This is the second in a series of posts sponsored by Nestea, centering on the theme of bold players, coaches, and decisions.
Indiana athletic director Fred Glass made his first personnel decision involving football or men's basketball last fall when, less than 24 hours after IU's overtime win over Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game, he fired Bill Lynch and embarked on the hiring process that led to the selection of Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as the Hoosiers' new head coach. The decision to fire Lynch was not necessarily a bold step, but it was one that certainly could have gone the other way. My position on Lynch was skeptical, as I made clear around here long before he was canned, but certainly, those arguing for one more year had some grounds for their argument: Lynch was only three years removed from leading IU to its only bowl appearance since 1993; he was recruiting well; and after a horrible 2008 season, Lynch had fielded competitive teams in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 and 2010 Hoosiers left plenty of possible wins on the field. In 2009, IU fans will long remember the close call at Michigan, the collapse at Northwestern, losing a game they had led 28-3, and an official-fueled collapse in a game at Iowa. In 2010, IU again was painfully close to beating Michigan for the first time since 1987 and would have beat Iowa if Damarlo Belcher had caught a gimme of a touchdown pass. The season concluded with an overtime win against an unimpressive Purdue team, but IU did overcome a 14 point deficit in that game and won in West Lafayette for the first time since 1996.
Despite all that, Fred Glass made the correct call. He knew that Lynch, who had only one year remaining on his contract, could not enter 2011 in the final year of his contract. Entering 2010 with only one year left put Lynch in a unusual position compared to how things typically are done. Further, he knew that Lynch's 12-24/3-21 record in the three years since he had been given the long-term head coaching job did not justify a contract extension. Ultimately, despite many opportunities to win more games, he didn't win those games, and Glass decided to make a move. It may be a stretch to call this a bold move, but he certainly could have found an excuse to keep Lynch if he were inclined toward the status quo.
The coaching search, of course, yielded Kevin Wilson. I've made clear that I love Wilson's resume and think he is overdue for an opportunity like this. Still, I think there is an element of boldness to hiring a coach who has never been the man in charge before. A program like IU is almost never going to be able to hire a coach like Steve Spurrier, or even Mike Leach. IU generally has two attractive options: a career assistant, or a head coach who has succeeded at lower levels of college football. (Unattractive options would be hiring a retread who has been fired by a major program or hiring a coach who has failed at lower levels of college football. And IU has hired one of each in the last decade!) Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Terry Hoeppner, for instance, had an excellent record at Miami of Ohio, but no experience of any sort in the Big Ten or similar conferences. Kevin Wilson has experience at the highest levels of college football, but not in the specific job for which he was hried. Still, I think that hiring a coach with no head coaching experience is more of a bold move than hiring an experienced head coach. When Rick Greenspan hired Hoeppner, he knew or could discern Hoeppner's style as a head coach and likely knew that most of Hoeppner's staff would join him at IU. He knew, if nothing else, that Hoeppner was competent at the job of being a head football coach. As IU fans well know, based on experience with Cam Cameron, a fine football mind does not necessarily make a fine head coach.
When Glass hired Wilson, he knew that Wilson was an excellent offensive coordinators and was a protege of two fine head coaches, Bob Stoops and Randy Walker. On the other hand, as an assistant, Wilson had no ready-made staff, no history of dealing with defenses, and no experience being the face of the program. At this point, we don't know how the Wilson era will work out. By all indications, he has built a fine staff. Recruiting hasn't missed a beat, and IU remains in the hunt for Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Indiana, the nation's top high school quarterback. There is some degree of risk in hiring a coach with no head coaching experience, but I have to think that Kevin Wilson's OU experience, working with two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks, is playing a role in this process. Hiring a top tier assistant is a high risk, high reward endeavor. There is the risk of spectacular failure, but also the possibility of making a major move forward.