Luckily for me, I was at work Saturday during the Minnesota game, as I will be again this coming Saturday for the Old Oaken Bucket Game, which promises to be equally disappointing. In lieu of recapping a game I wasn’t able to watch, and truthfully wouldn’t have been interested in revisiting, now feels like a good time to review all of the major moves Tom Allen has made on his coaching staff since he took over in 2016.
Even on the heels of last year’s unexpectedly successful season, Allen was praised more for his ability as a motivator and a recruiter than as an Xs and Os guru. The image of Allen being mobbed by his players following an impressive victory in Madison last season epitomizes his coaching style and this program at its absolute best.
Until Indiana football becomes a consistent winner in the Big Ten East, Allen’s ability to find, recruit, and retain quality coaches will be among the most important parts of his job. Many hoped that Indiana would make strides towards being that kind of program this year, but the results speak for themselves at this point. As things stand today, good assistants at Indiana will continue to be poached by more storied programs while retaining bad assistant coaches (you know who I am talking about) will threaten the team’s chances at ever becoming a consistent winner.
That said, let’s take a look at the hires Allen has made so far as the head coach at Indiana University.
- Mike DeBord: 2017-18
- Kalen DeBoer: 2019
- Nick Sheridan: 2020-present
Of Tom Allen’s assistant staff, the offensive coordinator role has given him the most trouble, by far. After the disastrous offensive efforts this season, good for dead last in offensive efficiency in the conference, two of Allen’s three hires have simply not worked at Indiana. DeBoer is the exception on the list, though his endorsement of Nick Sheridan as his successor clearly hasn’t worked out.
- Allen, himself: 2016-18
- Kane Womack: 2018-20
- Charlton Warren: 2021-present
Aside from trying to serve as both head coach and defensive coordinator at the beginning of his head coaching career, Allen has done pretty well at building, then maintaining, a hard-nosed defense in Bloomington. His success with defensive hires may simply be a reflection of his own knowledge of defensive schemes and coaching, but it’s a nice contrast to the mixed success he’s had at hiring offensive coordinators. Warren is still proving himself, especially since the defense has regressed at times since the beginning of the season. Still, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt considering how good the defense looked early on despite some major departures in the secondary and the fact that the unit has been asked to do almost everything for this team to keep games competitive.
- Mike Hart, running backs coach: 2017-20
- Deland McCullough, running backs coach: 2021-present
- Brandon Shelby*, cornerbacks coach/assistant head coach: 2010-present
- Darren Hiller, offensive line coach: 2017-present
- Jason Jones, safeties coach: 2020-present
- Kevin Peoples, defensive line coach: 2020-present
- Kevin Wright, tight ends coach: 2020-present
- Kasey Teegardin*, special teams coach: 2020-present
*these guys were technically hired by Kevin Wilson but seemed worthy of inclusion on this list because Tom Allen retained and then promoted them both since he took over.
With one glaring exception, Darren Hiller, Allen has also done a pretty good job at filling his positional assistant roles. Mike Hart was huge for the program, both as a recruiter and coach, so the fact that Allen was able to replace him with McCullough should be very encouraging to Hoosier fans. McCullough made Indiana Running Back U for a short period, left to get a Super Bowl ring, then rejoined Allen alongside his highly-recruited sons. Both Brandon Shelby and Jason Jones have done excellent work with the defensive secondary, making Rashard Fant, Tiawan Mullen, and Jamar Johnson household names among the Indiana faithful. Kevin Peoples’s defensive line hasn’t always looked dominant, but under his instruction in 2020, the group led the conference in sacks for the first time in program history. And even under Nick Sheridan’s offense, Kevin Wright has been able to make the tight end group something of a bright spot.
Outside of some bad offensive coordinator hires, Allen has actually done a pretty solid job of building a quality coaching staff. He should have a chance to improve his record in that area this offseason, anyway. One other glaring concern is how infrequently he’s fired somebody. Even DeBord announced a “retirement” of sorts before Allen could cut ties. Otherwise, Allen has mostly had to make changes when his guys were hired away for a different job. Hopefully his #LEO mantra does not extend to giving his underperforming coordinators the benefit of the doubt, though one could argue that he would be doing a great disservice to his players if he doesn’t make these tough decisions after the season ends next weekend.
Allen will likely need to dedicate a significant amount of attention to the transfer portal as well this offseason, but there’s no reason to think he cannot get Indiana back on the upswing the program seemed to be on following the 2019 and 2020 seasons if he continues to make good hires on his coaching staff. Scott Dolson can also help himself immensely if he allows Allen to write some blank checks to fill these spots.
Here’s to hoping.