Allen, Hoosiers ready to follow through on breakthrough

CHICAGO — As the golf cart rolled through the emptying innards of Levi’s Stadium in late December, Tom Allen sat and stewed.

After his first game as Indiana coach — a maddening 26-24 loss to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl — Allen hitched a ride from IU’s locker room to the postgame press conference on the other side of the cavernous facility. The long trek through the chilly corridors allowed Allen time to think.

He was angry and frustrated by defeat, ired by another close game in a season full of them that the Hoosiers failed to seize. The word “breakthrough” kept popping into his head as he envisioned the future. And it was in that moment, with the 2016 season just recently pronounced dead, that Allen’s rallying cry for 2017 was born.

It’s time for Indiana to finally break through.

“I already had the breakthrough mentality in my head,” Allen said Monday at Big Ten media day at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. “To me, it was just all the more reason that was so huge to be able to say, ‘OK, it’s obvious we’re right on the cusp. It’s happened over and over and over again. Now, how do you get there? I’m just sitting there thinking through all that (on the golf cart).”

During the ensuing seven months, Allen has laid the foundation for what he expects will be the Hoosiers’ elusive breakthrough season. He’s hired a brand new offensive staff, turning the keys over to veteran coordinator Mike DeBord. He’s returned his two most valuable defensive players, All-American linebacker Tegray Scales and All-Big Ten cornerback Rashard Fant.

And perhaps most importantly, he’s continued to build the belief in Indiana’s locker room that it is a good football team that can compete in the loaded Big Ten East.

All that’s left to do is execute on the field, win the close games that have eluded IU during the past two years and turn this once-moribund program into something that consistently instills pride in Hoosiers.

“I know what everyone wants it to look like, and that’s us winning more games,” Fant said. “That’s us making a bowl game. That’s us winning a bowl game. That’s us accomplishing things that haven’t been accomplished in years.”

Shortly after Allen replaced former coach Kevin Wilson on Dec. 1, 2016, he called a team meeting and wrote three numbers on a board: 50, 26, 10. Allen asked his players and IU’s coaches if they knew what those numbers represented.

No one did. So Allen told them.

It’s been 50 years since Indiana won the Big Ten, 26 years since IU won a bowl game and 10 years since the Hoosiers posted their last winning season.

Then Allen went a step further, instructing those inside Indiana’s program that, together, they were going to accomplish all three goals.

“I told our team, ‘If you don’t believe that, you need to leave,'” Allen said. “Said the same thing to our staff. I love them, I appreciate them, but I want a coaching staff — I want a football team — that believes.”

For Allen, believing is the first step toward doing. For Indiana, doing the things that build a winning culture have long proven elusive.

Of the team’s 14 losses spanning the 2015 and 2016 seasons, eight have come by eight points or fewer. Others, like 2015 at Michigan State and last fall against Penn State, were close games that got away.

After the Foster Farms Bowl, Scales remembers thinking, “What can we do? What are other teams doing that we’re not?”

The answers can be found through a series of little things — making better decisions to avoid turnovers, converting in the red zone, getting the key stop in the fourth quarter.

“The tables are turning,” Scales said. “We’re tired of being close. This year, our mindset is break through and win those close games.”

To do so, the Hoosiers must also answer a set of questions unique to 2017.

Can Richard Lagow become a consistent passer and avoid turnovers in his second season with the program?

Can IU shore up its offensive line and find a running game with no clear featured back?

Can Allen’s defense avoid a sizable regression after improving from the No. 120 unit in total defense during the 2015 season to No. 45 in 2016?

There are other questions, too. But right now, with the start of fall practice set for Aug. 2, the Hoosiers believe they’re on track. After back-to-back seasons full of several close losses, Indiana is committed to finding its breakthrough.

If and when it does, Allen will point back to that defeat on Dec. 28 and the long ride on the golf cart that allowed him to lay the foundation for this fall.

“I said it then and I’ll say it now: I’m just sick and tired of being close,” Allen said. “That’s just been fueling us and it’s been driving us ever since.”

24 comments

  1. Great hire. Who is a better defensive coach? For IU that is very very very huge. Excellent mindset. Figure out a good offense. Go IU.

  2. I like everything I’ve heard from and about Allen, and I have no doubt about his ability to develop, prepare and motivate football players. But the key to his success at IU will rest in his ability to build upon the improved recruiting achieved by Wilson. Allen is faced with a tough task of overcoming IU’s football legacy and lethargic fan base and convincing a greater number of bigger, faster and more gifted young men to play football at IU. I hope Glass is doing everything possible to support his efforts to improve recruiting, starting with expanding the football recruiting budget so that Allen and his staff can scour a larger portion of the country to find talented players who would consider IU a much better destination than the other options they’re presented with. Ironically, it’s going to be tough for Allen in the near term, in spite of his popularity and great reputation within the Indiana HS football coaching community, to sign the best players from within the state. To remedy that negative bias, IU needs to be able to cast a wider net and pursue young men who see IU, in relative terms, as a superior destination and opportunity. Allen and staff are doing great in the midwest and southeast, and I’d like to see them begin spreading that recruiting success to other parts of the country. It takes money to do that, so I hope Allen gets a bigger recruiting budget from Glass.

    1. The staff has the budget to recruit wherever they want for the most part. They recruit out west every once in a while. See: Zander Diamont and Nate Sudfeld. The reason they don’t do it more is because you recruit where you have contacts.

  3. It’s the what came first…the chicken or the egg?

    Bigger budgets will bring big time recruits will bring big wins will bring fans to stands…

    or….

    Big wins will bring fans will bring more interest from big time recruits will bring bigger budgets…

    My opinion: Don’t expect too much more money thrown at the product until somebody(meaning some coach) can demonstrate getting over the hump and stealing a couple big conference wins. If mid-majors can occasionally upset the Goliaths of the Big 10, there is absolutely no reason(especially under the current upswing provided by Wilson in getting IU to back-to-back bowls….though insignificant these bottom bowls may be) reason IU Football must continue to come up slightly short season after season. Turn a bigger corner. Beat more than one team in a season stronger than Ball State…..and then start talking turkey.

    It’s an insult to the small amount of the fan base hanging onto this program to continue to talk of throwing more money at it with zero scoreboard upsets and zero MAJOR corners turned. Aren’t we all just a bit tired of moral victories against major conference opponents?
    Even the most bottom-feeding programs manage to pull a big upset once every decade. IU has plenty of budget(coaching salaries, recruitment, stadium improvements) as is to produce far better results than seen.

    1. H4H,

      I would agree with your sentiments except IU did have a coach who pulled off the impossible but unfortunately the support did not follow. Bill Mallory’s tenure did not end well but he did do what you are saying the football program must do. Beating Michigan and Ohio State in an overall very successful season by IU standards was producing on the field. The problem has been and continues to be the Hoosier nation. With an alumni base as big as IU the money in the basketball and football programs should be at a top twenty level. You do not see this problem with the perennial powers or even the second tier schools with much smaller bases of support. You want a winning football program you have a rabid capacity crowd even through the fourth quarter losing or not. You keep this up long enough and you will have a winning program. When you fill the stadium up, you enlarge it to a competitive size (at least 80k) and you are on your way.

      One last thought, if you do have a coach who does the impossible and take you to football heaven, do whatever you have to do to keep him. Rename the stadium after him, but keep. There is a reason why in Kansas you have the Snyder Family Stadium.

  4. I agree with “thinkaboutit’s” comments above. The problem for far too many years (actually decades) is that IU’s BOT, top administrators and big boosters have simply not been willing to invest in making IU Football a winner. This has been discussed many times before on this site. When Mallory arrived at IU, he was shocked by how inadequate IU’s football facilities were at the time. He commented that he’d had better facilities and a bigger office at Northern Illinois, a MAC program, than he did upon arriving at IU. But in spite of that disadvantage, Mallory built a winning program, and look how the geniuses running IU at the time treated him when he was terminated. It screamed “low class” and people around the country heard about it. And then, who did IU hire to replace their winningest football coach? A young and totally unproven Assistant Coach who they got on the cheap and who never produced a winning season. Hep was a great hire, but after he died, rather than go out and hire another proven head coach, they gave a long term contract to Lynch, who was a great guy, but completely unqualified to be a Big Ten head coach. A big part of Wilson getting hired was based on IU’s budget. Glass went after a career-long assistant coach because men with successful head-coaching experience demanded much higher compensation, and IU could not or would not pay. Glass then traded time for money, giving Wilson a 7-year contract, but making Wilson the lowest paid head football coach in the Big Ten. The bottom line is that IU has been expecting their football coaching staffs to do more with less for decades, and most everyone in The Hoosier Nation knows it. On the rare occasion when one of those coaches produces winning seasons and bowl victories, IU still refuses to reward him properly. Nor did they make significant investments to improve facilities, recruiting, etc. to build on the momentum Mallory achieved. It’s like a business person who defines success as simply being able to break even and continue making payroll. Would you invest in such a business? You have to spend some money to build a successful business and attract investors, and the same goes for a college football program and its fan base. Of course you don’t want to waste money or spend foolishly, like spending tens of thousands of dollars to have the tallest flag pole and largest American flag flying in your stadium (does that increase attendance at home games?), or having liabilities in the form of severance totaling millions of dollars owed to former coaches and Athletic Directors, but you have to spend money on things that can improve the program’s performance if you want to attract a greater number of fans and have them invest (i.e., donate) in the program. The million dollars a year IU is paying Crean in severance, could go along way toward expanding IU’s football recruiting in parts of the country where people can’t find Indiana on a map, or making sure that Allen’s top assistant coaches as less vulnerable to being poached by other football programs.

    Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

      1. He’s still on the “El Cheapo Glass, keep Crean and Indiana basketball mediocre so we don’t have to pay severance so we can get and pay the next Nick Saban as football coach…?” I can’t read it anymore, so I just caught your comment.

        Harv must be ready to go nuclear. 😉 Talk about mirror philosophies.

        Anyway, I really like Coach Allen. Really hard guy to root against. He shows unbridled enthusiasm without the narcissism prevalent with so many Head Coaches (the mediocre one we just let go across the parking lot this spring). A man of substance who has been very graceful in the transition. Also, he seems to take this challenge head on as if he thrives on it. Should be a very interesting year for Indiana football.

        1. 2 remarks in your post caught my eye. “Mirror philosophies”. “A man of substance who has been very graceful in the transition”. Unlike many other posts on this blog it took damn few words to state it.

      2. He realizes that we’re having another 50+ million dollar stadiumrenovation, right? Because he never mentions it and constantly complains about facilities. It’s really bizarre. When was the last time he was in Bloomington?

    1. @Podunker

      You seriously have no idea what you’re talking about. None. I need you to tell me that you’ve been to the stadium within the last 10 years and understand all the facility improvements they’ve made. Around $130 million worth. I need you to tell me that you know what the south end zone project is and I need you to tell me that you know what it involves. Like, you know it’s under construction, right? State of the art stuff. I need you to tell me that you know that they are massively renovating and expanding the locker room and players lounge. Because it appears that you’re stuck in 1995 or something.

      The flagpole was donated to honor veterans, so they didn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on it. You’re completely making that up. When Wilson got his second contract, he was making around $2.7 million per year. That’s a solid salary.

      The recruiting budget and assistant salaries have been raised, so you are again making that up and have no idea what you’re talking about. We recruit Florida and the south constantly, and quite successfully, so I think they’re aware and able to recruit the south. We just got a commitment last week from a DE from Miami who had offers from Tennessee, Oregon, South Carolina, Baylor, etc. You act like they have to recruit within a two hour radius from Bloomington or something.

      You continually go on these long-winded rants about things that the AD should be doing, not aware that they are actually doing it. It’s incredibly annoying.

  5. My comment was right under Podunker’s when I made it. Sorta loses its effectiveness in the new location…I am not referencing Double Down’s post to appear as a ‘border wall.’

  6. Anyway, I really like Coach Allen. Really hard guy to root against. He shows unbridled enthusiasm without the narcissism prevalent with so many Head Coaches (the mediocre one we just let go across the parking lot this spring). A man of substance who has been very graceful in the transition. Also, he seems to take this challenge head on as if he thrives on it. Should be a very interesting year for Indiana football.

    Concur. It’s a start…Although I do believe it was Kevin Wilson who did the impossible in making an IU Football game something that could generate pregame excitement, elements of surprise, and a ray of hope. Wilson also brought in some dynamite running backs.

    I’m not sure if all of those things can happen at IU with a head coach who, at the end of the day, relies more on his defensive teachings/resume/expertise.
    Will the IU fan base/viewing public(already strained to fill 50% of the seats in Memorial) sustain a slope of added excitement for a product that may not have the offensive firepower and elements of unpredictability that were the Wilson signature?
    Does IU have the size, depth, and the horses(starters and bench) to have a greater reliance on stopping an opponent without the inventiveness of a Kevin Wilson to put up points?
    Worked for Ditka and the ’85 Bears(They also had a guy named Walter Payton)…A defense of unmatched caliber can definitely generate excitement. But does it work for IU Football in Bloomington, Indiana?

  7. Oh sorry, I keep forgetting that only the same few people participate on the Scoop, and that they’ve all read my comments on this subject numerous times before. And I guess these same few participants are satisfied with the status quo and don’t care to hold their school’s administration responsible for repeating the same crippling mistakes made by their incompetent predecessors. I wonder if any of those few participants donate any money to IU’s Athletic Department? Or maybe the regulars naively believe in magic, and that one really determined and passionate man can transform a chronically under-funded and moribund football program that competes against the giants of the sport just on the strength of his character, an positive attitude and good intensions.

    The Cubs changed their 108-year history when new leadership took over and decided to invest in creating a winner. What a great idea!

    1. Status quo! The continuing, repetitive harangue of thoughts posted dozens of times. Confident opinions posted would use so few less words.

  8. IU may have a very good football season or 2 one of these days (7, 8, 9, or even 10 wins). It will never be sustainable as to establish a new tradition in football. That is for the blueblood traditions. IU fb success will always be shared with the likes of P.U., Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Rutgers, Maryland….That is when IU progresses enough to get IU share of the pie and share some success with these programs over the long haul. Recently, that is what IU program is on the cusp of doing. Meaning 6 or 7 wins (and 7 wins not yet). (7 wins and bowl win has not happened this century). This would be pretty much IU ceiling. Regardless, who’s hired like some successful has been for the money or playing in the Colts stadium or building a new stadium there will always be successful traditions and those fighting to stay out of the cellar. IU will always share in the later regarding fb. Now days if you manage to stay a couple games out of the cellar that can give what we now call a bowl game and give the illusion that a fb program is better.

  9. I was just reading that IU is still in the running for Cameron McGone, a linebacker who is the #2 ranked prospect in the state of Indiana. It’s down to three schools, with IU being one of them. Keep our fingers crossed, cause if Allen gets this kid, it will be a huge coup for IU. Unfortunately, the article goes on to suggest that few, if any of the other top ten in-state recruits are considering IU. Several have already verbally committed to Michigan, ND, MSU, etc. This just reinforces the notion that it will continue to be a steep uphill battle for Allen to sign the best in-state players, and that he needs additional budget that will allow him to expand recruiting to parts of the country where HS kids don’t have such a strong negative bias against IU Football. You take Indiana’s #1 HS prospect and put him in California or Texas, and he might not even be ranked in those states’ top 20 prospects. And since kids in those states know little or nothing about IU football, Allen won’t have to fight against such a strong ingrained negative bias about IU football. As the saying goes, and as Allen and staff are demonstrating in Florida and the southeast, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I’d like to see IU invest in allowing Allen to cast a wider recruiting net. I think a lot of Hoosier fans don’t fully appreciate how young people view IU’s campus as it compares to schools in many other parts of the country. IUB is a gem and a significant recruiting advantage compared to many schools across the country.

  10. Many times a top prospect will consider a lesser program whether it be fb or bb because of recruiting, emotions, immediate playing time potential, location to home, etc. but when it is time to sign they go to the higher regarded program. Examples are when Texas Tech bb with B.K., Brad Stevens and others @ Butler tried to recruit the blue chip recruits. Plus when signing is on the line no matter where players are almost all highly regarded recruits know or learn about schools they are really seriously thinking about signing with. Even then changing minds are common.

  11. I think coach Allen is the coach we need to have IUFB breakthrough the ceiling that has existed in the past. H4H, Allen is smart enough to get the best offensive mind he could get because he understood IU needed to get their offense back to the explosive offense we have had in the past [the final three seasons under Wilson had a stellar O even though it wasn’t good enough to pull off major wins. The offenses in 2014 and 2016 were average at best].

    Coach Debord has the pedigree of developing top offenses even though he was limited by the head coach to run their offense. He has NFL experience, National championship experience, and years of developing QBs going into the NFL. If he can get IU’s offense back to the explosive offense of the past but with the ability to keep the chains moving until getting into the endzone. IU has the offensive players to be very explosive which should help the OL and RBs. Coach DeBord has the experience to find match ups that favor IU’s offense. Add that to a defense ready to become a top 25 defense and the team is ready to knock off one or more of the top teams. Factoring in special teams that the HC believes need to be special and IU will have all three parts of a championship team [even if it turns into a bowl game championship].

    This could be a special year for IUFB and if it isn’t for some reason I can except that however I will believe it is possible until the season is over.

  12. v13 – do you really believe that Coach Debord is going to be a better offensive coach than Kevin Wilson?? I think we as IU football fan, do not give Kevin Wilson enough credit for what he accomplished at IU. In my opinion he accomplished what Fred Glass wanted him to do, an that was to turn the IU football program around (right the ship – point the football program in the right direction). At the present time IU football program has equal to or better talent than 5 to 6 other BIG Ten teams (Illinois, Purdue, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota and maybe Michigan State). The last time you could say anything like that Bill Mallory was the head football coach. I know Coach Debord has a decent resume, but you are not talking about 4 and 5 star recruits, like he had at Michigan and Tennessee. So as a IU football fan I will wait to see how he does on game day.

    1. IU79 that is the exact ? I have held about DeBord since his hire. Wilson proved to me he can take 2* & 3* talent and (over)achieve competitively and accomplish a program culture change too. Now I can read DeBord’s pedigree as well as everyone else, showing he is most capable and acclaimed as v13 has attested to but with better talent than IU has to offer. The 1st game against the Bucks will answer many of my Q’s about the new offense. I remain ‘all in’ on Allen.

  13. IU79, no doubt coacn Wilson put IU offense on the map but don’t forget that IU has had offenses that were leaders in the country before Wilson came. Usually was due to a RB or QB but IU hasn’t had problems moving the ball and scoring in most cases. I supported coach Wilson and the job he was doing for the offense but I also recognize his shortcomings on offense. Will coach DeBord be as good as coach Wilson in running IU’s offense; only time will tell for sure. I just don’t buy into the “DeBord has only done it with top players” argument because he has a broad range of experience and IU’s offensive players are 3 and 4 star players.

    DeBord will have the freedom he didn’t have at other schools as an OC with coach Allen. Whatever the offense looks like this year is on Coach DeBord but remember how mediocre the offense looked last year.

    I think we will have an offense that is dangerous to go along with a defense that can get the job done this year. If that is true then this year could be a special year for IUFB and I hope it is as we have waited long enough for a special year.

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