No Sleep Till Football

Like Brooklyn Except It's Football

Kevin Wilson to Indiana

One of my most treasured readers asked me what I thought about Indiana University hiring former Oklahoma OC Kevin Wilson to be their HC after firing Bill Lynch. Frankly I don’t think I have much to say about it. I think Indiana has to be one of the most difficult if not most difficult football teams to win with that are a part of the Big 6 conferences that automatically qualify for BCS bowls. Washington St. maybe comes close, but teams like Stanford, Northwestern, Duke & Vanderbilt don’t qualify because those schools have harder academic qualifications. It’s more odd that Indiana doesn’t stay up with those schools.

Teams like Kansas, North Carolina & Connecticut are probably closest to Indiana, but Kansas went 12-1 a few years ago. Carolina won pretty big under Mack Brown and Connecticut has become close to a top-25 program under Randy Edsall. Heck, UConn hasn’t been a D1 football team for all that long. There are a couple of reasons why this is so, but I think it boils down to 3 reasons. After these reasons I’ll explain how I would tackle Indiana’s football problems with specific solutions.

Problem #1: The Big 10 Conference

The reason Kansas was able to have a few good years there was because Nebraska & Missouri were down. Colorado was way down, Iowa St. was a joke and Kansas St. no longer had Bill Snyder as a coach. Make no mistake, the Jayhawks weren’t going to win any Big XII titles with Oklahoma & Texas in the Big XII South, but with the North being a shell, Kansas under Mark Mangino had an opportunity and Kansas capitalized on it.

Indiana doesn’t have this luxury. They don’t play in divisions (although they will next year and it won’t matter). They have a few teams in the conference that simply don’t take years off. Ohio St. is one of the best football programs in the country. Right now you’d have to say that Ohio St. is one of the best five programs if not best or second best in the nation. Michigan has always been dominant until Rich Rodriguez came along, and I’m convinced Michigan is going to break out next year if the powers that be leave RichRod alone. Mark Dantonio heading to Michigan St. was a real harbinger for the conference. Sparty isn’t going anywhere now with Dantonio at the helm. Pat Fitzgerald is an OUTSTANDING football coach at Northwestern. Kirk Ferentz is one of the best coaches in the country at Iowa. Wisconsin is very very good.

Think back over the last 5 seasons and see what record was the best for each team:

Illinois: 9-4 (2007; went to the Rose Bowl)
Iowa: 11-2 (2009; won Orange Bowl)
Michigan: 11-2 (2006; went to Rose Bowl)
Michigan St.: 11-1 (2010; headed to Capital One Bowl)
Minnesota: 7-6 (2008; went to Insight Bowl)
Northwestern: 9-4 (2008; went to Alamo Bowl)
Ohio St.: 12-1 (2006; lost BCS National Championship game)
Penn St: 11-2 (2008 & 2009; Rose Bowl in ’08; Capital One Bowl in ’09)
Purdue: 8-5 (2007; Motor City Bowl)
Wisconsin: 12-1 (2006; Capital One Bowl)

That is some serious heavy lifting for any Big 10 team to compete with. Just this year you had 7 teams flirt with top-25 status. Michigan St., Wisconsin & Ohio St. were all top-10 teams for most of the year. Adding Nebraska to this mix isn’t exactly going to make the road any easier to travel.

Simply put Indiana plays in a ridiculously difficult conference. The Big 10 isn’t quite what the SEC is, but with the addition of Nebraska, I think you can seriously argue that the Big 10 is now the most brutal football conference of any in college football. It’s that good. This is the competition Indiana has to beat if it wants to be a winning football team. With no real football tradition or winning tradition, that is an almost insurmountable hill to climb.

Problem #2: Geography

Where the state of Indiana is situated isn’t exactly helping the cause. Indiana isn’t the hot bed of football talent that California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio & Georgia is. If you are a Texas Tech or Texas A&M you can recruit alongside Texas & Oklahoma because there are more than enough kids to go around. A football program like South Florida can thrive with excellent coaching because there are so many 4-star athletes in the Sunshine state that South Florida can simply take the leftovers from Florida, Miami-FL & Florida St. and still be a top-25 program.

An Indiana kid not only has Indiana, but they also have instate schools such as Purdue & Notre Dame. The Irish have been down for awhile but Charlie Weis was a recruiting fiend and now with Brian Kelly, my guess is that Notre Dame gets back to top-5 or top-10 status extremely soon. A kid from the Hoosiers state hoping to stay home could easily just head up to South Bend.

Not only that but Ohio St. is to the east. Michigan & Michigan St. are directly north. If a kid wants to play in the SEC then Kentucky isn’t far away either. Neither is Louisville. It’s not just that Indiana is recruiting against a school or two geographically, but they are are recruiting against EVERYONE geographically. Illinois went to the Rose Bowl a couple of years ago. Who wouldn’t want to play for Pat Fitzgerald and get an education at Northwestern? Want to get a bit further away? How about Penn St. or Iowa? If a talent is exceptional and is of the 5-star variety then not only do you have every Big 10 team on your tail, but now you can add Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Florida St., Oklahoma, Texas, USC & Georgia to the mix.

Indiana is killed geographically.

Problem #3: Indiana University is a basketball school

This has to be listed because you hear it all the time. As I posted above, I don’t think the reputation as a “basketball” school is relevant. Kansas, North Carolina & Connecticut have had success and they certainly would be considered basketball schools much more than football institutions. And in reality what we are really saying here is that Indiana has no winning tradition associated with football. There is simply no tradition of winning here which is why it’s easy to dismiss the Hoosiers as a football only school.

Those 3 problems aren’t easily dismissed. They can be boiled down to:

1. The conference is BRUTALLY competitive
2. The deck is stacked against Indiana when it comes to recruiting
3. Indiana has never had any thing resembling a winning tradition

The answer to these problems really revolves around one solution.

That’s the head coach.

Indiana has had significant problems hiring the right guy for the job. You hear a lot recently about Jeremy Foley, the AD at Florida. He’s not necessarily looking for the biggest name to get to coach the Gators after Urban Meyer resigned. He’s talking a lot about finding the guy would would be the “right fit” for Florida’s atmosphere.

This is something Indiana needs to consider as well. It’s not so much that Indiana needs to hire the absolute best possible coach, but one rather than has a passion & energy for Indiana football and understands what is needed. Indiana completely missed this with Cam Cameron. They completely missed this with Gerry DiNardo. We don’t know how things would have worked out under Terry Hoeppner although the early returns were very very promising. Indiana clearly made a mistake of significant proportion when they handed the job to Bill Lynch which means Indiana has missed 3 out of 4 times & in reality you have to give Hoeppner and incomplete because we don’t know.

That means Indiana has gone 0 for 3. As a division one program, you simply can’t go 0-3. Notre Dame missed 3 times with Davie, Willingham & Weis and it practically ruined the program. The Irish only have their enormous football history & tradition to go off of and the Irish HC is still considered an elite job. It’s why Brian Kelly took it. Indiana doesn’t have this so they have a lot less room to work with.

However, there are examples of Indiana passing on coaches that Indiana may have been able to lure away if they had the opportunity. Indiana hired Cam Cameron in 1997. What else was going on in 1997?

Houston Nutt was coming off a 2-year period from 95-96 where he led Murray State to a 22-3 record including 2 Ohio Valley Conference titles. Nutt left Murray State to coach Boise St. for 1 year before leaving for Arkansas in 1998. Who knows if the same wouldn’t have happened to Nutt at Indiana, but my guess is that Arkansas was in a terrible spot after Danny Ford had spent time coaching there. In his first season Nutt took a 4-7 Razorbacks team and made them 9-3 with a #16 finish in the AP Poll. Indiana was 3-8 in Bill Mallory’s last season. Could Nutt have transformed the Hoosiers just as quick? It’s difficult to say, but Indiana had to be aware of Nutt seeing how he was coaching Murray State which isn’t that far away from Bloomington in Murray Kentucky. You seriously have to wonder if Nutt would have chosen Boise St. over Indiana. Remember that Boise St. wasn’t Boise St. back in 1997.

Randy Edsall took over UConn in 1999, just 2 years after Cameron came on at Indiana and 3 years before DiNardo. In 1997, Edsall was the DB coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 1998 he’d be the DC at Georgia Tech. In 1999 he’d be HC at Connecticut. Did Indiana miss an opportunity there? Gerry DiNardo took over Indiana in 2002. Well Rich Rodriguez took over West Virginia in 2001. Les Miles took over Oklahoma St. in 2001. Mike Leach took over Texas Tech in 2000. Gary Pinkel took over Missouri in 2001. Brian Kelly went to Cincinnati in 2007. Bobby Petrino took over Louisville in 2003.

There are a plethora of coaches that Indiana could have probably hired if they weren’t married to guys like Cameron, DiNardo & Lynch.

And this intrinsically is the problem. What was Cincinnati before Brian Kelly got there? Rick Minter & Tim Murphy were terrible. What was Stanford before Harbaugh showed up? Eugene Teevens & Walt Harris had run the Cardinal into the ground. What was California before Jeff Tedford came? Keith Gilbertson & Tom Holmoe were awful. What about Alabama before Saban and after Stallings? Mike Shula, Mike Dubose & Dennis Franchione couldn’t get it done. Think about LSU before Saban & Miles. They were stuck with Curley Hallman & Gerry DiNardo.

Those are just a few examples. There are many many more, but the same pattern holds. The trick here is recognizing that a lot of these coaches moved on. Brian Kelly didn’t stay at Cincinnati. He used it as a stepping stone to Notre Dame. Les Miles didn’t stay at Oklahoma St. He used it to get to LSU. Rich Rodriguez didn’t stay at West Virginia. He used it to get to Michigan. Nick Saban didn’t stay at Michigan St. He used it to get to LSU. Then he used LSU to get to the Miami Dolphins. When he came back, he came to Alabama. Urban Meyer didn’t stay at Utah. He used it to get to Florida. Mack Brown didn’t stay at North Carolina. He used it to get to Texas.

Indiana needs to find these types of coaches. Coaches that are good enough with enough ambition to win at a place like Indiana to leverage it to get to a place like USC or Tennessee or Georgia. Those are destination jobs. Indiana is NOT a destination job, but if it ever wants to get to a point of potentially being a place where a highly ambitious and successful coach wants to settle in, then they need to be used as a stepping stone until they can establish some type of winning tradition.

Let’s say that Kevin Wilson is the next Brian Kelly when it comes to offense. Do you think Wilson is going to sit & stay at Indiana for the rest of his life? There IS NO WAY IN HELL that’s going to happen, but it also doesn’t mean that Indiana CANNOT benefit from Wilson’s ability & ambition as a head coach.

Indiana tried the coordinator route with Cam Cameron. It didn’t work. It happens. They completely misfired on DiNardo. DiNardo failed miserably at LSU. He wasn’t going to come to Indiana and all of a sudden find some magic. It was the same way for Bill Lynch. Lynch couldn’t win at Ball St. Handing him the keys to Indiana was simply moronic and Indiana is paying the price. They deserve to pay the price for making such a colossal mistake.

Essentially what Indiana is doing is rolling the dice in the hopes that Kevin Wilson is the next big thing. If he is then Indiana struck gold and they can expect Wilson to stay no longer than 4-5 years because something bigger will inevitably come up. If Wilson bombs then Indiana is right back to where they started from after their 15-16 years in the wilderness after Bill Mallory’s last successful season. If Wilson doesn’t work out then Indiana will have to hope they can hit a home run with their next hire although Indiana is definitely developing a track record for misses.

The really hard part about this is that if Wilson isn’t the answer then Indiana made a huge mistake in giving him a 7-year deal. The question then becomes how many great potential HC did Indiana pass up in sticking with Wilson in his feeble attempts to turn it around?

This line of thinking isn’t for Indiana either. This is precisely what the people at Washington St. or Minnesota have to be thinking too. Remember that the destination jobs aren’t many. In my mind the destination jobs are as follows by conference:

ACC: Florida St., Miami-FL
Big 10: Ohio St., Michigan, Penn St.
Big XII: Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska
SEC: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama
Pac 10: USC
Ind: Notre Dame

That’s it. There are only 15 destination schools. The other 105 division one football schools are merely lateral movements or stepping stones. Indiana has to try and climb into the realm of the stepping stones a tier below the destination jobs. To get there it might take 15-20 years, but what it’ll take is hitting on the right coaches year after year after year.

Maybe Kevin Wilson is the guy. Maybe he’s not, but the larger issue is Indiana’s ability to identify the “right” guy from the “wrong” guy and handle their business accordingly. Will it take Indiana 7 years to figure out if Wilson can get it done? My thought is no which is why Indiana buries themselves once again if Wilson doesn’t work out because every year Indiana waits to hire their eventual HC after Wilson strikes out is another year in which a crop of head coaches might take a job where going to Indiana afterward wouldn’t be a good career move.

For Indiana fans, let’s hope Wilson is what we are ardently hoping for.


December 10, 2010 - Posted by | Coaching, Indiana, Kevin Wilson, Oklahoma

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