Typically, a young kid's Halloween costume isn't the best forecast for a career choice.
Kane Wommack knew otherwise.
Just 6 years old, Wommack relished his in-school costume opportunity – it allowed him to dress up like his father, a football coach.
A path charted some 25 years ago nonetheless has been traveled in an upward arc bringing with it Wommack's career.
The former Arkansas and Southern Miss player, who has made coaching stops at Power 5 programs Ole Miss and Indiana plus traced his headset-cord to UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson's tree of coaches, now has his first head coaching job.
Wommack is nearly 100 days in atop the South Alabama program. He took time to visit with FootballScoop about his path to this point; a vision for running his own program years in the making and tailored specifically to the Jaguars' program; whether he will still be the defensive play-caller and more.
FS: Obviously you had previous ties to South Alabama. All those years ago, did you think or hope that you would be back with a chance to run the program?
KANE WOMMACK: I felt like I always have known what the opportunity is at South Alabama. Certainly the landscape here has changed, the resources have changed.
You're talking about a brand-new $85 million stadium. You've got the indoor that's finished. Brand-new practice fields. Even a renovation in our football building that was nice already. Now we've got a brand-new locker room. The resources that they were willing to put in this program in a short amount of time is phenomenal.
They were off the ground 11 years ago as a program and now when you pull up on our compound, our facilities are all right here next to each other. It's just impressive to see what the opportunity is on campus. You look at the city of Mobile, the diversity of our community, the opportunity that presents itself. Especially in this day and age and where we are as a country right now. We want to embrace that, be a part of that. It's a great opportunity.
Along with the talent pool, which we've got to do a great job of capturing.
Candidly, I knew that pretty much wherever I was, if the opportunity came I would go to South.
FS: You're a Broyles Award semifinalist, helping Indiana along a historic season with some accomplishments not enjoyed by that program in some 60 years. Just what was that time like for you during that process?
KW: I think I had been told I was being nominated as a semifinalist for the Broyles Award and I'm getting ready for game-planning, thinking about Purdue and I get off the phone with our SID and I'm walking down the hallway on a Sunday, my G.A. pulls me aside and says, 'Hey man, this South Alabama job just came open.' You've got a million things on your mind and it just stops you dead in your tracks. About an hour after that, I get phone call from Joel Erdmann, our A.D. here (at South Alabama) asking me about my interest and saying let's connect little bit later that night. We talked a little over an hour. He stayed up late. I stayed up late.
I worked for another two-and-a-half hours game-planning on Purdue. It's the middle of 'Bucket' week and Tom Allen doesn't slack any weeks but especially not that one.
FS: What was that time like for you from a family standpoint?
KW: Things are pretty hellacious just from a natural night with three young sons. When you throw in the opportunity at Indiana to play Purdue for the (Old Oaken) Bucket (trophy), then an opportunity for what is a dream scenario for me, and that is Mobile and South Alabama. I'm a coach's son (Dave Wommack). I grew up all over the SEC. This is my favorite town. Absolutely love Mobile and Melissa and I fell in love with it already when we were here the first time. Just the town itself is a place we enjoyed being. But I was focused on that game plan, and of course we did not get to play [due to COVID-19 protocols].
But I felt like I had done a great job in preparation, both for that game and to be ready if the opportunity presented itself to become a head coach.
FS: How or why did you feel like you had prepared well for this opportunity, and specifically what had you done to prepare for the opportunity?
KW: That's a great question. First and foremost, knowing what your program identity is going to be. What are things organizationally you want to achieve. What do you want to get accomplished your first 100 days. I have always seen myself through the lens of a head coach. I've always viewed things from that perspective, how would it help the team and the program and how would it help me lead a program if I ever got a chance to become a head coach.
I've known I wanted to be a head coach since I was six years old. I dressed up with a Southern Miss hat and whistle around my neck and wrote coach on the back of my shirt for my school's Halloween costume day.
For me, tangibly it was identifying and setting our program identity. I want to transform the landscape of college football by influencing the mindset of servant leadership.
I think there is somewhat of a trend towards an entitlement mindset. I'm not really just even talking about players. I think coaches as well are in that entitlement mind-set. We are here and put on these campuses with a tremendous opportunity to serve. Here there are the resources we need to win.
How do we lean our process so that we can have a servant-like attitude? You can't spend 15 of 16 hours a day if you're just watching XOS film serving others. How do we implement our lean process? So those are the things big picture.
For me that was staying connected to names you want to hire and bring in. That to me is probably what I felt like I did the best job of; I had a list of names, and I stayed connected. Watched mic'd up sessions some of those coaches had done, saw some of their stuff on video and just talked to some of them.
I just had that list of names every spring and every fall that I wanted to find a way to stay connected to. FS: South Alabama has had a number of close losses in recent years, including this past season. You guys at Indiana had a number of clutch performances to get close wins. How do you teach that now in your program?
KW: I think first and foremost you have to do a great job of casting your vision. How do you build your culture? First you have to cast a vision, to be able to walk in front of a player, and it's why I think a lot of time great orators end up being some of the best coaches because they can communicate a vision to say, 'This is what we want and why we want that moving forward' and then we have to help that player because he has to take partial ownership over that vision moving forward. If it's a defensive end, and you want to become a better pass rusher, you say, 'I do it through accountability, through detail and being locked into what he's doing.'
I think Tom Allen is a brilliant vision-caster. We are casting vision right now, and as we cast our vision daily, we are relentless on the detail.
FS: Jamael Lett and Landius Wilkerson are staff members from right there in the Mobile area. Dwike Wilson is from Mississippi, Corey Batoon worked extensively in Mississippi and Florida, Earnest Hill also has deep ties in Alabama. How important were those factors and similar traits in how you assembled your staff?
KW: The dynamic part of that, right, is that I always looked at it this way, as I approached each hire: I'm not going to hire a position, I'm going to hire a role in our program. I'm not hiring the offensive coordinator position; I'm hiring the role of offensive coordinator for our program. That certainly comes with a certain level of proprietary knowledge of running our offense schematically, but also what is the role of leadership of this person? What is the role of recruiting in our program for this person? And What is the role for engagement for our players in this program? There are some guys that the players just naturally gravitate towards people on your staff. Maybe it's ethnicity. Maybe it's background. Maybe it's where they're from. Maybe it's the way in which their own personality and leadership traits and qualities. I thought about hiring to a role and not a position. I think when you look at our staff, I think we have a great dynamic because we have people that are starting to learn and play into their roles based off their gifts and skill-set, rather than just the role of offensive coordinator or running backs coach or whatever it may be.
From a recruiting footprint, we've narrowed the scope, we go to Alabama, we go to Mississippi, we're going to own the I-10 corridor. We want to get 65% of our team from that area. Every coach has their area, and what we've done and what I like is that they're either from that area or they've recruited there for three-plus years.
FS: You've coached both sides of the ball at the collegiate level, but you've carved a reputation as a brilliant defense mind. How do you manage your time between offense and defense? Will you still call the defense?
KW: No, I will not call the defense. I want to be the best head coach that I can be. I think that is best spent at keeping a view at 30,000 feet. We talk about role for the team, and my role is being kind of the big-picture detail coordinator and the vision caster. Create the vision, get some buy-in to that vision, and I don't want to be the guy calling the plays on gameday but want to be well-versed in everything we're doing.
From a football and scheme perspective, I try to … what I'm focused on doing right now is just checking in with (defensive coordinator) Corey Batoon and making sure when you go out as coordinators together, we're from the same system, we both have some different tweaks, and we were fortunate to have a lot of success at Indiana, most recently this past year. There are some things we feel are a little bit ahead of the game, cutting edge.
A big chunk of our time is implementing special teams and learning terminology and verbiage inside and out of our system. I want to know all the terminology, and it's on me to learn that and know when our offensive coordinator is making a call, I know exactly what we're doing.
I think when you certainly look not just at the ball and scheme elements, but how I want to engage our university, you have to implement the lean process in how you do things. So that you do allow time for engagement.
Again, it's vision-casting and now starting to hold people accountable. We're building chemistry and dynamics, in the program and the campus. When we first got the job, we identified about 75 names of people within the community, the university, within the athletic community that we wanted to make sure we absolutely engaged. I think we're somewhere around the 50, 51 mark, and we've got about 20 more days to make sure we engage the rest of that list. We want to engage the pulse of Mobile and engage the community.