Bloomington has seen a few different characters come through town as Indiana head football coaches.
There was Kevin Wilson, whose personality filled a room, bringing the program into the 21st century after a stint at Oklahoma. Then there was Tom Allen, whose Love Each Other message was heartwarming and winning until it wasn’t.
Curt Cignetti is neither of those guys.
When he took the podium at memorial stadium on Friday he did so as a man who’d occupied the head chair since 2011. He doesn’t need to learn who he is as a coach or about a job he’s worked and excelled in for over a decade.
And he doesn’t care about anything that happened before he set foot in Memorial Stadium.
“There is no reason why we can’t be successful, pack the stadium, and be a source of pride to the entire university and town and state of Indiana,” Cignetti said. “We’re going to change the culture, the mindset, the expectation level, and improve the brand of Indiana Hoosier football. There will be no self-imposed limitations on what we can accomplish. It will be a day-by-day process that is hinged on being focused on the present moment and improving as much daily as possible to put yourself in the best position tomorrow.”
There’s always going to be outside voices dismissing what Indiana can do on the gridiron, especially after Cignetti’s bold proclamation to the crowd at Assembly Hall later that night. He doesn’t care about that either.
It’s easy to say good things into a mic after being hired. Almost everyone wins the day one press conference. But few have as much of a track record to back it up as Cignetti. He’s not a guy selling a WORD vision. He’s telling us what he’s already done.
Indiana isn’t the first tough job he’s taken on as a coach.
Elon went 1-11, 4-7 and then 2-9 in the three years before he took the gig. The Phoenix finished 8-4 and in the FCS top-25 during his first season. Cignetti had more than a vision for Elon, he had a plan.
“Their won-loss record before I went there was like 7-45 or something like that, right? Put the blueprint in, the plan,” Cignetti said. “After nine games we were 8-1, played JMU for the conference championship.”
The Phoenix lost to James Madison to end that first season. That wasn’t the case one year later, when they ended a lengthy JMU winning streak. It was enough to convince the Dukes administration to hire him after the season was over.
Cignetti took an already impressive JMU program and kept the standards high, leading the Dukes to three national semifinals in as many years and into the FBS. If not for NCAA rules, they’d be playing for the conference championship this weekend. In year two at the FBS level.
He accomplished this by means of a thorough recruiting approach, smart staff hires and a dedication to process. To put it simply, Indiana hired a Ball Coach.
Cignetti doesn’t have some magical scheme, he’s not necessarily gonna chase big names on the recruiting trail for the sake of it and he’s won’t base his program off of intangible concepts.
His JMU quarterbacks winning conference offensive player of year speaks for itself. He doesn’t care about star ratings, his staff knows the recruits better than evaluators do. NIL is simple mathematics to him, not that hard at all.
We just haven’t seen this type of coach at Indiana before, at least not in recent memory. Maybe this is what the program needs to finally start making some noise on a consistent basis.
Rest assured, there’s a plan for that.