My Two Cents: Ball is Back in Tom Allen's Court Now
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When it was clear that Kevin Wilson had to go three years ago, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass caught a lot of heat for hiring an unproven Tom Allen to take over the football program at Indiana.
Allen, after all, had only been in Bloomington for a few months, just one season as Wilson's defensive coordinator. Sure, he did great work in that 2016 season and all the players loved him, but he had ZERO experience as a college head coach. He was viewed as more of a high school head coach who ran other people's defenses pretty well on the college level.
So three years ago, it was up to Allen to prove to everyone that Glass had made the right decision. And now, after a third season where Indiana had unusually success by winning eight games — and maybe nine — the ball was back in Glass' court. It was up to him to lock up Allen for a longer term.
Glass did just that, working out a 7-year, $27.3 million deal with Allen on Friday. It was, without question, the right call for Indiana, which desperately needs a successful football program to help add money to the coffers.
And Allen is the right guy. He's proven that.
But now, the ball is back in Tom Allen's court.
Yes, he's done well in changing the culture. And he's done well in recruiting and raising the talent level. But this new deal — with that kind of commitment to dollars and years — will demand even more.
It's great that Indiana finished 5-4 in the Big Ten this year, but let's not forget that all five of those wins came against the five conference teams that WEREN'T bowl eligible this season. They beat Rutgers, Maryland, Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue, teams that went a combined 8-37 in Big Ten games. Six of those eight wins were against each other.
So that's not the bar to be set. Going forward now, Allen will have to not only beat the other teams in the middle of the conference on a regular basis, but he also will have to get some occasional wins against the big boys.
For instance, here's what needs to happen in the next seven years:
- The Bucket: Indiana has to start controlling this rivalry, which isn't going to be easy with Jeff Brohm running things at Purdue. A 4-3 record the next seven years is the bare minimum of acceptability. I would say 5-2 should be the bar.
- The Big Ten East: We've talked a lot about breaking through the Big Four in the division, the toughest in the country outside of the SEC West, and it's even pretty darn close right now. Indiana lost to Michigan State this year, but finished ahead of them in the final standings to finish fourth. They've passed the Spartans for the moment, and they are certainly trending positively while MSU is a mess. Indiana played Penn State tough this year and gets them at home next year. In the next seven years, IU has to have a 5-2-like winning record against Michigan State and be even or close with Penn State, which is asking a lot, considering they have ONE career win against the Nittany Lions.
- Ohio State and Michigan: There has to come a time where the Hoosiers can be competitive with these two behemoths. At least once in the next seven years, Allen has to beat each of these guys, and play more competitive games with them. These decades-long losing streaks have to stop.
- The crossover games: Indiana went 3-0 against the Big Ten West for the first time this year. That needs to continue through this contract, or close. We've already discussed Purdue, the crossover constant, but next year it will be all about beating Wisconsin on the road in the season opener on Sept. 5. Illinois is the other game. In 2021, it's Iowa and Minnesota. The Hoosiers need to be better than those guys going forward.
- Nonconference games: Indiana's schedule out of conference remains less than daunting going forward, so these will always be considered must-wins. There are home-and-home series coming up with Cincinnati and Louisville, so those won't be gimmies, but it's good to see those semi-local games on the schedule. Can Allen dominate those? He'll need to.
It will asking a lot, of course, to talk about division titles and conference championships, but shouldn't that always be a goal? Indiana hasn't won the Big Ten since 1967, so maybe it's not a realistic conversation. But we can dream, right?
What Tom Allen has done so far is eliminate the laughingstock aspect of Indiana football. This season, for instance, all 12 weeks were interesting and entertaining. The Ohio State and Michigan losses got ugly late, but there was at least hope during the week. The Michigan State and Penn State losses, quite frankly, could have gone either way.
Tom Allen has won at Indiana by doing it the right way. There's no question he's a good man, and he's hired assistants who buy into his vision. They've recruited well, but it's the same thing there. We celebrated his last two classes as the two best in IU history, and all they were in 2018 and 2019 were 10th-best and 8th-best in the Big Ten.
Going forward under this new deal — and with this stability — that's not going to be good enough. Indiana needs to start having some top-5 classes in the Big Ten.
Can Allen and his staff do that? That remains to be seen, but I wouldn't put it past him.
What we know for sure is that Allen has proven that Glass made the right decision three years ago, and that Glass made the right decision again in doing this new deal.
Now it's up to Tom Allen to prove — once again — that he's worth it.