Tom Allen’s new offensive coaching staff is taking shape.
Indiana made it official Wednesday, announcing a series of changes to the staff. IU confirmed the hiring of former Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, who will occupy the same role for the Hoosiers while also working with the tight ends. Allen has also added longtime connection Grant Heard, formerly of Ole Miss, as his passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach.
Shawn Watson, who was promoted to quarterbacks coach prior to the Foster Farms Bowl, will continue in that role.
“Mike, Grant and Shawn are men of high character and strong leadership,” Allen said in a statement. “They share my philosophies on how to build up and motivate young men. They will get our players to compete at the highest level.”
Word of DeBord’s appointment broke Tuesday, and the 35-year coaching veteran and native Hoosier comes to Bloomington after guiding a Tennessee offense that set a school record in 2016 with 63 total touchdowns and 473 total points. The Volunteers were one of four teams to end the year in the top half of the Southeastern Conference in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense.
DeBord, a Muncie native who played at Manchester College, also has experience as offensive coordinator during two stints at Michigan under former coach Lloyd Carr, and served as head coach at Central Michigan for four seasons beginning in 2000. The Indiana Football Hall of Famer, whose brother, Eric, played defensive end at IU in the late 1970s, also recently served as an assistant on the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks coaching staffs.
Just as former IU coach Kevin Wilson, who is expected to soon be named offensive coordinator at Ohio State, turned over Indiana’s defense to Tom Allen last year, Allen plans to do the same with DeBord. Allen has said repeatedly during the past month that he has no plans to meddle in offensive minutiae, and would rather hire someone he trusts to take complete control of the unit.
DeBord, who has experience with pro-style and spread offenses in the past, is that man.
“I was looking for a strong, experienced leader to run our offense,” Allen said. “I want him to be able to cast a vision for the direction we want to go in the future, be the head coach of the offense and to run that room. I feel like I am getting that with Mike DeBord. He has coached at the highest levels in the Big Ten and the SEC, as well as being in the NFL.”
Rumors of Heard’s move to Bloomington have swirled for a month after a report from the Jackson Clarion Ledger indicated the Ole Miss receivers coach had a chance to take a similar job with a longtime connection in Allen.
The two men previously worked on the same staffs at Ole Miss, Arkansas State and Lambuth. Heard just finished his fifth season as Ole Miss’ receivers coach, and in 2015 mentored Biletnikoff Award finalist Laquon Treadwell. A first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings, Treadwell posted an SEC-best 1,153 yards on 82 catches, scoring 11 touchdowns.
“I am extremely thrilled and blessed to join the Indiana football program,” Heard said. “To be able to come and work for Tom Allen is an honor for me and my family. I’ve worked with Tom for a number of years, know what he is all about and believe in what he stands for. I’m ready for a new challenge and to bring a different perspective to the staff.”
With Treadwell leading the way in 2015, Heard’s position group was one of four in the nation with seven or more players who caught at least 20 passes. The season prior, Ole Miss was the only SEC school to place three receivers in the top 12 in touchdown catches, and in 2013 Treadwell and current Indianapolis Colts receiver Donte Moncrief each ranked inside the league’s top eight in receptions per game.
At Indiana, Heard will get to work with 1,000 receiver Simmie Cobbs and another, Nick Westbrook, who finished with 995 receiving yards in 2016.
“Grant Heard is one of the top wide receiver coaches in the country,” Allen said. “He will bring his expertise to the receivers room, a group of very talented players. We are blessed and excited to have him as a part of our family. He will coordinate the passing game and allow us to build off of the strong past that we have created with our ability to throw the football.”
Watson, too, has a long history in prominent coaching roles. He’s served as an offensive coordinator at Colorado (2000-05), Nebraska (2007-10), Louisville (2012-13) and Texas (2014-15), and is generally well-regarded for his work with quarterbacks. At Louisville, he mentored future first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
Watson originally joined IU’s staff last spring as an offensive quality control coordinator, a non-coaching position that allowed him to serve as an extra pair of eyes in the film room, among other roles. He has helped Indiana with its recruiting since being promoted to quarterbacks coach a month ago.
“It’s an honor to be able to stay here at Indiana with coach Allen, who in a short period of time I’ve developed a fondness for his passion and his philosophy,” Watson said. “At the same time, I’m really excited to work for Mike DeBord, who is one of my closest and dearest friends in football. We’ve shared a lot of football over the years and I’m excited to be able to coach with him side-by-side.”
Wednesday’s announcement represents the latest wave of news for Indiana’s staff. On Monday, it was reported that former offensive coordinator and receivers coach Kevin Johns and tight ends coach James Patton would not return in 2017.
Both Johns and Patton were longtime coaching connections to Wilson.
“I would like to thank Kevin Johns and James Patton for their service to Indiana,” Allen said. “Kevin is a tremendous coach and a fine person. He has a great family and I want to wish them the very best. I appreciate James and all of his hard work over the past four years. He is another strong coach with a great family. Again, I wish them nothing but the best.”