Indiana football head coach Tom Allen sat before the media for the final time of the 2022 regular season.
He’d done so many times before, joking about the “Indinia” misspelling when the season was young, knuckles white against the podium as he questioned a targeting call on Micah McFadden and with a soft voice in the tunnels of the Big House after the Hoosiers started Donaven McCulley much earlier than anticipated due to piling injuries at the position.
In the postgame press conference against Minnesota the previous week, he’d yelled “Beat Purdue” as he walked out the door.
This time, he’d just coached through a 44-7 loss to the Boilermakers in Ross-Ade Stadium. He was calm, ready for what the media had to ask. It was here that he described a “pruning process” of the team that was yet to come.
Less than 24 hours later, offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan was fired.
In the following weeks, Allen would welcome one of the highest-rated high school signing classes in program history, see multiple players enter and leave through the transfer portal and bid farewell to running backs coach Deland McCullough and wide receivers coach Grant Heard, both of whom found coaching opportunities elsewhere.
Allen had a signing class to keep in the fold and momentum to sustain, he had to be swift in finding replacements.
Offensive coordinator was at the top of that list and Allen found Walt Bell, a former head coach at UMass where the Minutemen went 2-23 under his watch. Allen didn’t know Bell as a person, but knew him as a coach after coaching against him when the latter was Maryland’s offensive coordinator from 2016-17.
Allen, a defensive-minded coach, has always described his offensive coordinator as needing to be the head coach of the offense. That’s where Bell’s experience in the big chair came into play.
And as soon as Bell arrived in Bloomington he was gone again, on the road recruiting to maintain that ballyhooed recruiting class and maybe lure a few more into it.
Not too long after, Allen had to replace McCullough and Heard. The former was the larger blow of the two, Indiana had lured McCullough back from the NFL just one year prior.
That NFL label came with a recruiting advantage. When on the road or with prospects on official visits, McCullough could show off the Super Bowl ring he won with Kansas City and share how he coached stars like Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Le’Veon Bell.
And it appears Allen valued that.
Indiana delved back into the NFL world for replacements and found Craig Johnson to coach running backs and Adam Henry to coach wide receivers.
Johnson has a long history coaching in the college ranks, having done so at West Point, Rutgers, Northwestern and Maryland before making the leap to the NFL in 2000. He eventually found himself as running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans, coaching Chris Johnson to a 1,364-yard rushing season in 2010.
But Johnson’s biggest claim to fame can be found in 2018, where he helped guide Saquon Barkley to a rookie of the year season.
For the wide receivers, Allen hired Adam Henry, who most recently coached the same position for the Dallas Cowboys. Henry, who has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from McNeese State, had been in the NFL for a few years and was looking for a change.
Not long after his hiring, the program was sending graphics of Henry with former pupils Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, CeeDee Lamb and others out to recruits. The kinds of players recruits grew up watching.
The message is clear, come to Indiana if you want to be coached like a pro.
Moves like this come with some obvious advantages. Johnson and Henry can show film of stars they coach and compare it to that of recruits on official visits. If a recruit has his sights set on the NFL, the two can tell them how the league works, what front offices value in scouting.
That’s incredibly valuable, but it carries a potential risk.
Indiana can post graphics like this because these coaches are clearly good and have been there before. And the NFL tends to want coaches like that back.
It was at a much different scale mind you, but that’s what happened to Joe Brady after LSU’s historic 2019 season. The same thing reportedly happened to McCullough after 2021, according to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.
SOURCE: Deland McCullough had an opportunity to become a top-paid RB coach in the NFL w/ the Giants, and working with Brian Daboll was tempting but he's staying at Notre Dame. He came back to college to position himself to be a head coach and believes success at ND will do that.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) February 6, 2022
McCullough made the move that was best for him in the end, but an offer like that would prove tempting for just about anyone, especially if there aren’t tangible results on the field.
Allen is experimenting with the NFL here, and only time will tell if an approach like this will work.