This is the second entry in what will be a series of posts breaking down each major hire that IU Vice President and Director of Athletics Fred Glass has made during his tenure. You can find future series entries here.
If Fred Glass’ first hire was easy, relatively speaking, his second hire one year later could not have been more different.
After 12 wins across his final three seasons at the helm, IU football coach Bill Lynch was fired in late November of 2010, setting off a coaching search.
With the men’s soccer search, the program had produced enough talent on the field and on the sidelines that it was easy to bring back a former Hoosier. The football program, though, did not have the same luxury, making the coaching search a wide open one. Names like Randy Shannon, the former Miami head coach, were tossed around while Glass interviewed Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren.
But it was someone outside the Big Ten and outside Glass’ original scope that quickly became the favorite. After countless seasons engineering record-breaking offenses, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was a name recommended to Glass by collegiate sports consulting group Neinas Sports Services consultant Chuck Neinas.
Blessed with an abundance of talent with the Sooners, Wilson helped put up video game numbers in Oklahoma. With Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford in 2008, the Sooners averaged a staggering 547.9 yards per game on offense and scored 51.1 points per game.
It didn’t take long for Glass to fall in love with Wilson. An interview took place in the Sooners’ lead up to the Big 12 title game and, as he told the Tulsa World, Glass knew right away he had found the next head coach.
“As soon as we shut the (airplane) door. I turned ... and said, ‘That’s our guy.’”
“I was about to burst because when I left that meeting with him earlier, I knew he was the guy. Indiana University got our guy.”
Wilson stepped into his first head coaching gig but wasn’t dealt many favors with the implementation of the Big Ten’s divisions that, to say the least, left IU with a daunting conference schedule year in and year out. He won one game his first season against FCS opponent South Carolina State. His first win against an FBS school wouldn’t come until week two of his second season when the Hoosiers defeated UMass. But again, the Hoosiers stumbled. His first conference win didn’t come until his 12th attempt when Indiana beat Illinois in October of 2012.
A bizarre set of circumstances with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for postseason play due to postseason sanctions actually had the Hoosiers in play for a conference title game after back-to-back wins before a blowout loss to Wisconsin ended that pipe dream.
The 2013 season started optimistically but also began a frustrating pattern. With a 73-35 win over Indiana State in the opener, Wilson had clearly brought the offense with him to Bloomington. But #CHAOSTEAM really took full affect as Indiana started 3-2, lost three straight games, then went 2-2 down the stretch with a Old Oaken Bucket win as well.
Wilson’s tenure likely could not be summed up better than the start of 2014 when Indiana narrowly beat Indiana State, lost to Bowling Green and then went to Missouri and beat a Tigers team that would go on to win the SEC East. The Hoosiers were then handled by a middling Maryland team, beat North Texas and lost six-straight games to miss out on bowl eligibility, including the game that spawned #PuntWeek against Penn State.
Wilson finally turned the corner in 2015, winning the first four games before #CHAOSTEAM-ing its way to a 34-27 loss to No. 1 Ohio State, blowing a 25-point second-half lead to Rutger and losing in double overtime to Michigan. Finally, though, Indiana returned to a bowl game with victories in back-to-back must-win games against Maryland and Purdue. Indiana would fall to Duke (because the refs failed to realize that the kick was good) but the momentum was there.
Wilson made history in 2016 as the momentum continued to build, returning the Hoosiers to a bowl game with a fourth-straight win over Purdue with the expected amount of chaos mixed in. It was the first time since the 1990s Indiana had made back-to-back bowl games.
But when Indiana looked to be at its highest, everything came crumbling down in a way only applicable to Indiana football. Officially, “philosophical differences” were cited as the reason for Wilson stepping down. The exact details are still murky at best. Knowing what we know, or think we know, with all the allegations that came out in the aftermath, Glass appeared to play it safe by firing Wilson with a qualified candidate in-house worth promoting in Tom Allen.
The circumstances surrounding the exit make it a hard hire to grade. Wilson did what Indiana needed him to do on the field, building the program up and setting it up for the future. But it came with a cost that led to his firing. As we move away from the situation, fair or foul, Wilson’s tenure likely will be seen in a brighter light. For now, it’s still hard to look at it as such.