Sunday’s practice was a respite for Tom Allen, a much-needed return to normalcy.
It was also unlike anything the new Indiana football coach has experienced in his first year in Bloomington.
Right down to the reactions of his players.
“The kids gave me a hard time because, obviously, I’ve been focused on the defense the whole time,” Allen said. “Then, when the offense made a good play, they were like, ‘What are you going to do coach?’ I gotta cheer them, too.”
Since taking over Thursday morning for departed coach Kevin Wilson, Allen has spent the last five days adjusting to a new role atop the program, recreating a vision for Indiana football and identifying all the little things that add up to something potentially great.
“These past few days have been a whirlwind,” Allen said. “My schedule has changed a lot in terms of being able to deal with things that head coaches deal with, but also just because of the way things have transpired, it’s created a pretty crazy last few days.”
In between the craziness, Allen has enjoyed conversations with friends in the coaching fraternity. Those chats have allowed him to ask questions about his duties and seek insight, particularly from coaches who have been in similar transitions in the past.
Those conversations have provided Allen with a sense of guidance, and his friends have provided him with three main points to consider:
• Address the issues that need to be addressed.
• Be who you are.
• Attack the last game and finish the season strong.
“At this point, you’re trying to get everybody comfortable with what the direction is,” Allen said. “When something like this happens, there is just a lot of questions. Questions on the coaches, questions on their futures and everything. For me, it was a matter of calming everybody down and saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. This is the vision for now to get us to the bowl game,’ and planning a directive out.”
In terms of his coaching staff, Allen did have some juggling to do after Wilson’s departure.
With Wilson gone, offensive coordinator Kevin Johns will take more control over the offense and its playcalling. He’ll also focus positionally on working with IU’s receivers. Shawn Watson, who had been serving IU as a quality control assistant, has been promoted to quarterbacks coach.
It’s a natural fit for Watson, a former offensive coordinator at Texas, Louisville, Nebraska and Colorado. He was NFL quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s tutor while on the Louisville’s staff from 2011 to 2013.
That allows coach Watson to be on the road recruiting now. He’s allowed to be doing that now. … That’s a very good change. He’s a quality, quality guy to slide into that position. He’ll do an excellent job.”
It remains to be seen whether Watson or any other offensive assistant in particular remain on Allen’s staff following the bowl game. At least for now, Allen will also remain as IU’s defensive coordinator — a job the first-time head coach said he wants to devote his full attention toward.
“That is my strength,” Allen said during his introductory press conference. “That is the area that I know and really want to maximize my strengths as the head coach. Obviously I’m going to be leaning on our staff. We have a tremendous defensive staff here at Indiana, and those guys, their role will increase as my responsibilities grow.”
Those responsibilities are already growing for Allen, who spent nearly a decade serving as a defensive coordinator and head coach at Ben Davis from 1998 through 2006.
He’s planning practices and identifying the drills he wants to run. He’s writing out the meal schedule for players, and also figuring out the proper schedule for tutoring and academics one week ahead of final exams
“It’s been different,” Allen said, “but it’s also been good.”
Do you know what else was good? Allen’s Friday trip to Florida to see his son, Thomas, a 2017 Indiana commit, play for Plant High School in the Class 7A state semifinals.
Thomas Allen, a linebacker, helped Plant to a 27-19 win over Jacksonville Robert E. Lee and a trip to the state title game.
“It was unbelievable,” Tom Allen said. “I can’t even put it into words. I was so thankful I had that opportunity. I got to have my family down there with us. … It was a thrill and the memory of a lifetime.”
More memories will be made over the coming weeks, especially as IU approaches the Dec. 28 Foster Farms Bowl matchup against No. 19 Utah.
But Allen isn’t working on the Utes just yet.
Three weeks of specific opponent prep can leave a team stale, Allen said. Right now, IU coaches are taking advantage of the open recruiting window while players get a few days of rest this week.
They had a long, 10-week slog to get to this point, and now’s the time for rest and rejuvenation.
“At this point, I want our guys to be comfortable with what we’re doing, offensively and defensively,” Allen said. “The schedule will be very similar.”