This is a continuation of our 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 previous and future series entries here.
Fred Glass named Tom Allen head coach after a murky and strange end to the Kevin Wilson era without conducting a formal head coaching search. Almost immediately, Indiana fans were ready to write Allen off as a bust of a hire.
To this day, a simple search of “#IUFB” on ole Twitter dot com will provide you with a bunch of eggs clamoring for Allen’s firing already, suggesting he’s just another number in the history book of IU football coaches, he’s the same coach we’ve seen a hundred times, 5-7 over and over again, etc. Those takes are short-sighted and belong to those who either refuse to see the big picture or are impatient.
Allen has coached in a division with always-loaded Ohio State, talent-littered Michigan, and solid, sanction-free Penn State—the first time all of those have existed in the same division in a long time. It’s his first head coaching gig in college football and it’s with a historically-losing program in a ridiculously loaded, top-heavy conference, which carries even more baggage than simply having to face elite teams nearly every other week.
These are not excuses. They’re real, authentic circumstances. Is the conference record good? No, it’s actually quite bad. Is losing back-to-back bucket games good? No, especially coming off of four straight wins.
Has his on-field performance, especially compared to IU teams of the past, been bad? No, that’s been “eh, fine, I guess” overall. There hasn’t been that “breakthrough” moment yet. No upset, no bowl win, nothing. In terms of IU teams of the past decade, he’s right on par with what fans have come to expect.
He has also had perhaps the best offseason in IU football history. The not-so-innovative leader of his young offense last year—Mike DeBord—walked into retirement. He was replaced by a young and innovative mind in Kalen DeBoer, who has flipped offenses from dull to exciting as quickly as Ty Pennington flipped houses on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. During his time at Fresno State, he turned an offense that ranked 120 nationally to number 47 in just two seasons. The Bulldogs also became the second team in FBS history to win 10+ games after losing 10+ games in the previous season.
In terms of recruiting, Allen secured a commitment from the highest-rated recruit in program history.
Then he did it again.
He made a high school running back who was in line to follow in the footsteps of Ezekiel Elliot and Carlos Hyde change his mind to join in building a program. You can’t win games in the summer, but what more can you realistically ask for in an offseason?
Finally—and I cannot stress this enough—coaches, especially first-time head coaches, are not miracle workers. There is no magic potion. Yes, there are guys like Jeff Brohm who can take a basement-lurking team to a bowl game in just two years, but replace Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State with Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern on the Indiana schedule each year, and perhaps Indiana goes bowling, too.
The point is, the Indiana football program’s identity was closer to “lose games in exciting and also frustrating fashion” to anything else when Allen arrived. It takes time to build a program and culture, which is the whole point of Tom Allen being in Bloomington. Fred Glass didn’t make this hire to flip the program on a dime. He hired Allen to build a program. He isn’t Ty Pennington—he’s the architect. There is no beautifying something—a program and identity, in this case—that hardly exists in the first place.
Allen has shown he’s building something that has some traction, but there is a lot left to be done. How will he and Indiana take the next step this season?
Current grade: B