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Indiana football coaching search: Q&A with Patrick Mayhorn

Talking Ball.

Indiana v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

If you’re curious about the Indiana football coaching gig, you’re not alone.

We’re close and aware of the program, but we sought out some national knowledge with the search in mind.

Patrick Mayhorn (of The Aggship, a Utah State sports outlet, Meet at Midfield, a national college football site and Flipping the Field, a college football podcast that covers all of college football) joined us to discuss the job.

Here’s what he had to say:

As for the job, what do you view as the challenges and obstacles to overcome externally?

A lot of this is the same as it had been. Indiana is a has-not relative to the Big Ten, and though the challenges of that have shifted in this new era (read: portal/NIL), I don’t think they’re significantly harder or easier to address now than they’ve been forever. Indiana will have to overcome a gap in resources as it always has, and just isn’t going to be able to play with the level of talent that exists at the top of this league. It is not a death knell, but the job is hard, and Indiana needs to be creative in at least one of the three stages (talent acquisition, development and deployment) to win football games.

Looking at the landscape, is this an alright hiring cycle to be looking for a new head coach so far at least?

Yeah, I think there are some solid options out there. It’s not the best talent pool ever, but it’s not specifically bad. It works in Indiana’s favor that a lot of the programs currently leading the G5 ranks are helmed by coaches with a significant knock against them, primarily age for guys like Willie Fritz and Curt Cignetti. It’s a weaker year for P5 coordinators, but there are a lot of proven G5 head coaches who, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten a ton of attention elsewhere. That’s a product of individual circumstances, but it’s also a benefit of the recent focus on poaching sitting P5 head coaches for high-level openings.

What do you believe it takes to win at a place like Indiana, especially now?

Really, you just have to have A Thing that sets you apart. I’m not sure that there’s a single right or wrong niche for this job, but whoever gets the job needs to bring a distinct identity. The only wrong answer is a hire like Maryland made with Mike Locksley, of a coach who just wants to build like OSU/UM/PSU but without the resources those schools have. You aren’t going to do it better than those schools do, and at best, you’ll be stuck around bowl eligible and unable to move beyond that. Indiana has to have a way to distinguish itself from other schools at a similar level, whether that’s scheme, player development, a recruiting niche or some combination of the three. I would caution against a “portal guy” because there are already some diminishing returns there, but that’s more personal preference.

You’re Indiana’s AD. Who are the first three names on your list?

Kane Wommack gets the first call. He has the connections to the program, and while the overall record may not fully reflect this, he’s done a very good job of building South Alabama into a good Sun Belt program. That team is extremely physical and well-coached.

I’d probably move next to Willie Fritz if Wommack says no (which I don’t think would happen). He’s an older guy and not the longest term solution, but the days of a lifer in this sport are numbered anyway. Getting five or six good years from any pick would be a success, and doing it with a guy who retires rather than jumps for a bigger gig would be ideal because of potential continuity with an internal promotion. Fritz isn’t running the spread triple anymore, as he used to, but he’s done a tremendous job in a program that had very little success or resources when he arrived, and he’s as proven a program builder/sustainer as anyone available.

I could be talked into several guys as the No. 3 pick, but I’ll go with Sean Lewis just to switch things up a bit. You run the risk of a future poaching here, but you can’t avoid hiring a good coach for fear of eventually losing him. Lewis won in maybe the hardest FBS job at Kent State, his offense would make Indiana distinct in the Big Ten, and is extremely attractive to prospective recruits at both the high school and portal levels.