A few days before Indiana traveled to Florida for the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl, intrepid IndyStar beat writer Zach Osterman tracked down folks inside IU’s football program to get some of their best Tom Allen stories from the recruiting trail.
You see, weeks earlier, Allen’s appetite gained legendary status after this anecdote from a former Allen recruiting target made the rounds on Twitter:
True Story: Coach Allen came to my house recruiting me for college. My mom made a lasagna for everyone. By the time this man left the house (3 hours) he had eaten 4 huge plates of it. He had won me over and I signed. It was incredible— Taylor Carney (@TaylorCarney90) November 14, 2020
Fun stuff. Anyway, Osterman pulled some juicy details from those who know Allen best, including this particular tale from receivers coach Grant Heard, who shared a story about the IU coach, his aversion to all things spicy, and his decision to pretend to be an adventurous eater on a recruiting trip to New Orleans: (Editor’s note: if you didn’t read Zach’s story at the time of publication, you ought to check it out now.)
“Down south, there’s no such thing as a small bowl of gumbo,” Heard said, speaking after a recent practice. “They put this huge bowl of gumbo in front of him. Bite after bite, his face became redder than this background behind me. After each bite, he had to take a sip of Sprite. By the time he got halfway through the bowl, he had seven Sprites around him.”
Heard finally convinced Allen to let him finish the gumbo. Then mom brought out pot roast.
“In his mind, Midwesterner, pot roast, it can’t be that bad, it’s normal pot roast,” Heard said, by this point stifling a laugh. “Once again, down in New Orleans, they putt a little kick in their pot roast. He started eating that pot roast, and it was probably spicier than the gumbo. Eventually, I took that from him too, after he’d now probably downed 12 Sprites.”
The meal finished with cheesecake, drizzled with cherry syrup.
“The one dessert Tom does not like is cheesecake with cherry sauce on it. That was the one dessert they had,” Heard said. “She put three ladlefuls of cherry sauce on it. He would take a bite, and somehow, some way — I was watching — he would plug his nose. It was like pain and agony for him to swallow that cheesecake.”
The visit went on for 2-3 more hours. Heard couldn’t stop laughing when it was over. Allen actually missed his flight to make another recruiting visit the next day (he was still recovering) and the kid wound up going to LSU instead.
The New Orleans story received another pump of oxygen on Thursday afternoon when Allen appeared on The Jim Rome Show to talk about IU’s 2020 rise, his approach to leadership and the expectations for quarterback Michael Penix. Before ending the conversation, Rome asked Allen for his side of the gumbo story. In doing so, the longtime talk show host pulled out a few more details — and a lesson to be learned.
“That was a brutal, brutal home visit,” Allen said Thursday. “But you know what? You gotta do what you gotta do. You can’t upset mama. Mama fixed it, so I was going to eat it. it was probably the longest meal of my life. It had lasting ramifications for my internal system and the way that I functioned after that. But the bottom line is you gotta do what you gotta do to make it a great visit for the family. That meant enduring a very difficult, long, very, very spicy meal that I’ll never forget.”
As for the moral?
“I’ve learned this,” Allen said. “I tell our coaches, ‘Man, just tell them to order pizza.’ When you do that, everything else is pretty good.”