My Two Cents: Tom Allen, Hoosiers Find a New Way to Work

Tom Brew

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There are very few people in this world who are more positive than Indiana football coach Tom Allen. But he's also a realist, and he knows this COVID-19 scare trumps everything, even football.

The pandemic forced the sudden end to spring practice and, even worse, the immediate departure of his entire football team, with players sent back to their homes throughout the country. No practices, no school, no workouts, no face-to-face meetings.

It's a new, and different, time. Very different.

"I just think that you can't dwell on the things you can't control, so we don't really talk about what we can't do,'' Allen said. "We're just going to find out what we can do, how we can best adapt, and I think those who best adapt and take the most advantage of this opportunity in this window of time are going to come back in May, June or July, whenever that may be, and be ahead of the game, so that's our objective.''

No one knows when this national emergency will end, but the presumption for now is that the football season that begins in September shouldn't be affected. Normalcy should have returned by then — if not, we're all in huge trouble — so then it's more a matter of working backward on the calendar in terms of getting ready for a season. 

"The unknowns are at a high number right now,'' Allen said. "Ideally, you'd like to have June and July. The month of May has always been a discretionary month for us. It's not mandatory lifting for our guys .. and the coaches are usually out recruiting.

"As long as we can have June and July to get our players ready, I think that's enough time. I'm not trying to pigeonhole us, but just based on what we've done in the past and the calendar we have created for that, in my mind that's enough time to get ready to play a full season.''

Missing spring practice is disappointing, but it clearly pales in comparison to everything that's going on. Still, it's often an important part of getting ready for the fall, especially with young guys who are ready to take the next step.

That's not happening, so adjustments must be made, and the Hoosiers are doing that. They had a virtual meeting — ah, the joys of video conferencing — with the entire team last Sunday night, and assistant coaches have even hosted a few position meetings so far. There has been individual contact with every player and even individual at-home workouts have been prepared for every player.

Whatever it takes in this trying times, in other words.

"Player development is important, and that does not go away,'' Allen said. "There's a reason why we have those spring practices. They play a critical role in the next step of your program, being able to physically improve from a technical perspective as you exercise and do those things repetitiously.

"When you don't get those reps, you've got to be able to mentally replace them. So it's not going to be the same. You can say what you want. You can't replace a practice if we don't get those back, which no one knows if we will or we won't. You've got to replace them  best way possible, which is the mental side of it and also with your physical development in the weight room.''

The Hoosiers had four spring practices before things were shut down, and there's film of each of those to break down with players. Having all those extra bowl practices was really big, too. It's better — way better — than nothing. There are things that can be worked on from afar, especially since no one has any idea when the players will be allowed to return to campus.

"We can only deal with what we know, and right now we know that our players are not with us, so we have a great plan to be able to get through this time period and maximize player development and player safety. That's goal number one,'' said Allen, who confirmed that all of his players are healthy at the moment.

"And then number two is, how is this going to affect recruiting? This is just my opinion, but   I don't see them allowing us to go out and recruit anytime soon, and I don't see (recruits) coming to campuses anytime soon. I don't know how that's going to play itself out.''

When? That's the biggest question. And there is no answer. Not now, and probably not for a while. This is all new — for all of us.

"How is our summer going to look? When are we going to be able to get back with our own players? I think the next step is we've got to keep recruiting our tails off to build those relationships, and not so much worry about when (those potential recruits) are going to be back on campus. The first group we're trying to get back on campus is our own players.

"When that happens, that will really drive what happens next in regards to how do you get ready for your season. Nobody is talking to me anyway about changes to the season. I know that's maybe happening behind the scenes, but bottom line is we're expecting to get our guys back here whenever that may be, and when they come. You'd like to get them back by June, but who knows.''

Keeping everyone healthy is priority one. Allen understands well enough what's going on around the country. People are dying every day, and he knows it. He can keep things in perspective.

"We're just talking about a sport here, so the safety of our communities and the people in each state in this country and in this world, their safety is way more important than us getting ready for a football game,'' Allen said. "I know there's a lot of really, really big-time amount of money that goes into supporting the entire institution through football, so I get that and  I'm not diminishing that whatsoever.

"What I'm dealing with right now is helping our players while they're away, come up with a good plan for that, and then executing that plan to the highest level possible and then getting our players back on campus whenever that may be, and then once that happens, we get them ready to compete at their very, very best in the fall.''

Do the best you can with what you've got, in other words.