As a whirlwind, emotional Thursday was coming to an end, some of Tom Allen’s most important work was just beginning.
After his introductory press conference as Indiana’s new head football coach, Allen went to his phone and dialed through a list of numbers. His goal was to make contact with a list of Indiana’s currently-committed recruits and reassure them on the direction of IU’s program in the wake of Kevin Wilson’s surprising and abrupt departure.
In six years at the helm of the Hoosiers’ program, many of Wilson’s most important wins didn’t come on the field, but in the recruiting realm. That’s where he introduced a higher caliber of athlete to Indiana, a development that was beginning to have a noticeable effect on IU’s gameday performance.
On the field, there have been clear signs of progress for Indiana. To keep that growth rolling into a new season — and a new era — Allen must continue that trend and attract similarly athletic types of recruits to Bloomington.
Already, Allen is taking steps in that direction.
“This weekend, it’s going to be business as usual, no change in the schedule,” Allen said. “I’ve already had that discussion with our recruiting staff.”
It’s now an open recruiting season, allowing coaches to visit prospects and also giving players the opportunity to visit campus. Indiana currently has 15 players verbally committed for its 2017 class, and will spend the next few weeks re-recruiting them, too.
Several of those players have already made clear that their commitment to IU remains in solid shape. It’s important to note, too, that nine of Indiana’s current commits are projected to land on the defensive side of the ball.
So Wilson’s departure probably won’t affect recruiting — at least initially — much at all.
Under Wilson, IU’s staff did good work in recent years tapping into connections in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Ohio. Allen, who played for his dad at New Castle and was a former coach at Ben Davis, himself, also wants to make sure the Hoosiers hit their home state hard.
Seven of Indiana’s current recruits hail from within the state.
“Indiana high school coaches, special group of men,” Allen said. “I was one for 10 years. My dad was one for a long, long time. They’re the heart and soul of this great state and our program. I appreciate all that they do. I understand what they go through, the challenges that they have, their job of taking young men and helping them figure out life. So those coaches are always welcome here at Indiana University. I hope they’re here as much as I was when I was a high school coach, watching practice, talking ball, learning, growing together. I’ll be very visible in this state and want to ensure that we do a tremendous job recruiting Indiana and keeping our best players home.”
A trio of current commits will be in town this weekend for official visits, including three-star defensive linemen Derrius Mullins of Columbus, Ohio and Britt Beery of Carmel, as well as three-star Florida offensive tackle Tyler Knight.
Defensive line has been the focus of IU’s current class, with six commits projected to land up front upon their arrivals next summer.
With Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales entering their senior seasons — Scales could conceivably enter the NFL Draft after the season — Allen also wants to add a couple linebackers before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. Allen has also said previously he’d like to add another cornerback to the class, though he already has one in three-star Georgia prospect LaDamion Hunt.
“Our goal as coaches is to capture the hearts and minds of our players,” Allen said. “You do that by earning their trust, investing in their lives, caring about them way more as a person than as a player. That takes time, energy, and effort. You want to maximize every young man’s talent.”
So Allen’s vision, the one he will sell in living rooms over the coming weeks, months and years, centers on his desire to create a culture of accountability, toughness and love.
Allen has preached about the importance of trust often during his first season in Bloomington, and he wants current and future recruits to understand exactly what kind of experience they’ll get when they play for an Allen-driven program in the future.
“We’re going to push them,” Allen said. “As I will tell them, ‘I will push you, but I can’t pull you, because if I have to pull you, that means you’re resisting.’
“It’s our job to find young men in this country that want to be pushed; that want to be great; that want to come to this great university and get a world-class education and play in the best conference in college football and have a chance to be special on Saturdays.”