By Tom West, For Vikings.com
Former Vikings linebacker Lemanski Hall has turned his passion for football into a successful coaching career, with the hardware to prove it.
When the 2019 college football season gets fully underway Thursday, Hall and other Clemson coaches will receive their national championship rings in recognition of their victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Entering his second season coaching the Clemson defensive ends, Hall had the unique position of leading a football power like Clemson against his alma mater, where he won a national title as a player.
Luckily for Hall, mixed allegiances won't be a problem on the Tigers staff. Hall's boss, Head Coach Dabo Swinney, was a teammate on the Crimson Tide teams of the 1990s that restored Alabama football as a national power, winning the 1992 title over Miami in one of the all-time classic college football games.
Hall led that Tide team in tackles, was First-Team All-SEC as a junior and senior, a team captain as a senior and earned a spot on Alabama's All-Decade team for the 1990s.
"He was a teammate of mine in college, and I always had such great respect for his work ethic and who he was as a person," Swinney said. "When he was done playing, he went the coaching route, and I always hoped we'd have the opportunity to work together, and eventually it all worked out. He's very knowledgeable and brings great experience to our staff."
Hall spent nine seasons in the NFL as a linebacker, enjoying his most productive season as a Vikings starter in 2001, when he opened 13 of 16 games and ranked third on the club with 74 tackles. During his Vikings tenure, Hall played in 45 games with 18 starts, notching 118 tackles over the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Following his playing career, Hall volunteered as a high school coach in Tennessee, did an internship with the Titans as part of the NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship and eventually coached at Nashville's Ensworth School for seven seasons.
In 2015, he joined his former teammate Swinney at Clemson as a defensive analyst and held the role through 2017. In 2018, he became a full-time coach working with the DEs for the Tigers and helped that unit establish itself as one of the best in the nation.
Under Hall, Tigers defensive end Clelin Ferrell won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top DE and was a consensus All-America selection. Ferrell went on to be drafted No. 4 overall by Oakland in 2019, one of three Clemson defensive linemen selected in the top 17 picks of the first round. Fellow Tigers DE Austin Bryant was selected in the fourth round by Detroit.
Hall has used his background as an NFL player, familiarity with Swinney and what he had learned from coaching high school football to apply it to his role at Clemson.
"It's really all about relationships with the players," Hall said. "I had started from the ground floor in coaching. When Dabo gave me a chance to get back to the college game, I was excited for the challenge. I thought I could give guys a perspective I had from my experience as a player and get them to buy-in to Dabo's vision. We stress being the best person they can be and try to focus on getting better every day."
Knowing the game is one thing, but understanding the rigors of college coaching was another for Hall.
"I understood the expectations, but it is still different to do it," he said. "Recruiting can be a lot; there's never much time off from it. But, I understood that from the high school setting and seeing coaches coming in to recruit."
As far as coaching against his beloved 'Bama, the adjustment was swift for Hall.
"The first year we played Alabama was unusual to be out there and hear the fight song and see the guys come on the field. But, after that, it became another game," Hall said. "We are big on not focusing on the opponent, but rather how we prepare, watch film, coach hard, and our players respond. In the National Championship Game, our kids were focused, had good preparation and were dialed in."
Looking back on his time in Minnesota, Hall appreciates the work of coaches who gave him an opportunity.
"I had a good relationship with Dennis Green," Hall said. "I loved working with Emmitt Thomas, and Gary Zauner was key for me getting a chance there. I watch the Vikings from afar to this day, and having been in Dallas with Mike Zimmer and George Edwards, I know they are good coaches, and it shows on the field.
"My family spent three great years in Minnesota, and we appreciate our time there," Hall added.