Hall's life led to this moment
CORVALLIS — Cory Hall has a lot on his plate right now. And yet Oregon State's interim head coach already has established a list of priorities.
"It's going to be my job, along with that of the rest of the staff, to develop an identity," Hall said Monday after taking over for the departed Gary Andersen. "I'm talking about identity for the team, and identity for myself. I know what I want my identity to be as a head coach. I'm not going to share that until I meet with the staff, but you'll soon find out.
"In my leisure time, I like playing chess. Football is a chess match. What kind of opening move do you have? What is your strategy? What's your end-game goal?
"With this team moving forward, one of my biggest challenges will be to make sure the morale of the players stays high, and that I put them in the best possible situation to be successful. I hope that will be a big part of our identity."
Hall, 40, is in only his third season as a fulltime coach at the college level. He served one season coaching cornerbacks at Weber State on the FBS level before being hired by Andersen before last season to coach the position at Oregon State.
So Hall, who hasn't even been in a coordinator position in college, is now running the Beavers' program. Isn't it a bit overwhelming?
"I haven't thought about that yet," Hall said. "I probably should. I'm going about it as business as usual, trying to focus in and pay attention to what the team needs right now.
"I have a lot of catching up to do, but there's no panic. I'll take it hour by hour, minute by minute. This is what I wanted to do. This is why I got into the profession. Not under this set of circumstances, but when something happens, you'd better be ready."
After a fine career at Fresno State, the Bakersfield, California, native played six seasons in the NFL as a safety with Cincinnati and Atlanta from 1999-2004. Hall might have played longer, but decided he wanted to start a new career.
"I had a conversation with (then Falcons head coach) Jim Mora Jr., and let him know I was leaving to coach collegiately," Hall said.
He spent a season as a defensive intern at Washington State under Bill Doba in 2006, which was an eye-opener.
"I saw I had a lot to learn," Hall said. "I decided I wanted to come up the ranks and understand players. I knew I needed to spend time with kids at the lowest level."
Hall did just that — and we're talking grassroots football.
He spent a year as a defensive coordinator at a junior high school in Los Angeles.
"I saw I really affected those kids," he said.
Hall then moved back to Fresno and spent a season as head coach of an elementary school team.
"I enjoyed that a lot," he said.
His next move was to a new high school in Fresno, Clovis North, where he spent the next five years — the first year as head freshman coach, the next year as head junior varsity coach.
In 2011, the head varsity coach underwent a heart procedure before the season, and Hall stepped in as interim coach. During the next three seasons under Hall, the Broncos went 33-8 and won three league titles.
"We produced a lot of D-I players and had some good success," Hall said. "I started feeling it was time. I was ready to take the next step."
Andersen hired Hall as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin, where he worked with the secondary in 2014. When Andersen left for Oregon State, he brought Hall along with him — for three weeks. Before spring ball started, Hall was hired to a fulltime position coaching cornerbacks at Weber State.
"'Coach A' got me that job," Hall said. "And he told me, 'If I can get you back here in a year or two, I will.' And he did. That was the first time in this profession someone showed me he is a man of his word."
Weber State head coach Jay Hill was grateful to have had Hall's services, if for only one season.
"We had one of our coaches leave, and Gary told me, 'You'd be an idiot not to hire this guy,' " Hill told me in 2015. "He was absolutely right. Cory is a superstar in the making in the profession."
When I asked Andersen about Hall earlier this season, Andersen said he is "a terrific coach. My biggest problem will be holding on to him."
Now Andersen is gone and Hall is in his place, "a tough position to be in," the latter acknowledged. But he feels indebted to the man before him. For the rest of this season, Hall said he is not going to move into Andersen's corner office in Valley Football Center. He'll stay in his own office down the hall.
"Coach A believed in me," Hall says. "He is one of the most genuine people I've ever met. He was always a straight shooter with me. He is a great football coach and leader. There is no replacing Coach A, but I'm going to do what I can to carry this thing out for him."
One of Hall's biggest assets is his personality. He is a unifier.
"I'm not a negative person," he said. "I like positivity. I like helping people. That's the way people should function. It's been about relationships for me since my childhood. It was that way for me when I was playing in the NFL. It's no different now in the coaching profession."
Hall gets an endorsement from running back Ryan Nall, one of the Beavers' captains.
"Coach Hall will do a good job," Nall said. "A lot of guys trust him and respect him as a coach. The fact he was a former player himself, and an NFL player not too long ago, guys will be able to relate to that.
"He is intense. The DBs get an earful of him. He's a high-energy, high-motor guy. That will be good for us on both sides of the ball."
Hall is experienced in working with kids. He has six of his own — three boys, three girls, the last two with his second wife, Sarah. A seventh, a boy, is on its way, due for delivery on Nov. 20.
"I love my wife and kids," he says. "I feel the same way about my players. I have my family, and the football team is my second family."
Hall has enjoyed his short time at Oregon State.
"I love Corvallis," he said, chuckling. "People ask me that question, and I say, 'Well, I'm from Bakersfield. I'm not going to love it here?' I love what the people are about here. It's a college town. I like the small college town feel. It's a great place to raise a family. It's one of the safest cities in America, right?
"I don't have one bad thing to say about the state of Oregon. This was a tremendous opportunity. Oregon State has been really good to me. No matter what happens, I'll forever feel a piece of the Oregon State family."
Hall will serve as interim coach for the Beavers' final six games of this season. Athletic director Scott Barnes will soon begin a search for Andersen's replacement. He doesn't mention Hall as a candidate, though he suggests strongly that he would like to see Hall remain at Oregon State with the new head coach.
"I will tell you unequivocably, I will be an incredible advocate for Cory Hall," Barnes told me Monday. "And that will mean a lot."
Hall said he can't worry about the future. He is too busy planning for Saturday's home date with Colorado.
"Nobody has assurances in this business," he said. "I just know I'm the head coach right now. You focus on what's ahead. I've been in a position like this before, taking over at Clovis North. All I can do is coach. That's my outlook on the thing.
"I know my value, not just as a coach, but as husband, a father, a friend, a mentor. I'm going to enjoy the moment. Coaching football is what I love doing. I love being around the young men. I love helping them develop."
Maybe the Beavers will show so much progress, Hall will merit consideration as a candidate to replace Andersen. Hall said that won't be his focus.
"Scott Barnes and President (Ed) Ray are going to do what's best for the football program," Hall said. "I wouldn't want them to do anything less than that.
"If I'm what's best for the program, I am. If I'm not, I'm not. I haven't wasted two thoughts on that. My concern right now is in rallying the troops and doing what we can to beat Colorado on Saturday."