonstrated that at a couple schools previously (Santa Clara and Gilroy highs).

“It was about our kids wanting to see Clovis High football restored to a level they had grown accustomed to with a lot of their siblings and uncles. We needed someone to genuinely embrace the traditions and values that are so huge to downtown Clovis and the community. Another big factor was hiring a coach who kids wanted to play for. I would think everyone would say we’re absolutely pleased Rich brought his family to Clovis.”

Rich and Katie Hammond arrived in 2009 with a 3-month-old daughter, Elliana. They’ve since added a son, Jack. And a third child is due in March.

Rogers, who received that initial tip from Sexton, finds this comforting with nothing to suggest the Hammonds will uproot and leave.

“We wanted to make sure we had someone come in who wasn’t just looking for a stopping place to heighten his résumé, though, when you do a good job, that (often) happens automatically,” Rogers says. “We were looking for someone long term because we needed stability.”

Coach vs. engineer – Katie Kristalyn met her future husband when he had started his head coaching career at Santa Clara High. They were married seven years ago.

“I married a coach,” she says, “and I knew what I was getting into.”

She married a coach as opposed to an engineer bent for big bucks in the Bay Area, and she applauds the choice: “He’s brilliant. The engineering side of his brain, and his personality, really lend themselves to what he does on the field. He’s a visionary, and the engineering skills in his background allow it.”

She’s observing practice this week with Rogers standing by her side, and Elliana and Jack rolling in the grass nearby.

“This is where Rich shines,” she says. “Football’s an everyday part of our life. We’re part of the Clovis family; our kids wear blue and gold. But he’s also a great father and husband. He’s great out here, and he’s also a great dad, and that’s nice.”

Rich Hammond, thus, stands tall in the eyes of his wife, Rogers, Sexton and his peers.

He succeeded as a wrestler and football player at Hollister High at 5-6, 160 pounds, even extending his playing career as a defensive back at Cabrillo College.

“Common sense says I should have been fearful,” he says. “But when you’re a kid, there’s different ways to approach things in life and you don’t know any better.

“So maybe I’ve always looked at things like that: I could be successful, I would be successful, no matter what the situation was. I’ve never gone into a situation thinking any differently.”

Andy Boogaard: 559-441-6400, @beepreps

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