When Nate Sudfeld smashed into the turf of Kinnick Stadium, a hit that made his left arm more decorative than anything else, coach Kevin Wilson turned the reins of the offense over to true freshman Chris Covington. The new quarterback struggled, as most freshman in a similar situation would do, and Indiana would eventually be defeated.
As has become customary among a minority of Indiana fans when the football team falters, there were calls for Kevin Wilson to be fired. Normally, road losses to Iowa aren't really an unforgivable sin for an Indiana football coach, but the way the loss came about was simply too much for some to bear. Surrendering gobs of points to an offensively deficient Hawkeyes squad became the chief argument, and to have an ill-prepared quarterback take over in Sudfeld's place was also not above scrutiny.
It's certainly not a majority, but there is a non-zero portion of the fanbase that believes Kevin Wilson has failed as a coach and deserves to be fired. Furthermore, because Fred Glass hired Wilson, his failures are Fred's failures and he must be let go as well. But where does this chain of responsibility end? Someone made the decision to hire Fred Glass, should they be canned? Should everyone up to, and including, President Michael McRobbie pay the ultimate price for another mediocre football season?
Of course he shouldn't, but the buck must stop somewhere, right? But with whom?
I'll start with Fred Glass because I find the notion that he deserves to be fired because he "isn't serious about football" to be the most utterly nonsensical of the ideas floating around the internet ether. An athletic director for a high-major university has an extensive list of tasks they accomplish and delegate to staff, the hiring / firing of coaches along with compliance issues being the most visible of these. But as far as success on the field, how far does their influence go?
Follow the money.
Fred Glass goes in to work every day trying to find the best way to get money to come into the department and then he sits down and figures out the best way to spend it. I'm not minimizing what the man does, because I cannot possibly overstate how everything in collegiate athletics boils down to dollars and cents. Schools that are willing to commit large amounts of money to their sports programs, and do so intelligently, will usually see dividends down the road.
Travis Miller, lord-commander over at Hammer and Rails, penned an excellent piece about Purdue's outright refusal to do just that and the consequences involved therein. Fred Glass and Michael McRobbie have shown to be the exact opposite of Morgan Burke and Mitch Daniels, as it feels like huge projects are being undertaken by the athletic department all the time. If the "athletic arms race" indeed exists (it does), the Hoosiers' athletic department is more than willing to play ball. In just the last calendar year, Glass secured the largest gift in school history for the Assembly Hall renovation, which is part of a campaign that hopes to secure $150 million in athletics donations over the next several years. Plans were also recently announced to enclose Memorial Stadium's south end zone, further improving on state-of-the-art facilities for student athletes across all 24 sports.
All this on the heels of brand new baseball / softball stadiums and plans for a new wrestling / volleyball complex, located in the same area with the rest of the athletic facilities. Actions speak louder than words, and Fred Glass has proven through his actions that he's serious about ponying up the money it takes to compete at a high-major level in football and across all of the university's sports. To insinuate he isn't "serious about football" because Chris Covington struggled in emergency duty is so incredibly misguided that I couldn't help but address it.
Repeat after me: Fred Glass cannot coach the football team. Fred Glass cannot go out on the field and win the games for them.
I'm legitimately curious what else people believe Fred Glass can do to help the football program. He's allocated more resources to the team and facilities than anyone in recent memory. Kevin Wilson, for all the calls for his job as of late, was considered an excellent hire when it was made, given his position as one of the top assistants at one of the top programs in the country. This is what a middling program in a big conference must do: capture a rising star on his way up the ladder. The reality of IU's hiring choices are this: a proven head coach with consistent high-major success is not coming to Indiana.
So with Fred Glass not going anywhere, do we fire Kevin Wilson for the football team's failures to date? What is the standard for a coach when he's inheriting one of the statistically-proven worst programs in NCAA history? There is certainly no obvious reason why Indiana can't be in the bowl picture year-in and year-out, in fact, the only thing that comes to mind as to why IU can't get 6-7 wins every year is because, historically, they just don't. This is a program that has seen only nine bowl appearances in its lifetime, and not one coach since Bo McMillin left in 1947 have finished their Hoosier tenure with a winning record.
And there have been quite a few coaches in that time, Kevin Wilson is the fifth head coach since Bill Mallory was fired in 1996. This is the 18th season since Mallory's canning, and it has been the same kind of tenure repeated over and over since, with Terry Hoeppner being the lone outlier, tragically. As he looked more than capable to lead IU out of the B1G basement in his short stint with the program before cancer robbed him of his health.
|Seasons||Record||B1G Record||Bowl Games||Reason for Departure|
|Kevin Wilson||4th||13-29||5-21||0||N / A|
Kevin Wilson is, unfortunately, in line with the fraternity of mediocrity that the program has been mired in, just in recent history. In fact, his winning percentage historically indicates that he will be fired after this season, assuming the Hoosiers fail to reach a bowl game for the 7th consecutive year. But perhaps there is a larger trend should no longer be ignored: running coaches out after 3-4 seasons isn't working.
It's an often-cited timeline that it takes a coach 5 years to implement his vision on a college football program. By that admittedly non-scientific measure, IU has had exactly one coach reach that threshold in the years since Bill Mallory, and incidentally: it was Cam Cameron's best season of his tenure and the best B1G performance of any IU team on that chart. While four Big Ten wins isn't anything to go screaming from the rooftops about, it's more than double the amount of Big Ten wins per year the program has been averaging in 12+ seasons since.
I think Kevin Wilson deserves his five years, at least. He signed a seven year deal before the 2011 season, and has one of the better pedigrees of the coaches hired since Bill Mallory. Only Gerry DiNardo could compete with Wilson for "Best Résumé" coming in, with two excellent seasons at LSU that preceded two horrific ones.
- The Hoosiers have improved their overall and conference record each season under Kevin Wilson. The only coach on that chart to do so.
- In the most promising season to date, the starting quarterback is lost for the season to a separated shoulder. The roster, which had an embarrassment of riches at the QB position at one point, saw the experienced backups transfer for opportunities to start, leaving the staff shorthanded in that department. Keep in mind, Tre Roberson transferred in June, which is awfully late in the cycle for the staff to compensate for.
- I'll reiterate: the strategy of firing coaches every 3-4 years in search of the "right guy" is not working. Patience isn't the easy road, but perhaps it's one worth trying.
Firing coaches is a cold reality of collegiate athletics and sports everywhere. Those who underperform or otherwise fail to accomplish what they set out to do tend to get fired. I'm not breaking any ground here, the coaching carousel spins for weeks on end at the conclusion of every season. But, perhaps, it's time to recognize that Indiana is not a program that's going to get turned around if we keep hitting the reset button as often as we have been. Kevin Wilson has brought a vision and an identity this program that I can see and believe in, even if the on-field results are lacking.
Furthermore: Kevin Wilson represented a different kind of hire for the football program, a paradigm shift that we haven't seen in any of our recent attempts to hire a head football coach. Instead of taking former coaches with smatterings of success at smaller programs, or former head coaches who failed at big-time programs, he went for a long-time assistant at a hugely successful program looking to get his first chance to run the show.
This isn't just Wilson's fourth season at Indiana, this is his fourth season as a head coach, anywhere. I believe the absolute best step for this program, right now, is to grow with him. Maybe it'll take a little longer than we'd like, but we've watched this program our entire lives, where did we suddenly get the idea that this would be a quick fix? I've certainly been guilty of knee-jerk coaching evaluations after bad losses, but is firing Wilson and bringing in yet another high-major assistant or mid-major HC going to fix anything?
Or will we just backslide into the 1-2 win inaugural season, followed by a handful of 3-4 win seasons before we fire him, too? I, for one, am willing to give Kevin Wilson more time to build up his machine than any other coach has been given in this program since Bill Mallory. If for no other reason than the alternative has proven unworkable.