Each week, I watch Indiana football. No matter how much it pains me, I do it. I go through the whole routine too. I listen to the CrimsonCast preview and recap podcast each week. I also enjoy the preview/recap/Hoosier news Mind Your Banners podcast brought to you by the Hoosier beat writers (apologies if the title isn’t exactly right) Zach Osterman and Dustin Dopirak. I read their articles each week and definitely submit my questions to the Q&A when I have something I’m upset about or just generally curious about.
This week, there was a troubling theme in the questions being asked, and I feel there was a troubling answer from Mr. Osterman regarding one of the asked questions.
The Question: If it wasn’t for the 30M buyout and Dolson (the IU AD) not caring about football, shouldn’t Allen be on the hot seat?
The response from Osterman: “No, and this stuff needs to stop. A job like Indiana needs to be patient, or else nothing substantial will ever be built here. And it needs to be particularly patient with the coach who authored its best two-year run in three decades, both because that coach has literally proven the capacity to succeed here, and also because if the day ever comes when it’s time to move on, no coach worth his weight will be interested in what is undeniably a difficult job if he thinks impatience will get him fired. I get the frustration in the moment. But hot seat talk right now is silly.”
Osterman did put out put out a piece on what Tom Allen’s buyout would be, and you can read it here.
In order to discuss this particular topic, I want you to understand one thing about my perspective. My perspective is that just because I want Tom Allen’s seat to be warmed up, doesn’t mean I want him fired this season. I will elaborate a tad in a bit, but now onto the main topic.
I believe Zach Osterman is wrong to tamp down calls for Tom Allen’s seat temperature to be raised. The following are reasons I believe we should be talking about if Tom Allen is the right person to lead the Indiana Hoosiers.
The first thing, and perhaps most important line on the resume for a coach in terms of fan support, is the list of “What have you done” or “What have you won?” Well…for Tom Allen that answer is not a lot. This year is his 6th year as the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers. He’s been to 2 bowl games with teams he’s coached and served as interim coach (can’t remember if he was officially official) in the 2016 Foster Farms bowl. So his overall record at this point in time is 29-36, 16-31 in conference play, and 0-3 in bowl games.
None of those records really inspire a major amount of confidence on the surface. So what happens when you dig a little deeper into the record?
You see two 5-7 seasons fraught with self inflicted wounds. In 2017, the Hoosiers gave away games in East Lansing, Maryland, and Purdue that kept them out of a bowl. In 2018, the Hoosiers blew a golden opportunity to beat Iowa or a struggling at the time Minnesota team before again losing to Purdue in the final game at HOME.
Glancing down the record sheet, you then see two fantastic years scarred by eerily similar endings. In 2019, the Hoosiers won 8 games and went to the Gator Bowl, finishing 5-4 in the conference. However, in the Gator Bowl bad execution and an unaware Hoosier team were beat by the Tennessee Volunteers. In 2020, the Hoosiers were able to take advantage of empty stands and COVID opt outs to go 6-1 in conference and 6-2 overall. Losing streaks to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan were stopped and Indiana put the fear of God into Ohio State before losing to a subpar but weird matchup in the bowl game to Ole Miss.
Last year, the Hoosiers went into the year as favorites to contend for the B1G East Title and ended up not winning a Big Ten game. And not just losing out, but watching the entire program quit after getting slammed by Ohio State at the midpoint in the year. That team finished 2-10.
Now, Indiana is on the ropes again with a 3-4 record, but they have been competitive at points this season and could very easily be 4-3. They can very realistically go to New Jersey and win a fourth game this year with 2 more winnable games left on the schedule and an intriguing matchup with Penn State on the schedule as well.
When you zoom back out, though, you see that Tom Allen has only been a head coach at Indiana, and sports 2 winning seasons, 3 losing seasons, and seems to be on the way to his fourth losing season.
At most schools? That’s enough to get your ass on the hot seat at minimum. At most schools, being preseason ranked and failing to win a single conference game gets you canned. Yet, Indiana fans must be okay with this overall body of work? Never mind that from the surface it appeared that we didn’t even conduct a thorough coaching search before hiring Tom Allen as the head guy in 2016? We just said, ‘meh, you’ve done good with defense, make magic.’
Tom Allen’s Hires
It’s not just Coach Allen’s record that gives Indiana fans heartburn. Tom Allen’s choices of hires have been suspect too.
Let’s talk first about the job that’s hampered Tom Allen teams the most: The Offensive Coordinator. In 6 years, the offensive coordinators have been Mike DeBord (2 seasons, retired), Kalen DeBoer (1 season, left for Fresno State Head Job), Nick Sheridan (2 seasons, fired), and Walt Bell (current OC). Mike DeBord looked like a great hire on paper, yet he had not been effective as an OC since 2006. DeBord lasted those two seasons and Indiana football struggled and DeBord looked like an old coach attempting to run an offense from the mid 90’s in the modern game of football. After the retirement but not really of DeBord, Tom Allen got his best hire in Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer was able to make some magic in 2019 before immediately bolting to a head job at Fresno State. Allen then made his worst offensive hire, Nick Sheridan. For a hot minute in 2020, it looked like Sheridan may have been able to channel what DeBoer brought to Indiana, but as injuries piled up and 2020 turned into 2021, Sheridan became more and more inept and was eventually relieved of his duties.
Now, Indiana has Walt Bell. Not exactly an eye popping hire, nor is it a hire that inspires much confidence as the most success he’s had at OC was at Arkansas State, despite being the OC at Maryland and Florida State. He was also fired from UMass in 2021.
Another black eye on the program offensively was the departure of Mike Hart. Hart was a key recruiter from 2017 to 2020, and now resides in Ann Arbor coaching for Michigan.
Now let’s look defensively at what the hiring situation has been. Officially, Mark Hagen was the coordinator for two years, then Kane Wommack was the defensive coordinator for two years, there was a year of Charlton Warren, and now we have Chad Wilt. These defensive hires have been rather okay. Kane Wommack being the best hire overall, but we are already on our second defensive coordinator since his departure in 2020.
Stability as this position has not been great and there have been multiple years where Tom Allen himself has called defensive plays instead of the actual defensive coordinator. That’s not a problem when you win, but when you lose it raises questions.
For those keeping score at home, I have 1 good defensive hire (Wommack), 1 good offensive hire (DeBoer), 1 meh defensive hire (Hagen), 1 meh offensive hire (DeBord), 1 bad defensive hire (Warren), and 1 bad offensive hire (Sheridan). I will reserve judgement on Bell and Wilt until they wrap up their first season. That’s all over the place and considering you had the Sheridan/Warren combination for a year, it’s not great news.
These are just the turnovers at the major coordinator positions and a gripe about losing a running backs coach. Go down the list of coaches and you see the same instability. Top that off with the most stable assistant job on the roster effectively turned an Indiana Hoosier squad known for good line play into a team that could not block 90 year old women in wheelchairs in Darren Hiller. Hiller was with the team for 5 seasons before being fired a couple weeks ago.
That’s the guy we retained. That guy.
I get at a place like Indiana, you’re going to have turnover in your assistant rooms and at your coordinators. You’re going to have coordinators who want to be head coaches. But for the love of God, is it that hard to retain some of your most valuable coaches? And if not, hire people who actually have had some success and not just who’s available?
Tom Allen as a Coach
I don’t know how to say this without completely putting Tom Allen down, but he seems to be bad at actually coaching football teams. Let’s use Indiana’s main attraction, basketball, as an example. Who would you prefer to draw up your team’s plays: Porter Moser or Chris Collins? From the tape I’ve seen, I’m choosing Porter Moser all day long. Who do you want to manage your team through multiple seasons: Tom Izzo or Mark Turgeon? Izzo obviously. When I think of a Porter Moser or a Tom Izzo, I see certain traits from their programs that feels tight, compact, and put together.
I believe that, given a scenario that’s totally not plausible, if it were on my life to have a coach draw up a game winning play to save my life either of those two guys would be able to hand me a play that would allow me to live.
Turning to the football equivalent, think of a Luke Fickell-type coach. That program is put together. The screws are all tights and they run a lean, mean machine. I also trust Fickell to be a fantastic game manager and ensure that come crunch time, Cincinnati isn’t going to beat themselves. Perhaps Fickell is the ultimate equivalent to Tom Allen here, as both were head coaches for the first time in 2017.
The bottom line here to me is, I don’t particularly trust Tom Allen as a head coach. I don’t trust the decisions he makes on the field. I don’t believe that in a close game Tom Allen can coach his team to victory. I don’t think he could draw up a play that could save my life on either side of the ball. As stated above, I don’t think he’s a good judge of coaching talent and I question his strategy a lot. From the development of the team over the last two years, it appears he may not be able to even improve the talent on his roster.
This criticism of course should come with the disclaimer that Tom Allen knows WAY more about the game of football than myself and you do dear reader. He knows more about running a program than us. He knows more about dealing with recruiting, fans, and media than us. You know what though? I don’t know how to build a house, but I do know when one is built like shit. Unfortunately, Tom Allen may have built the Hoosiers like shit.
In Defense of Tom Allen and Mr. Osterman
These criticisms should be taken as just that though: criticisms.
I don’t like how this season has played out. I hated how last season played out. I hate that Indiana hasn’t won any of its four bowls in the past 9 years and I hate that it’s been one win away from a bowl in 3 of those 9 seasons.
Mr. Osterman is right, though: Indiana fans need to take a breath and look at the bigger picture a bit. Tom Allen has given Indiana 2 of its best and most fun seasons in decades. Fluke or not, it happened because of what Tom Allen did with what he had. The hires and talent were right for 2 years.
To the defense of the current season, 2022 was always destined to be a rebuilding year of sorts. 2021 retained a lot of the talent from the 2020 team which meant that there were players underneath that weren’t going to get game experience until 2022. There are only 11 seniors on the roster this season, with 1 that is coming back in Matt Bedford. The most important position on the field, the quarterback, is a Jr. and may have a COVID year that can make him a So. eligibility wise but even if he isn’t, he’s back for another year next season.
It also helps that Tom Allen wants to be at Indiana. Tom Allen is a New Castle kid. He’s said multiple times he loves it in Bloomington and the people genuinely love him. He’s an extremely likable guy from the distance I’m at, and I can only imagine him being every bit the good person he seems to be day to day. That does matter in terms of who you want leading your program. It’s not the most important thing, but it definitely helps.
An Honest Discussion is Needed
No matter what, we need to be honest as a fan base and media about the football program though. The world moves fast and continues to accelerate every day. 2021 can’t just be waved away as if it didn’t happen. It was the worst football season in a decade and Tom Allen did nothing in season to avert that conclusion, not even firing the offensive coordinator overseeing one of the worst team offensive performances in Big Ten history until after the season when it was clear in week 5 something needed done.
Indiana fans won’t wait around with losing season (2021) after losing season (2022 maybe) after losing season (2023) for football, especially if basketball is able to rebound successfully with Coach Woodson. They’ll simply lose interest. Indiana football can’t afford to be forgotten about in a world where football is monetarily king. It also cannot accept subpar performances over a duration of time.
While the history hasn’t been written just yet, if 2022 fails to meet a winning standard (the standard being bowl eligibility at 6-6), that would be 2 seasons in a row where Indiana has failed to be at least .500. It cannot afford to have a 3rd in a row, and it certainly can’t afford to wait until the conclusion of the 2024 season and have a 4th in a row. As an Indiana football fan, it feels like we are staring directly at 4 straight losing seasons at this point.
A Non-Committal Conclusion
That last paragraph was as extreme as I can get. Hell, we don’t even have the finish to 2022 yet, how can I say for certain Indiana will suck again next season. It serves the point though that despite some recent winning ways, Indiana fans always just assume the Hoosiers will lose and will continue to assume the worst until we get a string of good seasons.
We thought Indiana might have finally reset the floor in 2020 only for 2021 to kick us all in the <insert genital of choice here>. Now this season we see the same stuff that doomed the 2019 and 2020 bowl games, and the 2017 and 2018 seasons. It’s simply not good enough to say, “well you’ve got to give Tom Allen time.” He’s had time. This is his 6th season. In 2017, business insider said the average length a football coach stays is 3.8 years before getting canned. That number certainly hasn’t improved I wouldn’t imagine.
2022 should be looked at a little differently though. It was always the rebuilding year. Restocking year. Gaining team experience year. Whatever you want to call it, I completely agree with Mr. Osterman in the regard that talk of removing Tom Allen over this season’s results is a bridge too far. To counter though, should 2022 end on a down note I think it’s disingenuous to tell Indiana fans we can’t talk about Allen being on the hot seat come next year. I don’t even think it’s a bad thing to acknowledge that should trends continue, that’s where he’s heading.
In my mind, it all rides on 2023 now. 3 strikes and you’re out. So Mr. Osterman we should discuss Tom Allen’s seat, even if we have to label it as “room temperature” for now.
Read the Zach Osterman Q&A piece here (Subscription to the IndyStar required (only $1 for the first 6 months is a hell of a deal in my opinion))