“Kids that have been complaining recently had a cake walk. It got to the the point where I was on depression pills and Ambien that first year, and I am one of the most mentally strong people I know. It was extremely bad.”
Much has been written about Kevin Wilson in the days since he officially resigned as the head football coach at Indiana. Many different outlets, from the Indiana Daily Student to ESPN.com, have described a culture of fear and emotional abuse during Wilson’s five-year tenure in Bloomington.
All of that is true — but as it turns out, Wilson’s actions were much worse during his first couple of years than anyone has reported.
I spent the last week tracking down and talking to many of the student-athletes that played for Wilson during my time on the beat for the IDS. I covered Bill Lynch‘s final season and Wilson’s first one, but was pretty out of touch with the program after that.
I spoke to several players from Wilson’s first year, none of whom left the team early or had an axe to grind or a reason to lie about Wilson. And what they told me was not only shocking, but deeply, deeply saddening.
In this story, I will attempt to paint the picture of what life was like for the Indiana football players during Wilson’s first year in 2011. The players spoke on the condition of anonymity.
‘It was extremely bad’
Kevin Wilson arrived in Bloomington from the University of Oklahoma, where he’d served as the offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops. The Sooners had gone 12-2 in 2010. That was an annual expectation in Norman, Okla., where Wilson was considered a rising star.
He coached the likes of Adrian Peterson, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Jermaine Gresham, and in 2008, Wilson won the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
When Fred Glass hired him, it was seen universally as a home run. Wilson, an offensive mastermind, was among the most coveted rising coaches in college football. Glass had to open the checkbook to get him, but that was something he was willing to do in an effort to make the football program relevant.
Everybody spoke glowingly about Wilson at the time, so it’s unlikely his misconduct took place before he arrived in Bloomington, but I can’t know for sure. Nobody that played for him at Oklahoma was willing to speak on or off the record for this piece.
Wilson arrived in Bloomington as a macho man, quickly dismissing all the naysayers who said Indiana would never have success in football. But through his eyes, the program was in even worse shape than he expected. Wilson thought Indiana football had a culture of laziness and one that was far too accepting of losing. He couldn’t stand it. And when he couldn’t change it right away, he became outright maniacal.
According to the players I spoke to, Wilson’s misconduct went far beyond forcing players to play through injuries or verbal abuse others have described. Wilson physically hit and beat players during that first season in 2011, according to multiple players, and he drove many of them into a deep, dark place.
“Kids that have been complaining recently had a cake walk,” one player told me. “It got to the the point where I was on depression pills and Ambien that first year, and I am one of the most mentally strong people I know. It was extremely bad.”
That player made it through four years at Indiana. He wasn’t the only one struggling with depression. Five different players estimated that approximately 50 percent of the team was treated for depression in 2011 because of Wilson’s abuse.
So why didn’t they tell anybody? Fear, the top factor in almost every type of abusive relationship. They’d finally accomplished their dream of playing Big Ten football, and now they had to deal with a coach that would abuse them when he was unhappy.
The players I spoke to were mortified when they heard Wilson had received a contract extension last January. They say Glass had to have known what was going on, and he gave the abusive Wilson an extension and a raise anyway.
“I think he knew,” one player said. “I don’t understand any of it at all.”
The players I spoke to all made it through the situation and are doing fine today. But not everybody did.
I knew Damarlo Belcher well during his playing days. He was projected to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, just like his teammate, Tandon Doss. Doss left school early and declared, and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. Belcher spoke to me often about the decision, telling me that Wilson told him he’d turn him into a 1st-round pick if he stayed one more year.
Belcher believed Wilson, who had convinced the young receiver that his forward-thinking offensive system would showcase everything Belcher had to offer — especially since he’d be the No. 1 guy with Doss gone to the NFL.
But Belcher had a big problem with the way Wilson treated players, and he defiantly stood up to Wilson. Wilson responded by rarely calling his number during the 2011 season, ruining his NFL Draft prospects.
This would be bad for any player, but it was especially so for Belcher, who had a child and a girlfriend to support. He needed the guaranteed money of an NFL contract, and he could have had it a year earlier. Now he wouldn’t be drafted at all.
Belcher turned to a life of crime and drugs, and in 2012 was arrested for armed robbery in Bloomington. Belcher, a Fort Wayne native, was charged with a felony when he pulled a gun on a man who was supposed to sell him a quarter pound of marijuana for $1000. Belcher was also named as a suspect in a home robbery where a man was killed. Witnesses said five men entered the house with their faces covered demanding drugs and money.
It’s not Wilson’s fault that Belcher chose to turn to crime, but he certainly isn’t innocent, either. When Belcher’s NFL prospects evaporated, he grew desperate and depressed, and turned down a bad path.
Another player’s account:
“I told the board before I left after I graduated, but they didn’t listen. We spoke and told them when we were there, but they didn’t get our hint or didn’t believe us. Certain players had to deal with a lot of B.S. I had to lift right after surgery and had to have another surgery because of it so I know what guys went through.
He did a lot of good, I admit, but a lot of bad stuff that Mr. Fred Glass didn’t want to believe. It was his hire and he wanted to look good. He was an a**hole, but I did my best to ignore it and graduate.
They will keep Glass because they don’t want to start over with a new AD, but he should be suspended and fined.”