New Cajun coordinator: Like father, like son
In the words of his father, a longtime and well-known Mississippi high school football coach, Will Hall does not hunt. He does not fish. He does not play golf.
That’s another matter for Hall, a 36-year-old former head coach at NCAA Division II programs West Georgia and West Alabama who a few a days ago was named UL’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“He’s strictly faith, family and football,” said Bobby Hall, head coach at Mississippi’s Biloxi High. “That’s really all he does. He’d be as lost as a fish out of water if he wasn’t in football.”
Ironically enough, though, it’s a different sport that helped shape Will Hall into the football player he was and the football coach he is now.
At Amory High in Mississippi, the now-married father of two young boys also played basketball.
“Will was a really, really good (football) player, but because Will was only 5-9 he wasn’t heavily recruited,” Bobby Hall said. “But I also felt as if basketball helped make Will be such a good football player.
“I always felt that helped his change-of-direction skills and his hand-eye coordination skills.”
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Playing the point, Hall learned the need to see the whole court and — by extension — the whole field.
It was outside on the grass, though, that Hall got early training in the game he would make his life’s work.
And it started early, very early, at the feet of a father with a storied career.
“He’s one of the most, probably, famous veteran high school coaches in the state of Mississippi,” UL head coach Mark Hudspeth said of Bobby Hall, whose next season will be his 40th as a coach.
How’s that for pressure?
Bobby Hall has coached at six Mississippi high schools, including stints at Raleigh High, Amory, Louisville High, Wayne County High, Madison Central High and, for the past two seasons, Biloxi.
He spent two seasons as head coach at Northeast Mississippi Community from 2001-02, one season of coach of the defunct National Indoor Football League’s Tupelo FireAnts and a couple seasons as an offensive assistant coach at FCS Murray State.
At Amory, he won three state championships — each in an undefeated season. At Louisville, he won one. At Madison Central, his program won seven district championships in nine seasons and — in 2009 — was ranked No. 10 in the country by USA Today.
And Thursday, one day after Will Hall’s hiring by UL was announced, Bobby Hall was named to the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame.
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“So he (Bobby Hall) is one of the most-respected high school coaches in the state,” said Hudspeth, who coached Will Hall for two seasons at North Alabama. “Will has grown up around the game since he could walk.”
“He started when he was 4, I think,” Bobby Hall said, “and he stayed with me every day until he started playing in the seventh grade.
“We’ve kind of been best friends,” the elder Hall added, “and we’ve both had very, very blessed careers — and a lot of fun.”
Bobby Hall recently told the (Biloxi) Sun Herald that Will is “a good boy who takes after his momma (Jan).”
But there’s no mistaking the fact his formative years on the football field played a big part in his becoming the coach he is now.
“I grew up in a house where very rarely did you ever lose a game,” Will Hall said.
“My dad had a tremendous impact on the players he coached and the community we lived in. He won four state titles, and over 300 games at several different places.
“He’s a dynamic personality,” Hall added. “Him and Hud (Hudspeth) are similar, in a lot of ways. So he (Hall’s father) obviously was my first hero. Still is.”
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In 1998, Will Hall led Amory to one of Bobby Hall’s three state championships there.
He played from 1999-2000 at Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he earned NJCAA All-American honorable mention as a sophomore.
From there, it was on to Murray State, where a shoulder injury prompted a medical redshirt season in 2001.
Around that same time, Hudspeth was hired as head coach at North Alabama. He needed a quarterback.
Will Hall needed a new home. Bobby Hall made a call. It did not come out of the blue.
“Him and Hud have known each other forever,” Will Hall said.
The connection is anchored in Louisville, Mississippi, the town Hudspeth calls home.
Hudspeth played and coached there at Winston Academy, which Bobby Hall said is a “stone’s throw away” from one of the schools he once coached, Louisville High.
The old ties paid dividends, as Hudspeth and Will Hall had great success in their second season together at North Alabama.
In 2003, with Hall at quarterback, the Lions reached the NCAA Division II semifinals, ending their season at 13-1 with a loss to North Dakota.
Hall won the Harlon Hill Trophy — DII equivalent of the Heisman — and the foundation was laid for a pairing that would come full circle in 2017.
He replaces Jorge Munoz, who was UL’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and — after a 6-7 season that ended with a New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Mississippi — now returns to his old post as the Ragin’ Cajuns’ receivers coach.
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Playing for Hudspeth, Hall said, was “really fun.”
“Obviously he’s a high-energy, very detailed, organized guy,” the Cajuns’ new coordinator said, “and we had a great relationship that has carried on through the years.
“A lot of mutual respect for each other. I know I think a lot of him; I think he thinks a lot of me.
“Last time we were together it worked out pretty good,” Hall added, “and we’re hoping for the same this time.”
At North Alabama, Hudspeth had an undersized quarterback who had future coach written all over him.
Hall’s roommate there, in fact, was Chip Long, a tight end at the time who just recently was named offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
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“He was a thrower that had great scrambling ability in order to get out of trouble,” the Cajuns coach said of Hall. “Not a dual-threat guy, but a guy that just … had eyes in the back of his head.”
Basketball eyes, as Bobby Hall sees it.
“He’s very imaginative in his play-call, play-design concepts,” Hudspeth said. “And I just really think he’s gonna bring an exciting brand of football that’s also gonna put our players in position to be successful.”
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Bobby Hall is partial, of course, but the father in the coach agrees with the coach in the father.
“Once Will got out of college, he became his own man. He’s a football junkie,” Bobby Hall said. “He studies the game. He’s a highly intelligent young man who just happens to be a football coach.
“I don’t like to refer to people in football as a ‘genius.’ I like to refer to a genius as somebody that cures a disease, or helps world hunger, or something of that nature. But he’s way up there, man.
“Will has a philosophy that if you have intelligence and integrity,” Hall added, “you’re gonna win 99 percent of the time — because if you hit a bump in the road, if you have intelligence you’ll be able to figure it out.”
Every football season, Bobby Hall said, Will Hall tapes about 300 college football games.
“Then (he) comes back in the winter and breaks all of ’em down,” Hall said. “He’s literally a walking encyclopedia of offensive football.”
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Such obsessive film study, however, may be the one thing Will Hall did not pick up from his old man.
Asked if he’s the same way, Bobby Hall was quick to suggest he is not.
“No,” he said, “I just call him when I need something, because he’s already done it.”
So where did Will Hall pick up the trait?
After playing one season indoors for the Tupelo FireAnts team that his father had coached before leaving for Murray State, Hall had stints from 2004 through 2010 as assistant at NCAA Division II programs Presbyterian and Henderson State and offensive coordinator at DII Southwest Baptist, Arkansas-Monticello and West Alabama.
He was head coach at West Alabama for three seasons from 2011-13, then the same for three more years at DII West Georgia.
But Bobby Hall has no idea when Will became such a film freak. He might know why, though.
“He’s got some qualities about him that are pretty unique and different from most people,” Bobby Hall said. “And when he gets fixated on something, man, he’s totally in it — 100 percent.”
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The two Halls don’t do everything the same scheme-wise, either.
But there is a long list of similarities, the biggest of which, Bobby Hall said, is a “burning desire to succeed.”
Ask Will Hall to sum up his career as a quarterback, and he doesn’t waste space.
“I was a coach’s son, a gym rat, a short guy that was a scrambler and a playmaker kind of guy,” he said.
But ask him about his father’s career, and the words roll.
“My dad is an eternal-optimist kind of guy,” Hall said.
“He can find the good in anything, and he stays driven, and he’s always been able to make the player a little bit better.
“He could take the average player, and make him believe he was a good player. … He could take a good player, and make him believe he was great,” Hall added. “He’s great with the mental side of the game.”
Coaching, Bobby Hall suggested, has been a lifelong bond for him and son Will.
It also was the avenue for a father to teach his son one of life’s many lessons.
Being around the game at such an early age as Will was, Bobby Hall said, “You get introduced to a lot of pressure, so consequently you know how to deal with pressure.”