It's time for Fred Glass to extend Kevin Wilson's contract and keep the strong identity and positive momentum rolling in Bloomington.
Kevin Wilson has 20 wins (only 8 of which coming from B1G opponents) over the course of five years at Indiana, hardly an ideal record for any head coach. But Indiana is not your normal college football head coaching job. And after yesterday's 54-36 win over Purdue - along with an imperfect but ultimately successful season - Wilson deserves to stay at IU and finish the rebuilding job.
I'm probably the most critical person on our staff about Kevin Wilson's tenure at Indiana. Many moments during his tenure have tested my patience, a necessary virtue for a program that has seen one winning season since the end of the Bill Mallory days. At times, the defensive struggles have overshadowed the fact that Wilson has built one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. His play calling sometimes comes into question, especially in late game situations. In addition, the collapse against Rutgers still is unfathomable, near-losses to Southern Illinois and Wake Forest raised the blood pressure, and watching heartbreakers in person against Ohio State and Michigan resulted in many questions during the long two-hour drives from Memorial Stadium back to my house. The #CHAOSTEAM overwhelms me at times, and I can't imagine what it's like to actually be on the field during these games.
All that being said, the positives still outweigh the negatives when it comes to Indiana football. Under Wilson, The Hoosiers have built something that not many other teams of its stature have - an identity. When you watch an IU football game, you've come to expect specific things: A team that can put up several points on any team in the country, featuring a speedy offense that is built on a talented offensive line and strong attacks both on the ground and in the air. This identity has also now produced the all-time leader in passing yards at IU in Nate Sudfeld, a 2,000-yard rusher in Tevin Coleman, a bruising chain-mover in Jordan Howard, and an NFL-caliber wide receiver in Cody Latimer.
Having this identity is important - it attracts recruits, makes the Hoosiers a good candidate for TV viewing (they frequented the 3:30pm ABC Big Ten slot this season), and is a breath of fresh air from the ground-and-pound "three yards and a cloud of dust" and "punting is winning" reputations that the conference has. If you're a recruit who wants to play in a fast spread offense in the B1G (with more balance than the pass-happy air raids), Wilson and IU offer this for you. The identity has also led to former Hoosiers getting playtime on Sundays too, as Coleman and Latimer can attest. Without this identity, Indiana could take several years to find itself a new one.
Wilson has been thrust into one of the toughest coaching situations in the Power 5 conferences. Despite being located in a mid-sized state, Wilson and IU have to compete against two other major programs, including college football blue-blood Notre Dame. In the B1G East, the Hoosiers will now have to face four other blue-bloods - Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State - once a year for the near future. Wilson has only ever defeated one of these schools (Penn State in 2013). However, it still seems Wilson's signature B1G win has yet to come. But each of the past two Septembers, Indiana has won a non-conference game against a ten-win team. Missouri was the victim last year, and this season, WKU finished 10-2 and could be a top-25 team next week. The ability to grab the big win is there - it just hasn't quite happened in the conference yet.
With the amount of progress and program-building that Indiana has made under Wilson, reaching six wins and a bowl game after three seasons full of close calls was an important milestone to reach. And with a third straight Bucket victory yesterday, Wilson accomplished this goal - even despite six straight losses and a ton of heartbreak. For a program that has only been to one bowl game since 1993, getting to the postseason is a huge deal, and validates the hard work that everyone around the program has put in year after year. To blow this up - or even to let Wilson walk to another job - doesn't make sense at this point.
So why an extension for Wilson? Well, when he started at IU in 2011, he was given a seven-year contract. At this point, he only has two years remaining on his current deal, which is worth $1.2 million per year. Going into the next recruiting season with only two years left on his deal might make recruits reluctant to commit to him, especially since most plan to play four years at a school, and often stick around for five due to redshirting. Extending Wilson would give recruits the confidence that IU believes in him, and that they want him to stick around. When Illinois announced yesterday that interim coach Bill Cubit would be returning on a two-year deal, many commentators called it a shortsighted move by the Illini, one that doesn't guarantee that he'll be around to try and build a program in Champaign.
Additionally, Wilson's salary is low for a power 5 coach, much less one of the B1G, where his salary puts him 13th in the conference, ahead of only Kyle Flood. According to this USA Today database, his salary is similar to Scott Shafer's at Syracuse (who was recently fired), and Justin Fuente's at Memphis (who will most likely be taking over at Virginia Tech next season). Getting to 6-6 at IU - something that hasn't been done in Bloomington in 8 years and hadn't been done for 14 years before that - might even make Wilson a target for programs with higher-paying jobs, of which there are many available right now.
And yesterday's result would have huge for the Hoosiers even if bowl eligibility hadn't been on the line. Indiana has now won the Old Oaken Bucket three times in the row for the first time since the late 1940s. Of the two B1G football programs in the Hoosier State, IU is the one with the momentum right now. Indiana isn't as big of a hotbed of high school talent as states like Florida or Texas, but the playmakers in the state are here, and Indiana has made strides in recruiting under Wilson. Once again, it's all about momentum and identity - two things Indiana has on its side right now.
Is this the start of a football renaissance at IU? Perhaps it's too early to say - Sudfeld is gone after this season, and my instinct is that Howard will be too. Their accomplishments on the field will be hard to replace next season. In addition, the B1G schedule will increase to nine games next year, and the Hoosiers will of course have to face Michigan and Ohio State on the road. But after five years, Wilson has earned the right to keep leading the Hoosiers there, and he deserves an extension.