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What Darren Hiller’s firing means for Indiana football

Will this be the start of a new era?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

As Luke reported earlier, Tom Allen made a big splash Sunday morning, announcing that Darren Hiller would no longer be with the program.

Hiller’s unit was clearly holding the team back this year, and the line play had been trending downward since he took over in 2017. It was obvious that something needed to be done, but we just weren’t sure that Tom Allen would be able to pull the trigger when it came down to it.

To me, Allen taking such a drastic action is the most significant part of the news. While it’s unclear, in hindsight, whether Hiller or Sheridan was more to blame for last year’s offensive struggles, watching Indiana go out and lose in the same way every single game was Awful. Tom’s loyalty and love for his staff and players worked against him in a big way for the first time.

It’s even tougher to watch this team underperform in the age of the transfer portal, as Indiana experienced with the exodus of just about the entire running back room over the past couple of seasons. Each time Indiana wasted an inspired defensive performance because of poor offensive line play this season makes me even more afraid of losing some of the superb young talent to the portal.

This isn’t to say that things will immediately get better, or even that the season is salvageable at this point. Rod Carey hasn’t been an offensive line coach in over a decade, and that was in the MAC, before he moved on to offensive coordinator then to head coach at Northern Illinois from 2012-18. His 2011 group at Northern posted an impressive PFF score of 75.1 in the pass block, but a concerning 48.3 on the run.

That pass blocking grade would be a significant improvement if he can even slightly recreate it with this year’s group, which is currently posting a 46.1 in that category, and even the low run blocking grade from Carey’s 2011 team would be an improvement of .3 over 2022 Indiana.

I’m also intrigued by his background as an offensive coordinator, however briefly, and fairly successful head coaching record at Northern Illinois, where he beat four Big Ten opponents in his six year tenure.

Don’t Google how he did at Temple.

The other big takeaway, for me, is that we should probably withhold judgement on Walt Bell for the rest of this season. He’s clearly had the deck stacked against him with the line play to this point with the way the line has played so far, and I don’t think it’s fair to expect Carey to have this mess cleaned up any time soon.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Allen keeps Carey in this spot full time or if he will once again be hiring new offensive staff this offseason. It seems incredibly fortunate to have already had somebody with so much offensive line coaching on the staff, but who knows if Carey even wants to re-enter the world of recruiting after working mostly behind the scenes at Indiana.

I am glad Tom Allen chose not to go down with the ship here and hope the firing can inspire some better play out of the team as a whole, as Scott Frost’s dismissal has apparently done for Nebraska. He may have the opportunity this offseason to improve an offensive coaching hiring record that’s been pretty hit or miss so far in his tenure, though it’s still way too early to speculate how he and the school will navigate the financial situation following Hiller’s buyout.

Overall, this was obviously a positive development for Indiana as a whole, and demonstrates that Tom Allen is dedicated to his players and winning enough to make difficult decisions with his staff. There’s no way to tell how it’ll play out on the field, but it honestly probably couldn’t get much worse, so I will be watching with a newfound optimism and investment that would have been unthinkable in the immediate wake of the Michigan loss.