You don’t know whether to celebrate or cringe

Indiana will celebrate 125 years of football this weekend with a player reunion. In anticipation of the event, we had Lynn Houser write a story about the Hoosiers’ century and a quarter of mostly futility.

Because we determined long ago that at least 80 percent of you don’t read the paper (or subscribe to our Web site), I’ve pasted the story, which ran Sunday, below. It should spark some interesting conversation. (One person on the story comments suggested that our whole staff be fired as a result of this article; I disagreed.)


HeraldTimesOnline.com

INDIANA FOOTBALL
History unkind to Hoosiers
Indiana celebrating 125 years of football, but has just two Big Ten titles to show for it

By Lynn Houser 331-4381 | lhouser@heraldt.com
September 6, 2009


BO AND BILL

Bo McMillin ranks as Indiana’s most successful coach of the modern era with a 63-48-11 record from 1934-47. He’s the only coach without a losing record in Big Ten games with a 34-34-6 mark. Bill Mallory holds the record for most overall victories (69) and most Big Ten victories (39) when he coached from 1984-96. Mallory finished 69-77-3 overall and 39-65-1 in the Big Ten. They are among 27 coaches in school history.

ALL-TIME GREATS

Along with five Big Ten MVPs and 47 All-Americans, Indiana has five players and a coach in the College Football Hall of Fame — Zora Clevenger, Bo McMillin, Pete Pihos, George Taliaferro, John Tavener and Anthony Thompson.

WITH THE 1ST PICK …

The Hoosiers have had 154 players drafted by NFL teams. The highest pick came in 1966 when the Philadelphia Eagles selected defensive end Randy Beisler with the fourth pick in the first round. The most recent picks were cornerback Tracy Porter, who was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft with the 40th overall pick by the New Orleans Saints, and wide receiver James Hardy, who went with the next pick to the Buffalo Bills. Pete Pihos, a member of IU’s only unbeaten team in 1945, is the only Hoosier in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Pihos was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round of the 1945 draft with the 40th overall pick.

WE’RE NO. 12

Indiana has a 192-435 record in Big Ten games, a winning percentage of .308 that ranks 12th all-time behind the current 10 other teams in the league and the University of Chicago, which went 130-114-19 from 1896-1939.

TROPHY GAMES

Trophy games have been unkind to the Hoosiers, who have a 26-55-3 record vs. Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket and a 12-40-1 mark against Michigan State in the Old Brass Spittoon.

BOWL BUSTS

Indiana is 3-6 in bowl games, including a 14-3 loss to Southern Cal in its only Rose Bowl appearance in 1967.

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Indiana coach Lee Corso clutches the Old Oaken Bucket after a win over Purdue. H-T File Photo
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Indiana coach Bill Mallory recorded the most wins by a Hoosier coach (69) during his tenure from 1984-96. H-T File Photo
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Running back Anthony Thompson, who played at IU from 1986-89, is one of six Hoosiers in the College Football Hall of Fame. H-T File Photo

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If you want to get an earful from Bill Mallory, just tell him IU football is forever doomed.

“When people say that, I start talking to myself, and you don’t want to hear what I say to myself,” the former coach said.

Mallory can say that because he authored one of the most successful eras of IU football — seven winning seasons and six bowl games in 13 years.

Yet for all his success, Mallory’s final coaching numbers showed more losses than wins. Such is the plight of being an Indiana football coach.

As Indiana enters its 125th year of collegiate football, the program remains the butt of jokes. Enduring 85 losing seasons has a way of bringing out the dark humor.

And there are no snappy comebacks. Do the math. History has shown that Indiana football serves up a winning season roughly once every four years. Entire decades have passed without a winning season.

Indiana had to wait 70 years to celebrate its first Big Ten title and another 22 years for its second. The sum total is stuck on two.

Big Ten wins are precious. Indiana’s .308 winning percentage is 12th in the Big Ten.

Since the Big Ten allowed only its champion to go bowling prior to 1975, Indiana waited 92 years for that reward, the Rose Bowl. Hoosier fans are still pining for a return trip to Pasadena.

An entire century elapsed before Indiana won its first bowl game in 1979, and it was 10 more years before IU won its second. It has been 18 years since Indiana won a bowl game.

And then there is that other measuring stick, the rivalry with Purdue. Suffice to say the Old Oaken Bucket bears twice as many “Ps” as “Is.”

Periods of prosperity

Grim as the numbers are, however, there have been eras of success.

From 1898 to 1913, Indiana went 68-47-8 under James Horne and James Sheldon.

During the Bo McMillin era (1934-47), Indiana boasted a .531 winning percentage and claimed its first Big Ten title. McMillin’s 1945 team not only went unbeaten in the Big Ten, it did not lose at all. It’s 9-0-1 record was good enough for a final ranking of No. 4, Indiana’s highest ever.

But as good as that team was, it did not go to a bowl game. It wasn’t until the next year, 1946, that the Big Ten lifted its bowl ban and entered into its contract with the Rose Bowl.

Indiana finally got its day in the California sun when the late John Pont came along. In 1967, Pont’s Cardiac Kids beat Purdue on the final day of the season to finish in a three-way tie with Purdue and Minnesota. Even then, the Hoosiers had to sweat out a vote of league members before it got the nod.

Indiana would not go bowling again until Lee Corso got them to the Holiday Bowl in 1979. Corso had to labor through five losing seasons before he got his shot, and he made the most of it with a 38-37 win over Brigham Young.

Indiana had to wait until 1986, Bill Mallory’s third year, before experiencing another bowl game. That was the start of the most successful run in Hoosier history, five bowls in six years.

Spoiled by success

At that point Indiana got a little full of itself, thinking it could do better than the kind of mid-level bowls it was attaining under Mallory. When Mallory could not get the Hoosiers to a bowl game in 1994 and ’95, he was out the door.

In came Cam Cameron, a native son who coached football under Bo Schembechler at Michigan and played basketball under Bob Knight at Indiana. But even with that on his resume and Antwaan Randle El on his roster for four years, Cameron failed to get the Hoosiers to a bowl game.

And neither could his successors, Gerry DiNardo and the short-lived Terry Hoeppner.

Indiana would go through four coaches after Mallory before it would get back to a bowl. Ending the 12-year famine was Bill Lynch, pressed into the head coaching spot after Hoeppner’s death in 2007.

But a disappointing 2008 season now has Lynch feeling the fans’ impatience — also forcing him, in the program’s 125th year, to confront all the ghosts of Indiana’s past.

But nobody said it was going to be easy. Mallory, Corso and Cameron are quick to tell you that. When interviewed for this piece, the three of them did not dodge the tough questions surrounding this football program — questions about its losing tradition, its lagging facilities, its difficulties in recruiting and whether it is truly committed to winning.

Size does matter

From the very beginning, Indiana did not invest in football the way that other Midwestern universities did.

In 1894, faculty members tried to raise money to pay a coaches’ salary but could not keep Indiana from forfeiting the season finale to Purdue.

In the early 1900s, when other schools were already playing in vast stadiums, Indiana was playing its home games at Jordan Field, whose largest crowd was estimated at 9,000.

It wasn’t until 1925 that Indiana played its home games in a real stadium, the first Memorial Stadium. It held 25,000.

When the next Memorial Stadium came along in 1960, it had twice the seating capacity at 53,000 but was still the second smallest stadium in the Big Ten, beating only Northwestern (47,000).

If you don’t think stadium size is important, ask Corso.

“You bring a kid in for a visit and he says, ‘Your campus is beautiful but how big is your stadium?’ Facilities are tremendously important, and the size of your stadium is tremendously important.”

It wasn’t just the stadium where Indiana lagged behind. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Hoosiers had an indoor practice facility, and it took the generosity of a local rock star, John Mellencamp, to finance that.

In addition, Indiana’s weight room was also small by Big Ten standards.

“We were always on the short end of the facilities,” Mallory said. “It took us 12 years to get the Mellencamp facility.”

In the last 18 months, Indiana has taken measures to upgrade its facilities by filling in the north end of the stadium and adding a state-of-the-art weight room.

But, as Cameron said, “The facilities are going to help, but they should have been built 10 years ago. Bill Mallory had it going, had Indiana caught up, then all of a sudden Indiana couldn’t compete with the facilities at MAC schools. All the new facilities have done is bridge a 10-year gap where the other schools already have moved forward.”

Overcoming the past

Of course, it’s hard to argue for a bigger stadium when you can’t fill the small one you already have. A half-filled stadium not only affects revenue, it affects recruiting.

It has been a lose-lose situation on two fronts. It’s hard to fill a stadium when there is a tradition of losing, and it’s hard to land the good players when they see empty seats.

Corso tackled the problem by ignoring it.

“You never talked about the past,” he said. “I just talked about the future, what we were going to do, because we didn’t have anything else to talk about. At the time there were no bowl wins in the history of the school.”

Without bowl wins to point to, Indiana had to walk before it could run. For Corso, the mission was to beat Purdue.

“At the time, Purdue was plastering Indiana,” Corso said. “John Ryan (then the IU president) told me, ‘I don’t want to go to Purdue and get embarrassed.’ So my goal was to build our program until we could get them. We beat them four of the last seven years I was there.”

Run, Bill, run

Mallory’s peers advised him to not take the Indiana job when he was eying it in 1984.

“When I talked to other coaches about Indiana, they said, ‘Don’t take it. It’s a dead horse. Not one of them encouraged me to take this job.”

So why did he?

“Because deep down I thought, ‘Doc Councilman is winning here in swimming, Sam Bell is winning in track and Bob Knight is winning in basketball. Why can’t football win here?’ That was the question I asked myself.”

Corso came for other reasons.

“I always wanted to be a Big Ten coach and felt Indiana had the kind of academics and the kind of institution I could build on,” he said.

Both went through some hard times at the beginning. Mallory’s first team went 0-11. Corso’s first three years saw only five wins.

“I went from winning almost all the time (at Louisville) to losing all the time,” Corso said.

What sustained them was the support of the administration. With John Ryan as president and Ralph Floyd as athletics director, they knew they were in it for the long haul.

“I was fortunate to come in here with John Ryan and Ralph Floyd,” Mallory said. “It’s a key that the president and AD are behind the program. The facilities weren’t good back then, but they were going to get them upgraded.”

It can be done

So how was Mallory able to overcome the many obstacles and get the Hoosiers to six bowl games? He can answer it in two words: “hard work.”

“It’s not an easy job,” he said. “It’s a job you have to get out and beat the bushes. You have to have a hard working staff. Recruiting starts right here in Indiana, getting the top prospects in the state. From there you branch out to the Midwest and then to pockets where you might find your skill kids.”

Corso did not find Indiana a very fertile recruiting ground when he came along in 1972. High school football did not even have a playoff system then, and it was before a lot of smaller schools even had football.

“There just weren’t that many good football players in Indiana,” he said. “You had to go somewhere else, and when you go somewhere else, you’re always second.”

Mallory sharply disagreed.

“Fooey,” he snapped. “I got a lot of good players out of Indiana when I was at Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois. We made a good living off this state. You’re not always going to get the blue-chippers, but the important thing is you get people with character.

“A lot of it is just getting them on campus. Once you get them here, they will like the school. Then you have to sell them on the academics.”

Cameron would disagree with the academic part, in a sense.

“Every kid who comes to Indiana knows he can get a degree,” Cameron said. “You want the kids who want to go the National Football League. Speaking as an alumnus now, I want to get the kids who want to win football games and get away from the kids who just want a free education. Northwestern may be different, but all the other Big Ten schools want kids to come there to win football games. As an alumnus, I want more kids with that mind set.

“I did not do a good job getting that kind of kid,” Cameron went on. “Antwaan Randle El was that kind of guy, a guy who worked beyond the 20-hour rule on his own. In winning programs, guys do extra. We stayed to the letter of that.”

There it is, the 20-hour rule, the same rule that has Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez under the NCAA glare right. Adopted in 1991, it restricted an athlete to 20 hours of practice a week or four hours a day.

As far as Cameron is concerned, the rule hurts the wannabees more than the powers that be.

“It’s hard to outwork anybody anymore, so you’ve have to go out and be willing to pay the best coordinators and pay the guys who can recruit,” Cameron said. “Then you have to give them the tools to recruit with.”

For the glory of old IU

For IU to get to the level it desires, it must be all about winning, the former coaches say. During his time at IU, Cameron felt the university was more interested in dollars than victories. Thanks to Big Ten revenue sharing, Indiana still gets its take, whether it wins or loses, Cameron notes.

“Indiana is in a comfort zone, satisfied with the money it brings in from the conference,” he said. “It is willing to take that money instead of winning championships.”

Exhibit A for Cameron’s case is Indiana giving up a 2010 home game against Penn State to go play the Nittany Lions in Washington, D.C.

“That’s a Penn State deal first, a Big Ten deal second and an Indiana deal third,” Cameron said. “Penn State is doing it because it is advantageous for Penn State. Indiana spends too much time figuring out how it can get its cut from the conference and keeping the financial department financially solvent.

“The conference doesn’t worry about Indiana,” Cameron added. “They like Indiana right where they are. The other coaches love it. They don’t want Indiana to think they belong anywhere else than where they are.”

Cameron was just getting warmed up.

“The coaches are the least of Indiana’s problems,” Cameron said. “Look at all the good coaches that have been there. Bill Mallory did a great job of getting everybody on board and then they stopped listening to him. In my mind, he should still be working there. As soon as they get the focus off the coach and start doing things to help the coach … Give Billy Lynch the resources and keep him.”

Mallory and Corso are right behind Cameron in supporting Lynch.

“Don’t lose faith in the head coach,” Corso said. “You’ve got to give a coach four or five years to build a program.”

“Give the guy a chance,” Mallory said. “Now it’s finally his program. Get behind him, and I guarantee it will get better.”

Having witnessed more valleys than peaks in 125 years, Indiana is due. As the punch line of the tired joke might conclude, “Anybody can have a bad century.”

25 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing the article. Good stuff in there, but I disagree that Lynch is the right man for the job. Get someone else in, that can fireup the team, has the X’s and O’s down, and gets the fans on board. Hep prooved that you didnt have to win 10 games to improve team support.

  2. Hey Peegs_anti…

    For the most part, this is Lynch’s first year (in terms of facilities) coaching on a level playing ground with the other teams in the league. Indiana has been a joke in the past several years with revolving doors in athletics and the President’s office. Indiana needs continuity in the worst way more than IU needs Jim Harbaugh or Turner Gill. Lynch needs three more years to sell the vision and Fred Glass has got help with that. If you build it, they will come, but it ain’t gonna happen in one season.

  3. Cameron and Dinardo are really good coaches; Cameron probably better at the X’s and O’s and Dinardo at recruiting. But, you’re only as good as what you have. IU had piss poor facilities for 25 years and you couldn’t win with what they had. It was a vicious cycle of not getting recruits, lacking talent, losing games, low attendance, etc. Cam is correct in that IU lost for such a long time the Athletic Dept. got used to the revenue coming in through the conference and made due. The entire university has to want to win and put their money where there mouth is and understand they are making an investment in the university by putting a good product on the football field. It can be done…look at Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Boise State, and even South Carolina.

  4. I think Hep increased student ticket sales 110% and general ticket sales over 30% if I remember. Depends on how you look at it!

  5. There was definitely improvement. The man did all he could…but still, attendance sucked. He begged to get 50,000 at the MSU game in 06 after a nice W over Iowa, and like 35,000 showed up.

  6. Sorry, but Cam C is a good HEAD coach??? Where? Four years at IU w/Randle El and no bowl? Went to Miami Dolphins and what happened there?

    DiNardo? If he’s a good coach, why isn’t he coaching? Saw his last couple years at IU…not impressed.

    Mallory’s got my respect and I believe in him, but not the other two. Hep was going to do big things here–just my opinion–he had the PASSION.

    Sorry.

    Go Hoosiers beat WMU!

  7. I agree, Hep had things going…something lynch has no capability to carry the mantle. sorry he just doenst have the chops to build a program to even middle of the pack in the big ten. the points on needing the whole system to support and build a team is right, but again, you cant invest in a flawed product and expect it to flourish…that flawed product being lynch.

  8. GoHoosiers completely lost my point….my point is even Vince Lombardi could not make IU a winning program with the lack of talent Cam had and the facilities he had to recruit with. Antwaan was a great player, but one out of 50 or so is a bad average compared to a team like Wisconsin with excellent facilities and greater talent. Dinardo was a great recruiter…found great talent in the rough like Tracy Porter, James Hardy, and the like. Dinardo was just bad with the administration and lost his base. Cameron is a great coach.

    You’re not going to get many hot chicks driving a 25 year old Ford Escort when the guy next to you drives a brand new Mercedes. Same goes for recruiting

  9. Cam and Lynch have a similar thing going: pretty darn good offensive coaches who hasn’t translated it into head coaching success. Lynch is actually a pretty fiery guy in a football setting, but he’s not the public speaker that Coach Hep was.

    TuShay, if you’ve seen Memorial Stadium or listened to Fred Glass lately, you know that IU has traded in its Escort for something a good bit nicer (put some rims and a body kit on it, too). Lynch has pulled in a huge recruiting class (by IU standards) by just showing these kids renderings of the finished product. It is a truly impressive facility to be inside of now.

  10. H.B., yes I have seen Memorial Stadium, my point was that Mallory, Cameron, and DiNardo all had really bad facilities to try and lure student athletes to IU. Now the facilities are 1st class

  11. Now that Coach Lynch has modern facilities he could use a few more tools (Fred Glass should encourage him to hire some high caliber assistants) to impact performance on the field.

  12. My question remains. Cam is a great coach based on what evidence? Not what he lacked. What evidence is there that Cam C is a good/great HEAD coach? Has he won somewhere that I don’t know about? Has he turned a program around?

    Vince Lombardi won many championships. Cam C? It is disrespectful to Lombardi to even compare the two. Cam C to my knowledge has never demonstrated being a “great (head) coach.” Just saying he is doesn’t make it so.

    Nice facilities are nice facilities. They help with recruiting players. They do not necessarily help in COACHING those players, or winning games. We have seen games we were ahead or at least competitive in repeatedly blown in the second half even when we had bad facilities.

    I might let BL drive my 89 ford escort, but if I bought a Cadillac he would not be driving that. I hope F Glass is looking to bring IU up to Cadillac level in the near future.

    GoHoosiers!

  13. Call me old school but when I played football in Vigo County at Schulte High School under the legendary coach Jay Barrett, he had a basic funadamental philosphy that seems lacking today, “focus”. HE yelled, “If you can touch the football, you can catch it. If you can grab the football player you can tackle him. You can only do these things if you have the focus of mental determination to do so.”

    I am sick & tired of fundamental mistakes being made by players & coaches then immediately after the play, each getting an encouraging tap on the butt or a friendly knock on the shoulder quickly followed by “Good job! You’ll do better next time” comment. When I played ball, if I screwed up…I payed for it with push ups or laps around the field or I was even pulled out from practice & maybe not even allowed to dress for the next game. I let myself down & the team down. As a result, my determination at each game or each practice was even more focused on getting it right.

    Failure was not an option for Coach Barrett or the team. As players, we were scared to death of his wrath displayed after making stupid “fundamental” mistakes. As a result, we made very few mistakes. In a high school with a total of 400 students with minimal resources, 3rd hand football equipment & one used (donated)universal gym work out machine (remember those?), we played against the newest, most well funded, consolidated county schools, each with at least 1600+ students. Their talent pool & resources were far greater than ours but we still beat them.

    We were 1971 WIC Champions with a season of 9 wins & 1 loss. Why? I think it had to do with individual pride. It had nothing to do with how pretty the the weight room was or how many seats we had in the stadium. We wanted to win because that was our only “fundamental” focus. WIN for the school, WIN for yourself, and we’d better WIN for the coach. (He didn’t like it when we lost)

  14. IU will never b a football school, it is a basketball school. Rooting for IU football is like b ing a cubs fan… u will never win no matter how much $ & lipstick u put on a pig its still a pig!! IU is like duke or unc its about the basketball its a gr8 school with a basketball complex. the only way IU could compete in football would b 2 spend big bucks 2-4mil on a proven coach & then may b it might have a good winning program. still nothing like penn state, michigan or the ohio state university. soooo i think the university does know that & because of that reality the football program will never b a dominate big ten team.

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