Jones, Wright reunite with Allen on IU sideline

Stored in the minds of newly minted Indiana football assistants Kevin Wright and Jason Jones are vivid memories of the man they now call boss.

For Wright, the Hoosiers’ recently appointed tight ends coach, he remembers being on the sidelines as head coach of Warren Central High School in the mid-2000s, when Tom Allen led Indianapolis rival Ben Davis.

“We used to give him a hard time on our sidelines because we thought he’d hurt somebody, jumping around and doing all those things,” Wright said. “He’s still doing it, but it goes all the way back to that.”

Jones, now responsible for IU’s safeties, has a more recent recollection. He joined the staff at Ole Miss as a cornerbacks coach in 2013, working alongside Allen when he led the Rebels’ linebackers.

“You see him on the practice field, he’s bouncing around, and, like Kevin said, he’ll get excited,” Jones said. “I’ve seen him grab guys and tackle ’em and jump on their backs … he brings that energy every single day.”

Jones and Wright each followed paths that diverged from Allen somewhat, but there is a reason each stayed on the other’s radar.

Wright guided not only Warren Central and Carmel to success but was most recently the head coach at IMG Academy in Florida, a factory for blue-chip recruits. Jones has coached winners of his own, making 14 bowl trips in his 17 years in the college ranks.

When Allen came calling, offering positions on IU’s staff, each of them knew who they were signing up with.

“I think the core values and the fact that Coach Allen is one of the good guys in college football right now,” Wright said. “Having known him for so long, you know what a guy’s about. And then as you follow someone’s career and you run into each other through the years, they change as they climb the ladder or they don’t.

“It’s the same guy, the same culture, and now he has an opportunity to do it on a bigger stage.”

In joining with Allen at IU, Jones and Wright have a chance to help continue the Hoosiers’ upward trajectory as a program. IU is coming off of an 8-5 season, capped by a one-point loss to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl.

The timing was just right for both coaches.

Wright, in particular, has a daughter graduating high school and another just about to enter the ninth-grade in the fall, which seemed like a good time for a move into the college ranks. It’s a level that’s always appealed to him, and he was at Western Kentucky as offensive coordinator between his stints at Warren Central and Carmel.

He isn’t just the son of longtime Sheridan coach Bud Wright, the all-time winningest coach in Indiana high school football. Kevin is also the husband of an IU grad, Elizabeth, which made a jump to the Hoosiers all the more appealing.

“She’s got more red than I’ve ever had in my closet, but I’m gaining a lot quickly,” Wright said.

After officially being added to IU’s staff last week, Wright returned to Florida to recruit. His five-year stint at IMG gives him connections in the southwest part of the state.

It also gave him experience building a program. IMG football was just three-semesters old when he inherited it from former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke. Wright needed to build relationships in the state just to convince other schools to put IMG on their schedule.

Now he sees IU as another opportunity to help build something.

“Having been in college at Western, having that opportunity and being at a mid-major where you are trying to build it, you are kind of wanting more,” Wright said. “What better place than Indiana University? Coach was talking about how long it’s been since we won a Big Ten Championship. I believe we can do it.

“To me, that’s part of it. I’ve had too many guys tell me in my high school career, ‘You can’t win at Warren Central, yadda, yadda.’ Well, we did.”

Jones comes to IU after one season as Florida Atlantic’s cornerbacks coach. There, he was part of a defense that finished tops in the nation in takeaways (33) and helped win Conference USA and Boca Raton Bowl titles.

He also had more than just Allen as an IU connection. Current assistants Grant Heard (receivers) and Kane Wommack (linebackers/defensive coordinator) also hail from Ole Miss, as well as director of recruiting Lee Wilbanks and director of player personnel Dwike Wilson.

Jones was an assistant at Oklahoma State when he first crossed paths with Allen, because they recruited the same high schools in Dallas, Tex. He’s part of the reason why Jones chose to go to work for the Rebels.

“He’s never changed,” Jones said. “You see him in 2012 and he’s the same guy today. And in the coaching world, just talking, that’s what you appreciate as a coach.”

The sustained bowl success Jones experienced in the Big 12 and the SEC, he thinks it can translate for IU, because of the culture Allen has instilled.

“There are no egos, nobody is trying to push themselves or promote themselves over the team,” Jones said. “They are more concerned with the team being successful and the team doing well and I think that’s because of the foundation that Coach Allen has created, and that’s what he preaches, and that’s why we are going to end up being successful.”

Like all of IU’s assistants, Jones will be asked to utilize his own Florida connections to help recruit. He’s going to be in charge of the Orlando area. He’s also been assigned to Nashville, Tenn., as another area of emphasis.

Jones and Wright were back in Bloomington on Sunday to help recruit, as many of IU’s 2021 targets gathered at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for a junior day. The Hoosiers’ new position coaches were excited about the group, which Wright said was “as good as I’ve seen in 20 years.”

A couple of decades ago, Wright would have been the head coach at Noblesville High, taking a pit stop at Louisville Trinity for a year before moving to Warren Central, standing on the opposite sideline from an energetic Allen.

Now, he’s in the college ranks, alongside Allen, right where he wants to be.

“It was a goal, but it was one of those things, it had to be the right fit for the right person at the right place because I left a pretty good situation,” Wright said, recalling his second home down at IMG. “It’s still 75 degrees right now and the sun is still shining.”

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