IU’s Wommack sought to follow in father’s footsteps

In college, Kane Wommack may have been a fullback for Arkansas and then a tight end at Southern Miss.

But from the moment he received his high school diploma, Kane had his sights set on a different rank.

“I thought ‘Four more years until I get to do what I really want,'” Wommack said, ” — to coach football.”

That made all the sense in the world, considering his background. He was the son of a career college coach, Dave, who started as a grad assistant at Arkansas in 1979 and finished up as the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss in 2016. Kane was around college football players from the time he was 5 or 6 years old. College football was his literal playground.

He wanted to live in it, like his father. And he has, climbing the ladder quicker than most. Kane is heading into his first season as Indiana’s defensive coordinator — at the tender age of 32. You might credit his father’s influence for such a rapid rise. If only you were aware of the advice Dave offered Kane in his quest to become a college coach.

“Yeah, don’t do it,” said Dave, who attended the Hoosiers’ practices this past week.

Father and son made for a heartwarming visual Friday, Kane running around IU’s practice fields, coaching his defense with boundless energy, while Dave stood peacefully next to a big, red tackling dummy, giving it a slight push backward as one of his pint-sized grandsons torpedoed through it.

A decade ago, when Dave was the DC at Georgia Tech, he was trying to dissuade Kane from going down the path that led here. Because all too often, the reality strays from fantasy. To make that point, Dave brought Kane to a national coaches convention in Nashville.

“Of course, you know, every year you do that, maybe half, 15 or 20 of your friends, are out of a job or transitioning,” Dave said. “We took him to all those people first.”

Kane may have liked the idea of shaping young men, leading them to victory. But would he be OK with long hours and a lack of job security? Could he live a life on the move, bouncing from one school to the next?

When Kane found his answer to those questions, he sat his parents down on a couch. He put his foot in the ground. “This is what I want to do,” Kane said.

Dave’s influence couldn’t be undone — even by Dave.

“He had an uphill battle convincing me not to do this,” Kane said. “Seeing him doing it every day, seeing him champion a family, and champion a group of young men as a defensive coordinator, I dreamed about that.”

That drive has served Kane well, along with the generosity of others. Right out of college, he was a volunteer assistant for the Southern Miss offensive line and then became a quarterbacks coach at UT-Martin in 2010.

“Jason Simpson gave me that job. He never should have given me that job,” Kane said. “I was the worst quarterbacks coach in the country, but I learned a lot.”

After another one-season as the defensive line coach at Jacksonville State, Kane’s best connection in the business — his father — helped boost his career.

Kane landed at Ole Miss as a graduate assistant for the ’12 and ’13 seasons. Dave, who remembered the lowly grind of being a GA for Lou Holtz at Arkansas, bestowed his apprentices with a rare token of dignity.

He allowed GAs to coach a position group. Kane had oversight of the “husky” position in the Rebels’ 4-2-5 scheme.

“When you are given that ownership, to come and help and game-plan and all that, when opportunities came, I felt like we were ready,” Kane said.

He says “we” because there is a long list of Wommack disciples who have climbed the ladder. Georgia defensive line coach Trey Scott (’12), Florida linebackers coach Christian Robinson (’15-16) and New England Patriots outside linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington (’13) were all grad assistants at Ole Miss.

Kane ended up on a fast track, too. He was the youngest defensive coordinator in the FBS at South Alabama from 2016-17. The Big Ten is quite different from the Sun Belt, but IU coach Tom Allen — Dave’s linebackers coach at Ole Miss (’12-14) — isn’t all that concerned about handing the reins of the defense to a younger mind. Wommack has completed all the necessary steps, just at an accelerated pace.

Skip ahead from Allen’s 15 years as a high school coach, and his path to the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator role wasn’t too different from his protege’s. Allen’s first DC job came at an FCS school, Drake. Wommack made his biggest leap in 2014, from Ole Miss GA to FCS coordinator at Eastern Illinois. When Allen became an FBS-level DC for South Florida in ’15, Wommack was a year away from leading South Alabama.

In 2016, South Alabama was the nation’s fifth-most improved unit in scoring defense — ranking one spot behind IU’s Allen-led turnaround. Once Allen became the Hoosiers’ head coach, he knew he would want to drop the DC title eventually. Wommack seemed like a worthy heir apparent.

“He was the person I called to talk to about this idea or that idea,” Allen said. “So I brought him here as the position coach and I told him, I wasn’t sure the exact timeline of when this was going to happen. He knew it would maybe happen one day.”

Even as the Hoosiers’ linebackers coach in 2018, Wommack was signaling in plays from the sideline. If Allen had to turn away from the defense to address the offense, it was Wommack who worked with IU’s defensive coaches on adjustments. Wommack grew up watching his father work, focused on the details, efficient.

Like father, like son, it seemed.

IU’s players took notice, so it raised no eyebrows when the stewardship of the defense passed from Allen to Wommack.

“He’s young, but you know football, you know football,” junior cornerback Raheem Layne said. “Somebody knows what they’re doing, you’re going to believe in them.

“The defense we run, that’s Coach Allen’s defense. But his dad, he taught it to Coach Allen. He got it. He knows what he’s doing.”

The Hoosiers have taken to their young leader. When the defense sits for a film session, they start by clapping in unison, just to make sure everyone’s awake. Like Allen, Wommack demands energy. He isn’t much of a yeller, but he isn’t afraid to get on people.

“He’s real personal with you,” senior defensive end Gavin Everett said. “He’s still your coach, but he feels like a friend almost. He’s a guy that you don’t worry ‘I don’t know if I can approach him with this question or not.’

“He’s an authority figure now, and everybody respects him, but he has a great ability to interact with all the guys and make them feel comfortable around him at all times.”

Of course, Kane can still improve. That’s why his dad took the week to visit Bloomington and watch fall practice. He did the same thing for Kane during his time at South Alabama.

“He likes to hear another voice, somebody who has done it for a long time,” Dave said.

These trips are also a way for Dave to see his grandkids and travel. Friday, the little boy who took to ramming the tackling dummy first sprinted toward his grandfather, screaming, “Hey, coach!” Dave’s life isn’t centered around football anymore.

When he’s at home, Dave spends most of his time fishing. He is situated on 85 acres in Mississippi, right by one of the top bass-fishing lakes in the southeast. In his four-plus years there, Dave says he has caught 112 fish weighing eight pounds or more.

“Hunt, fish, football, travel … that’s life,” Dave said. “And I enjoy it.”

The only negative of attending fall camp: the 6:15 a.m. wakeup calls.

He usually gets up at 10 a.m. these days. The last time he got up at 6:15 was to board a houseboat in Canada, which wasn’t so bad.

“If it’s something important, like fishing or hunting,” Dave said, smiling.

While dad enjoys retirement, Kane is busy with his daily grind, rolling tennis balls to his linebackers in side-to-side drills, posted up by upside-down trash cans as his athletes crash through imaginary rushing lanes. It’s everything Kane has ever wanted.

Against his father’s best advice, of course.

“Kane’s his own person, and certainly the name’s helped him,” Dave said. “But I think he’s kinda built his own way to get to where he is right now, and I’m extremely proud of him.”

34 comments

  1. If young Wommack is half as good as his daddy, we had better enjoy him while we have him. Would love for IUFB to be fortunate enough to keep him for 2-3 years, but if his defenses show the same promise as TA’s and the elder Wommack, won’t have him long.

  2. Lol. See if IU will contain R.Moore and now, D. Bell and Purdue in Bucket game? That would be a good credential and progress.

  3. Nice story but this is the season for nice stories. Every year there are articles about what great people the new coaches are and how they are going to bring fundamental change. But then the season happens and it’s same old, same old. I hope Wommack and DeBoer are transformational coaches and TA guides the team to a winning season. But I think I’ll stay with a wait-and-see attitude for now.

  4. Coaches are in the profess of show me and if they don’t show they can get the job done they are out. Wommack has the background to be a very good football coach but we will have to see.

  5. I think I have send this situation before at Indiana University…..Kevin Wilson hire the son of Bill Mallory, i think the young man name was Doug Mallory…Granted Kevin Wilson was no defensive genius (maybe not even a offensive genius) but I do not think the Doug Mallory experience worked out to well….just hoping that since Tom Allen knows a little something about defense, that this does not turn out to be the same type of situation.

    1. Doug Mallory had a record of failing as a DC before becoming IU’s DC. It is a shame Bill Mallory was so loyal to his son despite his failures as DC because it made Doug DC at IU. With a good DC and the offenses at the time the seasons would have been far better.

      Wommack already has a track record of improving defenses so it is a big stretch to compare him to Doug Mallory. By the way it looks like the coach gene in the Mallory family went to the other brother as he is turning around Indiana State.

      1. Mal’s loyalty to his son had nothing to do with Kevin Wilson hiring Doug to be his Co-Defensive Coordinator. Don’t know if DM was a good or bad coach as he and Ekeler (his co-DC) had no talent, but Bill’s loyalty to his son was never the issue.

  6. Currently, Curt Mallory is doing well at ISU with possible future opportunity to go elsewhere or stay at ISU which would be good for ISU. Doug Mallory had a negative defensive history at New Mexico before IU. Currently, Doug Mallory is with the Atlanta Falcons. So I would say he is in a better place for him

  7. Maybe they are not exactly similar but they are very comparable….Doug Mallory — Indiana (DC) 1994-1996, Maryland (DB) 1996-2000, Oklahoma State (DB) 2001-2004, LSU (DB) 2005-2007, LSU (CO-DC) 2008-2009, New Mexico (DC) 2009-2010 and lastly Indiana Univ (Asst head coach- Co-DC) 2011-2013……….Kane Wommack–Tenn (QB) 2010, Jacksonville State (GA-DL) 2011, Ole Miss (GA-saftues) 2012-2013, Eastern Ill (DC) 2014-2015, So Alabama (DC/LB) 2016-2017, Indiana (LB) 2018….Now a point can be made that Doug Mallory had more experiences as a DC than Kane Wommack and that Doug had experience in the BIG 12 and SEC conference, while Kane experience is in the Ohio Valley (FCS) and Sun Belt…..makes a person go umh??? All I am saying is that in 2011 all the articles painted this pretty picture of Doug Mallory and he fell flat on his face. Now we have a pretty picture of Kane Wommack who actually has less experience than Doug Mallory, as Indiana just keep your expectation in perspective.

    1. Posting where they worked doesn’t really mean much. Matt Cassell quarterbacked the New England Patriots. That doesn’t make him ‘comparable’ to Tom Brady.

      Post outcomes. Then we’ll see if they are comparable.

    2. The problem with the pretty picture painted about Doug Mallory it didn’t include being fired by LSU mid season due to poor defensive play or his disastrous DC job at New Mexico. Wommack doesn’t have as much experience but his experience has been much more successful as DC. We won’t know about Wommack until we see how the defense does this year. He does have one advantage Doug Mallory didn’t have and that is coach Allen over looking the defense.

  8. I think everyone was pretty cognizant of the fact that Wilson was struggling to endear himself to Hoosier fans and he saw the Mallory hiring as an homage to his well loved father.

    That didn’t work out.

  9. Doug was part of Wilson’s initial staff, so his hiring wasn’t a response to any struggle to endear himself to IU fans. If you know Wilson, he’d never make a hire with that goal in mind anyway.

    1. So, you know Kevin Wilson well? I think I speak for us all when I tell you I had no idea you possessed such inside info.

      Just so I am more in touch this time, are you close with Tom Allen, also?

      1. You said he was struggling to endear himself to IU fans in the days after he was hired and hired Doug Mallory as a result. That’s not true. To answer your question, I know Wilson but not well.

          1. That’s when Mallory was hired as co-DC, so that’s when he would’ve felt a need to endear himself to IU fans. It wouldn’t have been at any other time. And he didn’t feel pressure. He though DM and Ekeler were good hires, but he didn’t hire either out of a sense of obligation.

  10. Doug Mallory defenses at New Mexico were not good to say the least. However, like other things coaching positions are often situational. A coach or teacher might be a failure or ineffective in one situation and successful in another situation.

  11. Kalen DeBoer is a proven commodity at the height of his success. IU fans should expect the offense to improve. Kane Wommack is a lot like Tom Allen. He’s less proven and less accomplished. Doesn’t mean either won’t be great but they are certainly more of a risk. I think it’s also fair to point out that Allen was hired at the same time Purdue hired Brohm and Minnesota hired Fleck. Both coaches were known commodities and have the 28th and 29th ranked recruiting classes (IU 56), have gone to bowl games and are a combined 3-0 against Tom Allen.

  12. My guess is that Wilson felt pressure to hire Mallory, and not knowing the difference between a good DC and a bad DC, he took the path of least resistance. Mallory is a good man, but he was not effective at IU, and his tenure was a disaster for both Wilson and IU.

  13. Wilson inherited a disastrous football team from Bill Lynch ( 3 conference wins in three last seasons). That was the disaster beset upon Kevin Wilson and any DC working aside the head coach in a program that had reached its deepest bottom point in many years(and that’s quite the bottom for IU).

    Kevin Wilson had changed much of the culture and the talent equation by the time he brought Allen on board.

    Until Wilson had two to three seasons to bring/build an offense with scoring potential and some big play excitement, any defense was going to be taxed while also being built from scratch; coming in on the heels of Lynch at an already notorious bottom-feeder was a situation beyond anything all other Big10 defensive coordinators would have to endure.

    Allen would be in quicksand right now if he’d inherited a team from Bill Lynch. A defense to offense approach would not have worked. Hungry fans wanted some risk-taking…some balls going downfield more than 37 yards, some 4th down aggressive calls…and a higher octane offense.

    There could also be an argument that dynamic defensive players are farther and fewer between… The building of a defense will always lag behind the chances of getting some big play guys on offense(e.g. Coleman, Howard, Latimer, etc).

    1. That analysis explains your much heralded coaching success. You have to ability to foresee the success or failure of other coaches with nothing to base it on.

      That can’t be easy.

      1. Huh…? Lynch’s failure at IU is pretty clear. And that’s the team Wilson and any coordinator inherited from IU. V13 said the same thing in his summation above.
        I could care less about Mallory’s coaching chops. Fact remains, the program took an upward turn(especially in offensive play calling/exciting talent and culture) under Wilson. Any coach coming in under Allen is in a better place than what was here when Doug Mallory arrived.
        Getting any job at IU Football gives me no illusion of a coach at the top of his game. We’re either getting lack of experience, a name connection tied to our glorious football past, an “Indiana” guy(e.g. Allen)…or an unproven.

        It’s fine to crap on any DC until the cows come home…Easy to do when you have a team as historically low on the talent equation as IU. Easier to do when there is a team inherited in the condition left by Bill Lynch.

        We won’t know about Wommack until we see how the defense does this year. He does have one advantage Doug Mallory didn’t have and that is coach Allen over looking the defense(courtesy: V13 @ August 19, 2019 at 10:18 am) .

        Let’s not forget who hired Allen…I would also assume this also means Wommack is coming into a better situation than Mallory did on the heels of Bill Lynch (whether or not Mallory was a good choice).

    2. Wilson did benefit from having a really good QB in Sudfeld. It would have been interesting to see his offense with someone like PR and if things would have improved.

      1. I don’t that it would have been pretty. Sudfield was an NFL quarterback.

        Pretty sure we won’t seeing Peyton in the League.

  14. Wommack will have his work cut out for him as IU has no defensive players listed on 1st, 2nd, or honorable mention at any of the defensive positions (https://www.pff.com/news/college-pff-preseason-2019-all-b1g-team). I thought Ball would at least get an HM.

    Scott was HM at running back and Justus was 1st team kicker.

    It’s preseason and things are bound to change of the course of the season, but it would still be nice to see a couple Hoosiers listed as HM at the least.

    1. While I see your point about gratification, I think, on the field, that players who feel disrespected often play just a little bit more attitude.

  15. The problem with the pretty picture painted about Doug Mallory it didn’t include being fired by LSU mid season due to poor defensive play or his disastrous DC job at New Mexico. Wommack doesn’t have as much experience but his experience has been much more successful as DC. We won’t know about Wommack until we see how the defense does this year. He does have one advantage Doug Mallory didn’t have and that is coach Allen over looking the defense. Also 2017 wasn’t Allen’s class but Wilson’s last class with Allen taking over.

  16. I never did like the Doug Mallory hire before he was hired at IU. Because of his negative results in his previous defense coaching my thoughts were what is he going to do for IU…soft defense and so it was. My comments on Doug Mallory just simply identifies opportunities that an unsatisfactory job performance may get you in the profession. In this case a position with the Atlanta Falcons which is good for him.

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