Indiana University football coach Tom Allen, speaking with the reporters at the Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago on Monday, expressed his gratitude to athletic director Fred Glass and former IU coach Kevin Wilson for bringing him back to his home state a year ago to become IU’s defensive coordinator
Allen was named the Hoosiers’ head coach after Wilson resigned at the end of last season because of disagreements with Glass over how the program should be run, including how he disciplined players and dealt with injuries.
TOM ALLEN: Excited to be a part of a program that’s gone to back-to-back bowl games. It’s only happened four times in our program’s history. And the ability to build off of that foundation of playing tough, competitive football week in, week out.
That brings me to the point in our program where we’ve been challenged as players and as coaches to break through. As we know, many times we’ve been close. The last time we played in the Foster Farms Bowl against a very talented Utah team, final minutes of the game, opportunity to finish with a win and did not.
I challenged our team with this concept. When I met with our players after I took over, I wrote these three numbers on the board — I did this with our staff as well — 50, 26, 10. And I asked them if they knew what those numbers represented, and they didn’t. So I proceeded to tell them. It’s been 50 years since we won the Big Ten; it’s been 26 years since we won a bowl game; it’s been 10 years since we had a winning season at Indiana.
We’re going to accomplish all three of those, I told our team. If you don’t believe that, you need to leave. Said the same thing to our staff. I love them. I appreciate them. But I want a coaching staff, I want a football team that believes.
… Excited about our staff. Brought in Mike DeBord to be our new offensive coordinator from the University of Tennessee, where he was in that same role there, a man that I trust, that I know has tremendous high character, tremendous person, and excellent football coach. Joining in with Grant Heard to coach receivers; Darren Hiller, offensive line; Mike Hart, running backs; and Nick Sheridan coaching the quarterbacks. A whole new offensive staff that I’m excited about. Tremendous character and leadership. Also great knowledge and a heart for their players, which I care a whole lot about.
Q. You’ve had some time to reflect now on the way you got the job with Kevin Wilson’s departure. What are your thoughts about that, and also going against him in that opener (against Ohio State), which you call it the biggest in Indiana history?
TOM ALLEN: It’s the biggest home opener because we’ve not played a more highly ranked conference opponent to start a season before, and that creates a lot of excitement.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of respect for Kevin. Appreciate what he did for me. This is about the Indiana Hoosiers versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. And we haven’t had a conference opening game since 1982. So that obviously makes it a very, very big game for us.
And the media is going to make a big deal about him being there (as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator) and myself being here, offense versus defense. But it’s really bigger than that. It’s not about me or coaches; it’s about players making plays.
Q. I know with your background you have a passion for Indiana high school football games from your time at North Castle and coaching at Ben Davis, great program. Commissioner Delany just talked about the Friday night games at the Big Ten. There’s going to be three or four in Big Ten cities, one in West Lafayette, none in Bloomington this year, but do you have mixed feelings about that, or are you a little concerned with that, given what it means to Indiana high school football to have Friday nights to themselves?
TOM ALLEN: Yes, I’m very concerned about it. I’m not going to sit here and try and make a big issue in terms of what I think. My history as a high school coach for 15 years is strong. It’s who I am, it’s how I started, and it’s been so many years.
I think that’s a special night. I don’t like playing games on Friday night. I think that’s high school night. But it’s not always my decision, but I’m one of those I’m not going to just not tell you what I believe.
I think that’s a situation where I would prefer that we didn’t. But I understand there may be factors outside of my control for that. But to answer your question, I would like to keep that night special for high school football. That means a lot to me.
Q. You mentioned you had a lot of respect for quarterback Richard Lagow. What has he done in the offseason to grow both on the field and off the field?
TOM ALLEN: I would say, first of all, would be leadership. I’m a strong believer that everything rises and falls on leadership. It begins with us as coaches.
But you have to create it, develop it, enhance it with your team. He’s bought into that. I’ve sat with him. We’ve met. We’ve challenged, given him books to read, to be able to get different thoughts on how to creatively live that out.
And he’s grown. And has just taken position, owning it, taking charge, realizing this is your football team, this is your offense, and holding your teammates accountable. It takes courage to do that. It’s hard to stand up and tell your peers they’re doing something wrong or getting them back in line or whatever, whether it’s on the field or off the field.
That’s something I’ve seen him grow in a lot, just learning our system and allowing him to be able to play with confidence, execute, throw the ball extremely well. Gotta protect it better. And he knows that.
Q. A year ago at this time you were a new defensive coordinator at Indiana trying to get that defense a lot better than it was. You succeeded in that. I’m curious, as you look back on that season, if there were two or three things that were really important to nail down with your team before the season and then played itself out during the season that sort of led to such an incredible improvement in points and yards allowing?
TOM ALLEN: I would say so. First of all, we made such a huge issue of taking the ball away. We had kind of created a culture of — we used that word, different word, we’re not allowed — as a defense we’re not allowed to use the word “turnover.” If I say “turnover,” I have to do 25 pushups as a coach. Players have to as well. We want to be aggressively attacking the football.
So we made such a huge issue of that throughout spring football, fall camp, have a whole mechanism of reinforcing that with reward system, a penalty system, all those things involved.
So we get into our first game down at FIU, and we score on defense in the second quarter. Then we score again on defense in the fourth quarter. And we got a safety. We scored 16 points with two key takeaways on defense.
There’s a video of me getting really, really excited, which is kind of normal for me, but I was extra excited because I knew how big that was. In our very first game, where we’re creating takeaways and we’re scoring on defense, which was emphasized for so long, since the first day I got there, it was huge.
And the second one was against Michigan State. We had a chance to go to overtime, and I challenged our defense to be the reason why. I felt like I hadn’t been in that position very long to get all the negative feedback of if the defense would have just done this, we could have got a stop here or there, we would have done this or that, and I challenged our guys: Be the reason why.
When that game — when it went to overtime, our defense had the opportunity to be the reason why. And two huge sacks to finish out that game was — was — I knew when that happened that things were going to change, in the confidence of our players, in the mindset of our players on defense. And that’s why those were early in the season and they were both huge things that I thought changed the trajectory of our defense.
Q. Tom, you I’m sure don’t mind singing the praises of Tegray Scales who was a big part of your turnaround last year, led the Big Ten in tackles. Where did you see his development last year to make him such a special player for your defense’s improvement?
TOM ALLEN: I would say, first of all, it started in his preparation. He did not have — the year before I got there, the 2015 season, he did not play to the standard that we expected him — even though I wasn’t here, just talking to the coaches and watching him play, that he was expected to play at. So we had to change the way he prepared.
And I challenged him to be a leader. He wasn’t when I got here. He was a great kid, a guy everybody loved and all that, but he wasn’t a leader on our defense.
So last year I really — we had another young man that was one of our captains, Marcus Oliver, who was a really good player, but he was kind of quiet. But Tegray is not quiet. So you can lead different ways, but you have to verbalize your leadership. You can’t just be: Hey, I’m going to lead by example. That’s okay in a certain situation, but not to run the defense, not to be a linebacker, in my mind, to run the team on our side of the football.
So he embraced it. He bought into everything that I was telling him. He believed in it, and he lived it out.