CHICAGO – Indiana has had seven football coaches in the past 33 years, and only Bill Mallory has lasted past five years.
That list changes this fall when Kevin Wilson, armed with a new six-year contract extension, will lead the Hoosiers into his sixth season.
The extension is a huge deal because it adds stability to one of the Big Ten’s most unstable football outposts. You’d think the biggest thing about the long-term deal is its effect on recruits and their parents in living rooms, but not so, says Wilson.
It’s much more than that.
“It’s everything, not just recruiting,” Wilson said Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days. “We’ve not changed anything at all in our approach to recruiting. We always start in our state, and that five-hour radius that takes us St. Louis, Chicagoland, Detroit, Cleveland, Louisville. Before we’d hear, kids were tied in so much where our team was, that they didn’t know about all that negativity, and if we were going to survive and make it.
“I’m thankful to our administration, President (Michael) McRobbie and (IU athletic director) Fred (Glass) for the opportunity. We’ve gotten better, but we need to be better than we are. And that’s where the extension comes in. It allowed us to attract coaches, and even other things. Our head trainer left, he went back out west to his alma mater, and our pool of candidates for the trainer position is three times better than what it was two years ago. And I think it’s because, hey, you’re going to be there for a while.”
Mallory stayed 13 years and is Indiana’s all-time winningest coach with 69 victories. But the others – Sam Wyche (1), Cam Cameron (5) Gerry DiNardo (3), the late Terry Hoeppner (2) and Bill Lynch (4) – never made it into second contract territory. Now Wilson has a chance to build on last season’s six-win campaign and the first bowl trip for the Hoosiers since 2007.
The biggest thing the contract has provided is an opportunity to go out and hire a hot defensive coordinator in Tom Allen. He did wonders at South Florida in Tampa and almost got the Auburn job this winter. He put in quality time at Ole Miss as well. Wilson is glad to have him.
“Coach Allen brings in a lot of confidence and a lot of things defensively, and I tell you, that defensive staff, they are recruiting their tail off,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know much about him but (assistant coach) Greg Frey, who’s got a lot of ties down there (in Tampa Bay), told me during the season that the D-coordinator there at South Florida, everybody’s raving about him. I didn’t even know he was a Ben Davis (High School in Indianapolis) guy and that he grew up in Indiana.
“I just felt a connection with him right away. I couldn’t believe how positive he was. And I’ve been even more pleased since he’s been with me. We’re really glad to have him.”
Indiana had the Big Ten’s top-ranked offense last year and scoring points has never been a problem. The hope is that Allen will make the defense better. Indiana blew late leads against Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers last year and, oh, would 9-3 have sounded much better than 6-6 during the regular season.
“We played a number of games against great teams that were really, really good,” Wilson said. “We basically played four teams (including Iowa) that were basically playing for a championship, and we got good teams playing well. It was encouraging to see our kids match up.
“We gained a lot of confidence with that, but then we showed them and said, look, we played a lot of good football and it still wasn’t enough. So let’s practice a little harder, play with a little more energy and let’s get over the hump.”
The key will be winning early – the non-conference games are with Florida International, Ball State and Wake Forest – and finding a way to win three games or more in the Big Ten to get back to a bowl game. Indiana has one of the league’s best offensive lines, talented backs and receivers and a level of confidence that’s certainly different.
Now it’s time for the next step.