In 2019, Tom Allen jogged across the field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Indiana Hoosiers had just beaten a Scott Frost led Nebraska squad 38-31. For the first time of the Tom Allen era and the 3rd time in 5 years, the Hoosiers were bowl bound. More importantly, they were 6-2.
The next game was a home game against a struggling Northwestern squad. A night game. A swirl of press and affection spewed out from the fanbase.
“Pack the Rock!”
“Support the Hoosiers!”
“These guys deserve to play in front of a packed house!”
To the Hoosier nation’s credit, they delivered. At a night game in November, 40,924 people showed up at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington the next week to support the Hoosiers.
My father, a stanch believer that Indiana football sucks, agreed to come with me to that game. There, we watched Indiana do something it had only one once in my lifetime, win 7 games. Despite Mike Penix Jr. going down with what ended up being a season ending injury, the Hoosiers beat Northwestern 34-3 at home. Finally, the football team I loved was on the right path.
Fast forward 13 months. A week removed from the number 12 Hoosiers losing Mike Penix Jr. to his 3rd season ending injury of his career, the Hoosiers flew up to Madison, Wisconsin to take on a randomly ranked somehow Wisconsin team. The Hoosiers battled with Jack Tuttle. With that defense. Indiana came out victorious 14-6. That’s where we find the clip of Tom Allen, mid-interview, being lauded by his players.
“Play for this man!”
“Best coach in the Nation!”
One month later, despite a humiliating loss to Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl, Tom Alen was named AFCA Coach of the Year. On top of that, a slew of 2020 players announced they’d be returning for another go at a Big Ten crown. Something everyone thought was on the table.
You see, it’s hard to put it all this into context without remembering where we were. For the 100+ years of Indiana football, the Hoosiers are the losingest program in football. At the time of writing, the program sits at 502-706-44 with a .419 winning percentage. Indiana is 3-10 in bowl games all time. They have 2 conference titles that could either be dead or pretty close to collecting full blown retirement.
Now where are we? Oh well since that moment, the Hoosiers are 8-28. They are 2-20 in the Big Ten. To litigate the past a little more as well, Indiana is exactly 1 blown decision by Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton, 1 blown call by the Big Ten referees against Illinois, 1 missed 30 some yard field goal by Western Kentucky, 1 blown sub 20 yard field goal by Michigan State, and 1 sub 40 yard field goal by Akron from being 3-31. The worst part? There’s not a lot of games where you can flip it and say they’d be closer to 18-18. I actually don’t think there’s any where 1 play could have been the exact difference.
Indiana football is back at the edge of the abyss after the 31-14 loss to the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. Indiana is now 0-8 against Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue in the last 3 years. It’s those 3 teams because for the majority of the bowling seasons, Indiana banked on being able to be better than those 3 schools. In the current conference alignment, Indiana has never lost to Maryland and went bowling.
The team looks like it simply doesn’t know what to do. The coaches sound like they simply don’t know what to do. The fans? Well we know exactly what to do. We aren’t going to be showing up, that’s for damn sure.
When programs get into this state, they generally begin cutting anchors left and right. It all starts in 2021 when an overwhelmed Nick Sheridan is axed at the end of the season. That’s what happens when your offense performs poorly in a season where you win 2 games. The Indiana defensive coordinator Charlon Warren also bolts. Tom Allen then hires Walt Bell to be OC, but adds he must not clean house offensively. He then hires Chad Wilt to become DC. However, Allen decides he will call plays. After years and years of offensive line ineptitude, Tom Allen finally fires OL coach Darren Hiller in 2022 halfway through the year. Well in the offseason of 2022, Allen decides he can’t call plays well and be the head coach so he hires another co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri. He gives Guerrieri the play calling duties ahead of Wilt. Now in 2023, Indiana has axed Walt Bell.
We can keep going around and around on this. However at this point, there is only one thing these seasons have in common, and it’s Tom Allen.
Now if you’re reading this or read the Hot Seat article by our esteemed BoilerUp89, we are probably on the same page. It’s likely that if you’re reading this as an OTE guy, I don’t have to convince you that Tom Allen should be fired. We all know this. Every single hot seat board in the country has Allen as a top 5 “fire this guy.” The question is, will Indiana go through with it?
Indiana will have to pay out $20 million to buy out Allen’s contract on December 1st. It will also owe money to the remaining staff to buyout their contracts because I’d be FLOORED if anyone Indiana hired would want to retain anyone. To say it’s a steep sum is putting it lightly.
That’s the question though. Will Indiana invest that much money in football? Will Scott Dolson pony up that cash to put this program out of its misery? Nobody knows. Nobody can say. What I will say is that it’s incredibly likely that even if Tom Allen coaches at Indiana in 2024, this program will go nowhere. It will be 2 wins. It will be ugly. Football profits will dip. You thought the Rutgers attendance looked bad? What happens when half your fans don’t buy season tickets next year? What happens when the parking lots are even emptier than they are? How much money will you lose then? An apathetic fanbase also doesn’t donate to the program. How much is that worth?
Firing Allen in 2024 still costs you the money to buy out assistants and is still $8 million probably. Is one year of being the laughing stock of college football worth saving $12 million? Can you salvage a program that will be in that shape in 2024 by the time the next round of conference realignment and TV contracts happens in 2030? It took 5 years for Kevin Wilson to crawl out of the hole the program was in previously.
The sad question you’ll also have to ask is, if you keep Tom Allen, will anyone care? I’m certain some 60 year old person in the IU atmosphere will be happy he gets another run. But the fanbase? Man, we’re out now. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a team plays on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington to 20,000 fans in a stadium for 50,000, do they get any say in television negotiations?
Finally, the eventual sacking of Tom Allen isn’t something that should be celebrated. It’s going to be a bittersweet day. From most accounts, Tom Allen is a guy who you would LOVE to have represent your program. He’s an upstanding person. Players love him. He’s genuine and honest with the media in a time where a jackass like Lincoln Riley suspends writers for asking pervasive questions. I would love nothing more than for Tom Allen to figure out how to win the last 4 games of the season, turn around, and do it again next season. I’d be so happy he finally figured it out because I truly do want him to succeed because of who he is.
He’s not turning it around.
It’s not getting better.
This is a business.
This is a passion.
It’s time for the Allen era to end.
The 31-14 loss to Rutgers is the most devastating loss the Hoosiers have had in Allen’s tenure. It’s likely the one that most folks will point to and say, “I knew he was on his way out the door.” We still have a month and change until we find out if Indiana will invest to reset the program or if this team will become a zombie for one more year.
I for one, hope they put the program out of its misery. I loved 2019 and 2020. I loved 2015 and 2016. I want to feel those moments more, and these moments less.
This is the last football specific article from me this year. I don’t want to be whiney. I don’t want to come out and just say “fire everyone.” I’ve done enough of that and I recognize it. So this is me, saying my piece. Spouting into the void and hoping for better days yet to come. Indiana football will see another year next season, and I’ll be sure to be there to comment when it does for good or bad. But I can’t take this team anymore. I can’t take this coaching staff any longer. It’s simply no fun. So until news breaks or I feel like talking basketball, I’ll see you around.