His network of contacts stretches across Indiana.
But Tom Allen’s closest and most important ally is one of the state’s most legendary coaches.
Allen shares a special bond with his former boss, Dick Dullaghan, a winner of eight state championships during a hall of fame career spent at Ben Davis, Carmel and Bishop Chatard. In his first month as IU’s new head coach, and as he builds the program in his image, Allen has leaned on Dullaghan for wisdom and advice.
That’s an approach Allen has taken throughout his rapidly rising coaching career, but it’s also something that takes on greater meaning as he guides the state’s flagship university.
“He made a huge impact on my life, not just as a man but as a coach in this profession,” Allen said “He’s so respected. A lot of guys use him. He goes to pro teams, he goes to college teams, high school programs. He’ll come in and spend some time with them and evaluate what you’re doing.”
Theirs is a decades-old relationship that includes Allen’s stint as a high school coach in Florida, where Dullaghan would run skill camps. Eventually, when Dullaghan needed a defensive coordinator for the 1998 season at Ben Davis, he thought of Allen. After the interview, Dullaghan came away impressed with Allen’s spirit, energy and intensity and offered him the job.
They’ve been very close ever since that initial partnership, which produced three state titles in a four-year span at Ben Davis.
“That was a match made in heaven,” Dullaghan said.
Recently, Allen asked Dullaghan to come to Bloomington and watch Indiana practice ahead of Wednesday’s Foster Farms Bowl game against No. 19 Utah.
Dullaghan focused on the teaching aspect of practice, including the methods the coaching staff uses to get their points across to players. Afterwards, in very direct terms, he explained to the staff what he saw and what he thought. Allen characterized it as a fiery conversation that included Dullaghan’s take on the good and the bad.
“I took a lot of my things that I believe now from him,” Allen said, “(like) the quote he gave our guys about conviction driven leadership is based on the vision of perfection. He really explained what that really means, and as a coach, you see what you want. You have that clear picture of what you know it’s supposed to look like. You have that standard you set and you don’t let anybody rest until you get what you want. That, to me, defines him. He’s relentless in the way he approached everything and it made him special.”
That relentlessness has been reflected upon Allen and his coaching style. Long before the season began, before television cameras routinely caught him jumping and celebrating big plays from the sideline, Allen’s intensity was readily apparent behind the scenes.
He gets results both because his personality is such that players want to perform for him, but also because he is a man who believes he is more teacher than coach.
So while Allen has leaned on Dullaghan this month as a sounding board, Dullaghan hasn’t felt the need to offer any profound advice.
“He’s just got ‘it’,” Dullaghan said. “‘It’ comes in all shapes and sizes and all kinds of forms, but ‘it’ means that a guy really knows how to get it done. Everybody does it differently, but the players are going to love him. They’re going to love him because they’re going to be treated with respect in every situation. He’s never going to try and intimidate. He’s never gonna scream and holler.
“He’s a teacher. He’s a classroom teacher. He was a great classroom teacher when he was in high school. He’s extremely organized. He knows what he’s doing. IU doesn’t even have a clue how good he’s gonna be. A lot of people don’t think Indiana can ever win big, but I really do. I believe they will, I really do.”
That belief stems from decades of knowing Allen and his coaching philosophy, but also from seeing how he handles and structures things in practice and behind the scenes. Dullaghan points to Allen’s work ethic, intent to teach and his ability to work well with others as some of the main reasons he has cultivated results everywhere he’s gone.
“One of the really strong parts of being a head coach is your ability to motivate the players to play better than their talent level,” Dullaghan said. “I really believe that he will do that. In time, he will get great players, I guarantee you. Right now, he’s got good players and I’m sure as time goes on, he’ll have better players. That’s the reason I have no doubt that he’s going to be successful.”
Having Dullaghan as a vocal ally is important for Indiana’s program, too. Beyond his wisdom, Dullaghan is as connected as anybody to the different levels of football in this state and beyond.
Unwavering support from a luminary like that opens doors and changes minds.
It’s support that Allen cherishes and IU can come to value.
“I think it’s tremendous,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that 100 percent is behind us and will do anything he can to help us. Anytime you’ve got people in that position, that know so many coaches and parents, people that played for him that are associated with the state, or coached against him and have so much respect for him, I think it can be nothing but a positive for sure.”