Malik Hall, center, spent three seasons as the defensive line coach at the University of Pennsylvania before being hired as the 20th head football coach in Bates College’s history on Monday. (University of Pennsylvania)
Malik Hall’s enthusiasm travels through the phone as he stood on the course at the Bates College football alumni golf tournament at Wentworth by the Sea Country Club in Rye, New Hampshire, on Monday.
“I’m not playing, so it’s all good,” Hall said in a phone interview. “That’s why I’m so happy right now. I haven’t lost a ball, I haven’t thrown a club. This is working out pretty good for me right now.”
Monday was Hall’s first official day as Bates’ head football coach — the school announced his hiring early in the afternoon — and getting to know the alumni at the annual golf tournament was his first piece of business.
“I knew this when we first interviewed him, people just gravitate towards him,” Bates athletic director Jason Fein said. “He spoke a couple students, he spoke with a couple alums, he spoke with a couple parents, spoke with everybody — it didn’t matter if they were out two years or they were Class of ’65.”
Fein said that several candidates were interviewed during the hiring process, but Hall quickly stood out, and it was for more than his Xs and Os acumen.
“It’s all the other things about Malik, I think, that make him a complete and excellent candidate,” Fein said, “and that’s his demeanor, his passion, his vision, his desire to educate the whole person, which is what I think we do in Division III and what we try to do at Bates — it’s something that he talked about almost from the minute we met him.”
“Everything that we were looking for in a candidate,” Fein added, “he kind of wowed us.”
From Detroit to Maine
Bates is Hall’s first head coaching job. He comes to the Bobcats from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was serving as the defensive line coach.
Hall grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and started his college paying career as a defensive lineman at Vermilion Community College in northern Minnesota, then transferred to the University of Massachusetts for his final two years.
His plan was to be a school teacher, and for six months after college he taught kindergarten in Pontiac, Michigan.
“Listen, (it’s) harder than any drill I’ve ever done,” Hall said. “You talk about staying on your feet and being lively and thinking fast, elementary will do that to you.”
Coach Tom Masella invited Hall to join the coaching staff at Central Connecticut State in 2004 as the defensive line coach. That was followed by stints at Hofstra, Fordham, Wagner two times and a return to his alma mater, UMass in 2011. At Wagner, he served as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
He joined the staff at Penn for the 2015 season, and helped the Quakers win back-to-back Ivy League titles in 2015 and 2016.
“His records at places are always better when he leaves them then when he gets there,” Fein said.
At Bates, Hall is replacing Mark Harriman, who was also a defensive-minded assistant plucked from the Ivy League (Harvard) in 1998. Hall not only has to replace Harriman’s 20 years of experience, but he also has only a few months to get ready for the upcoming season.
Hall realizes that turnaround isn’t ideal, but he is unfazed. It helps, he said, that three Bates assistant coaches — Skip Capone, Tino Lopes and Tyler Cottle — have kept the program running through the time while the school was looking for the next head coach.
“That’s not easy to do,” Hall said. “And to me, that spoke everything about their character.”
Hall added: “All three of those guys were awesome in keeping the program — they never let this program go into resuscitation mode, where someone has to come back in here and CPR it back to life.”
Hall said Capone, Lopes and Cottle exemplify the type of people he wants the Bates football program to be made up of.
Hall will be back in Lewiston on Tuesday and will instantly get to work, he said, “taking inventory,” and getting to know the Bates football program.
He plans for the Bobcats to play a 3-4 defense that brings timely pressure that keeps the opposing offense on guard.
“My philosophy in defense is to keep it likable and learnable,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, thinking inside the box just kind of perpetuates the same old thing. That’s why my philosophy starts with keeping it likable and learnable. … If I like what I do, I’m definitely going to learn how to do it to the best of my ability.”
Hall was more tight-lipped about his plans for the offense side of the ball.
“At the end of the day, we want to get the ball in the playmakers’ hands,” Hall said. “The quarterback’s (Brendan Costa) a playmaker here, so it’s already in his hands. Now we just got have him get it to other people. Distribution is the key word.”
‘A new era’
Hall and his wife Ayesha have three children. They’re excited to return to New England after the positive experiences he had as a coach and a player at UMass.
The New England hospitality continued at Bates. Everyone on campus was welcoming, and Hall doesn’t think they even knew he was a candidate for the football coaching job.
That makes him excited to recruit players to Bates.
“I felt like that is how they would treat anyone who walked on campus,” Hall said. “And when you walk on campus, and you feel like, ‘Man, this was cool,’ immediately, I translate that directly to recruiting. If they were able to convey that feeling to us, I definitely think I can convey that feeling to recruits and families.”
Fein said that he’s looking forward to Sept. 15, when the Bobcats’ new coach leads the team onto the Garcelon Field in new uniforms for Bates’ first game of 2018 against Amherst.
“It’s a little bit of a new era,” Fein said.
Hall has already been educated about the importance of the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin rivalry, which Harriman’s Bobcats dominated recently, with four straight titles.
Both Hall and Fein emphasized that their objective is the complete student-athlete experience, both on and off the field. And they want to keep winning CBB championships, but they also hope to improve Bates’ standing in the NESCAC. The Bobcats are coming of a 2-7 season and have averaged 3.1 wins per season this decade.
“It’s important that (student-athletes) have the best possible experience, whether it’s on the field and off the field,” Fein said. “As far as on the field is concerned, of course we want to improve on what we’ve been doing. It would be silly to say otherwise.”
Hall said that he has seen the combination of effort and attitude boost programs he’s coached before, and both will be keys at Bates.
“The expectation here is to win, period,” Hall said. “Not to be middle of the road, it’s to win. It’s hard to win, but you can build it to win.”
Malik Hall, new Bates College football coach. (University of Pennsylvania)