HAMMOND -- On Monday morning Rob Gardner went to a parade in Hammond honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his national holiday.
But there was a lot more for the 28-year-old to celebrate as he has been selected to be the next football coach at Hammond High. This is pending Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Gardner, who has been an assistant at Morton since 2015, replaces Roosevelt Moore.
Moore has coached the Wildcats since 2014. Hammond had winning seasons in ‘14 and ‘15, going 10-2 in 2015, but the football program has struggled of late, going 0-18 the last two seasons.
Hammond’s last win was Sept. 22, 2017.
“This is a great opportunity,” Gardner said on Monday afternoon. “It’s an honor and a humbling thing. I appreciate the confidence the administration gave me and I am ready to bring excitement back to the east side of Hammond.”
Gardner gave thanks to former Merrillville coach Zac Wells, who coached Gardner to the 2009 semi state game. Then, after Gardner played one season at Joliet Junior College before a knee injury ended his career, it was Wells who brought Gardner back as an assistant coach and mentored him in the early days.
“When I interviewed for the job, I expressed I played for a winning program at Merrillville, a great program under Zac Wells,” Gardner said of the coach who is now at Homewood-Flossmoor. High School. “Zac set a foundation for me to be the person I am today. Sean Kinsey at Morton did the same thing for me. I know what it takes to win, to bring that Merrillville culture over here to Hammond.
“Everything I do I do for the kids. Since I came to Hammond the kids here have a special place in my heart.”
There is a lot of excitement and a little uncertainty about the new school building that is going up on Hammond High’s campus. It will be completed in 2021. It could be a magnet for athletes all over Lake County and Chicagoland.
Hammond’s boys basketball program under Larry Moore Jr. has risen up in recent years and the fact that Merrillville has long been very good in football and basketball allows Gardner to work with and share athletes with the Wildcats’ hoops program.
Gardner plans on using a spread offense, where his athletes can get into open spaces on the field. And the defense will be similar to the one he used at Morton.
“We are going to attack,” Gardner said. “We will be fundamentally sound. We will be physical. Eleven guys will be at the party. There is no other way around it.”
Gardner said he plans on winning, but there are more important things to consider.
“I want to give my kids a vision, so they will go to college, to let them know they can do it,” Gardner said. “I understand the needs of a young athlete and I will work with them. We are going to work together and build this thing back up.”