Remember when only one men’s basketball head coaching job opened up at a Power 5 football school last spring and everyone wondered out loud: Will the college football coaching carousel come squeaking to a halt in 2020, or at least be set to slower music and feature smaller horses?
[A disheveled Will Muschamp walks through your grandma’s kitchen on Thanksgiving, profusely sweating, with a comically oversized gameshow check for more than $13 million]
It turns out the answer to the question above is an emphatic “No.”
South Carolina, Southern Miss, Utah State and Vanderbilt are now open, and if a Big Job, like Michigan or Texas, comes open this season, then things will definitely feel like it’s business as usual.
Unfortunately for Indiana fans, that means Tom Allen’s name is going to get brought up and sometimes it’s going to get brought up in conversations where it doesn’t belong.
On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg threw out Allen’s name as someone that Vanderbilt should “make a run at” after the school fired Derek Mason.
Should be some interesting names for #Vanderbilt. After Mason, VU might prioritize HC experience. Should make a run at Indiana's Tom Allen and others (Lance Leipold, Willie Fritz, Jay Norvell, Skip Holtz). Top coordinator candidates are ND's Clark Lea, Clemson's Tony Elliott.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 29, 2020
Not only would Allen be taking a pay cut if he assumed Mason’s old salary starting tomorrow, but such a move would result in Allen going to one of the few Power 5 programs that has a similar football history, or at least standing, as Indiana.
Plus, if you want to play a fun, distorted transitive property game, the coach who preceded Mason (James Franklin) worked magic in three seasons at Vandy, only to take one of the 10 or 15 best jobs in the country.
Well, Allen’s Indiana team beat Franklin’s Penn State team this season and as far as I can tell, the Hoosiers currently have the Nittany Lions’s soul stored in an old, rusty locket that was shoved into an empty grape Karkov handle, filled with rocks and thrown into the depths of Lake Monroe, where in 2028, a 20-year-old who’s on Boats will someday stumble across it during Little 5 week while he’s fleeing DNR officers.
“What is this?” he’ll ask himself, as he rubs mud off of the locket. Then an apparition of the left pylon in Memorial Stadium’s north end zone will appear and tell him, “That –– that is Penn State football. They used to be good,” before vanishing.
The 20-year-old will somehow get off with a written warning for minor in possession, largely because of his Indianapolis Colts Michael Penix jersey.
Maybe it’s for one season and one season only – although Tom Allen seems to be building a sustainable, at-least-mid-level Big Ten East competitor without taking any shortcuts – but right now, Indiana is currently better than the team that’s coached by the best coach Vandy has ever had in the modern era of college football.
So don’t get yourself worked up over an 0-8 Commodores squad that didn’t take a single snap inside Missouri’s 30-yard line in a 41-0 shutout last weekend. That’s not worth your time nor energy. And we (probably) won’t write about every single head coach opening that Tom Allen is credibly or non-credibly tied to online.
But all this goes to say that each coaching rumor, regardless of its legitimacy, is a compliment. It’s a compliment to Tom Allen. It’s a compliment to Indiana’s football program.
It’s a compliment to you, Unquestionably Loyal Indiana Football Fan. There’s a chance that no one’s complimented you in a while, so whatever you’re doing, keep it up. Whatever you grilled last weekend looked great. You have a great taste in beer, too. We’re proud of you.
As the holiday season approaches, if your school’s head coach appears on another school’s wish list, there’s a pretty good chance that means that your school is enjoying, or has enjoyed, some level of success. And when you have success, others want it.
Better to be 5-1, ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and have your head coach even casually discussed for an open SEC job than to not have any of that, right?
Each coaching candidates slideshow that’s designed to farm clicks online is a compliment to those coaches and schools that are listed, so fight through the initial hurt or confusion, Unquestionably Loyal Indiana Football Fan, and remember that the Hoosiers’s Big Ten Semifinal matchup in Columbus and the wins that preceded it are why we’re here.
With very few exceptions, the job of Indiana football coach is probably one that, in its history, has vacillated between the 50th and 64th-best Power 5 coaching job, out of 64. That sounds like a pretty depressing discussion to have, so I’m going to steer clear of it, but the point is that there will almost always be a better job than Indiana that opens in the annual coaching carousel, so if Indiana’s coach at the moment is having a Tom-Allen-in-2020 season, then of course his name will come up at some point.
There are reasons to stay in Bloomington, sure. For Allen specifically, it’s because of his ties to the state, the level of trust and faith that Indiana (particularly former AD Fred Glass) showed in naming him head coach after Kevin Wilson’s departure, and the fact that his son Thomas, who’s a redshirt junior, could theoretically play for two more seasons in Bloomington.
Those are three non-inconsequential reasons, in this blogger’s humble opinion, each one a door that could lead to a bigger, longer contract that keeps Allen in Indiana for a while.
Then there’s the really heavy, moss-covered Door No. 4, which is only talked about in whispers and whose existence is only rumored. No one’s even tried to open it since Bill Mallory in the early ‘90s.
Behind Door No. 4 is the transformation of Indiana from one of the 10 or 15 worst Power 5 jobs historically into, say, the 40th-best job. Or 37th. Maybe 44th. Somewhere in there.
Hell, Barry Alvarez opened up a version of Door No. 4 nearly 30 years ago.
If all goes according to plan this season, the Hoosiers will play four more games. While providing the proper disclaimer about the uncertainty of Michael Penix Jr.’s health and the unproven nature of his backup Jack Tuttle, it’s not unreasonable to think that the Hoosiers can expect to win at least two, if not three or four, of those remaining games.
If Indiana is able to find three more wins, it will have stacked back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 1987-88, which have been seasons that have served as the goal posts so often in the last three and a half decades. Wins over Ohio State and Michigan. A Peach Bowl. A bowl win, of any kind.
If Tom Allen can make a habit out of doing the kinds of things that Indiana football only experiences once every other generation or so, he’ll have a statue built in his honor somewhere on campus in 20 or 30 years. Allen is only in Year 4 of his tenure and only in Year 2 of Hypothetical Path To A Statue, but right now, he might have the second-best team and the second-best quarterback in the Big Ten at a school that took a chance on him that no other school has, which is also where he now coaches his son and where Allen might spill a few drops of blood once or twice a season from celebrating too enthusiastically on the sideline.
There are a lot of schools that can offer a lot that Indiana can’t.
And Indiana offers things to Allen that other schools can’t, too.