by Kent Sterling
It’s been awhile – a long while – since Indiana University students and alums got themselves all wrapped up in the fortunes of their football team.
There was a brief time after Terry Hoeppner was hired when the magnetism of his personality compelled optimism, but his illness and tragic death gave fans the feeling that success was impossible for the losingest program in college football history. Winning appeared to be unattainable, impractical, and out of the question.
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When athletic director Fred Glass introduced Kevin Wilson as the latest candidate for career ruin as the architect of another brief era of misery, fans and media were conflicted. He seemed equal parts angry, determined, and impatient. At the time, I thought he was going to either self-destruct or succumb to the sheer weight of the difficult terrain ahead.
There was a thin sliver of hope that Wilson possessed the intestinal fortitude for the relentless work needed to build the brand of Indiana Football beyond being known as the last choice for football players to continue their careers as a member of one of the teams in the Big Five conference.
Some reasonably smart and talented coaches had failed to make the slightest turn toward excellence with the USS Hoosier, and Wilson’s voyage on the bridge of this wreck of a giant ship looked to be no different.
Wilson began building a high octane offense. That was his calling card as a successful assistant coach, and recruiting toward being a part of an offensive juggernaut was all Wilson had to lure talent to Bloomington. If a kid wanted to catch, run with, or throw the ball often enough to set records, Indiana was not a bad choice.
Basketball on the gridiron had worked elsewhere, and it certainly would stand out in the Big Ten.
Indiana had two additional trump cards to play, and they have proved valuable. An increased budget for the coaching staff continues to allow Wilson to go out and get leaders who are coveted by others rather than build a staff constrained by unreasonable budgetary requirements. The second is a work ethic that is unceasing and indomitable.
If Wilson has flaws, a willingness to bust his ass and trust his plan is not among them. Effective leaders pay attention to process and evaluate/adjust that process based upon results. That is the relentless message Wilson shares with the media, and I like it.
Wilson is football’s version of Sisyphus – he began pushing the rock up the hill from day one, and finding it back near the bottom of the valley each morning. That the rock came to rest six inches farther from the bottom each day was not lost on Wilson, and that was enough validation to keep him going.
The work is obviously not finished or the cause of meaningful reward yet. Indiana has yet to post a winning record under Wilson or play in a bowl. Anyone claiming they know for an absolute certainty that Wilson will be remembered along with Bo McMillan and Bill Mallory as the lone successful coaches in Indiana Football history sees the world through crimson glasses.
Listening to players and coaches, and believing that they believe in Wilson and the bright future of Indiana Football is one thing, but claiming the gift of prescience in evaluating the 2014 Hoosiers and beyond is the act of a fool.
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The crucial fourth season of the Wilson era will begin Saturday with what should amount to a tune up against Indiana State in front of a crowd of uncertain size. That audience wants to hope for the best; they want to believe that the long run of poverty is over, and a pride unknown minus a seven-year stretch from 1987-1993 might be allowed to infest the souls of alums and students alike.
When linebacker David Cooper told me that the team goal is to finish in the top two of the Big Ten East, I had to ask him to confirm what I believed he said. I’ve never heard an Indiana football player talk like that, but he sure said it – and he believed it. In fact, he said there is no excuse not to finish in the top two.
Indiana is either on the precipice of taking a significant step forward or everyone associated with the Hoosiers program is wrong – really wrong.
Don’t forget John Pont who took Indiana from 1-8-1 in 1966 to 9-2 in 1967. His early years were truly a “rags to roses” story. IU lost in the Rose Bowl but it was the only one they have played. Overall, his 8 years at IU was mediocre at best 31-51-1.
As you suggest, the outlier Rose Bowl season, while memorable, did not reveal him to be worthy of inclusion on the two-man Mount Rushmore of Indiana football coaches.
Lee Corso may have been the most entertaining (not necessarily on the field). His record was not stellar 41-68-2 but he went to the Holiday Bowl and beat a previously unbeaten BYU. He was on a recruiting trip promoting IU when he received a call from the Athletic Department firing him. Rumor has it, he learned of his firing on a radio broadcast.
All true. Not a banner day in the history of the IU HR staff. Firing people on a talk radio show is great for ratings, but not good for morale.
i saw my first iu football game in 1989. Anthony Thompson. I began following iu football closely in 1998. kevin Wilson is without question the best coach since Mallory. he may be better. he is the best hire since bob knight(fball and bball). he did make on hell of a bone headed call against Minnesota. that one call. changes this article to: hoosiers looking for consecutive bowls for first time in a generation. ok maybe that’s a long title but you get the point. and it was one hell of a boneheaded call. this oline is one of the top two not in the east but the whole conference. this may be one of the best olines in the country. this team has one of the top two running backs in the conference. maybe the best. yes I said it. the qb is reliable and talented. but there is not a viable backup. an elite slot receiver playing on the edge. a bevy of talented freshman wr. I expect Jordan fuchs to be an allpro te. offense is absolutely loaded. so here we are same story different year. defense. last years team did not turn the ball over. they were terrible at it. theoretically if this defense is equally permeable but forces turnovers this could be an 8 win team. think about what a turnover means with an offense of this caliber and conversely a defense of this caliber. lets say last years defense forces one more turnover. that probably meant about 4 to 5 less points scored against iu on average. consider our juggernaut offense now has an extra possession and scores 3.5 to 4 points on said possession. the defense cannot be worse. so likely it will improve a little bit or maybe more. but if this defense can turn the ball over… mark my words on this anybody that cares: if Indiana finishes in the middle of the pack of forced turnovers this will be a 9 win team. one other note on Wilsons program: has anyone noticed the physical presence of these players? these guys look like they can play with anybody. and if they force turnovers they will be able to play with anybody. without exception.
I like the optimism. No point in being pessimistic yet. Your sentiments echo those of the players and coaches.
The call against Minnesota wasn’t bad – the execution was terrible. The back needed to run a route that took him upfield of the QB, and the QB needed to wait to throw until the back was upfield. Bad football all around. I like Kevin Johns as the OC. Brian Knorr as the DC is a sep up too.
If Indiana wants to continue the forward momentum, they need to crack open the checkbook again. Clemson is paying a coordinator $1.3M. Wilson doesn’t make that.
anybody notice how fast the crow signed another guy after he got his first five on campus? I think the coaches took one look at those guys playing some pickup ball and crapped all over themselves when they saw what they had. and I mean they crapped all over themselves in such a way that it still smells. if all else fails the crow can yank their scholarships. kevin Wilson has another year of foundation building. some of his first recruits are only redshirt juniors. the crow on the other hand is patching a crumbling foundation. perhaps with adobe. maybe paper machete. quite possibly even the crap he filled his pants with when four and five showed up. does anyone see the picture I am painting? more importantly can you smell it? the crow smells it. and he is smearing it all over everything to keep the smell down. birdbrain.