Let’s get this out of the way: I was wrong about Tom Allen.
When Indiana hired Allen as its new head football coach almost immediately after parting ways with Kevin Wilson late last year, I was highly critical of the move. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Allen or that I didn’t think he was capable of being a head coach at the Big Ten level. It was more about the recklessness of the hire — or the perception of recklessness — that caused me to question whether athletic director Fred Glass should even keep his job.
When you’re not inside the organization every day, you don’t really know why people do the things they do. You can’t know. The best you can do as an outsider is form an opinion based on the facts you do know and the picture you put together in your head based on those facts.
The way I saw it, Glass parted ways with Wilson just a year after signing him to a lengthy contract extension, then promoted a guy in Allen that had been with Indiana for only a year to the head coaching position without even interviewing any other candidates. And he signed him to a lengthy, lucrative contract at that.
It seemed beyond reckless. It seemed irresponsible. Why rush such an important decision, I wondered? Why not let him coach the bowl game with an interim tag, do your due diligence, look at other candidates? If Allen is still the best candidate at that point, then by golly, hire the man.
Looking at it today, now that some time has passed and I’ve learned more facts from those familiar with the program, I don’t see it the same way. I owe Glass an apology. I still think he made a mess of the Wilson situation and handled the Tom Crean situation poorly, but I was wrong about his handling of Allen. If Indiana didn’t give him a head coaching job when it did — if Glass had waited — another school likely would have.
Indiana fans aren’t the only ones who saw what Allen did with IU’s defense last year — the college football world noticed. So Glass wasted no time showing his commitment to Allen, and now that I’ve seen the guy coach, I understand why.
Nearly every year since I arrived in Bloomington in 2009, I’ve fallen into the trap of believing that the Indiana football program is turning the corner. I covered the team as a columnist for two seasons with the Indiana Daily Student, then three more with Scout Media. I covered the end of the Bill Lynch era and the first several years of the Wilson era. The program never turned the corner.
“We’re close, we just have to finish” is a quote that’s been repeated every year since I’ve been following the team. After awhile, you start to realize they’re not actually close, because “close” in football might as well be a million miles away.
Now, though, I truly believe Indiana football is turning a corner. I’ve believed it before and been wrong, but there’s something different about this Allen fella. His relentless positive energy is infectious to everybody around him in the same way Wilson’s negative energy was often infectious to those around him.
College football players will do anything for a coach that believes in them with all his heart and that will go to war with them every day, regardless of who that war is against.
“He really cares about us,” senior linebacker Chris Covington told the Indianapolis Star in August. “He’s like a father figure to us. We believe in him and the direction we’re going.”
What I saw on Saturday, when Indiana dominated Virginia in a 34-17 road victory, is something I haven’t seen from Indiana football before. An emphatic victory over an ACC school at their place — and it wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.
When those wins have come in the past, they’ve usually involved either a.) the opponent playing poorly, b.) Indiana holding on for dear life at the end, or c.) a combination of both. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. The Hoosiers built a big lead, and then they stomped on Virginia’s throat. That’s an Indiana football program I can get behind.
“I live my life by this principle,” Allen said in his introductory press conference last December, “that I’m going to work like it depends on me, and I’m going to pray like it depends on God.”
Wilson arrived at Indiana thinking he could change the culture to one of championship quality overnight, but he did it full of negative energy and negative reinforcement. He berated his players. He ran many of them off the team.
Allen’s goal is the same as Wilson’s — it’s his approach that’s different. Allen is in this with his players in a way I don’t think Wilson ever was. And this is only Year One. Shoot, this is after Game Two. How will we feel in say, Year Three?
I don’t have the answer to that question now, but I have a feeling Hoosier fans will be pretty happy with the direction of their football program.
After Indiana lost a heartbreaker to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl last season, Allen was frustrated.
“Tired of being close,” he said that night. “Want to break through.”
Tom Allen — I’m a believer. I’m sorry I wasn’t earlier.