There is at least one reason to believe that Indiana just might emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions better prepared than most college football teams around the country.
The Hoosiers return a relatively high amount of their production from the 2019 season. If continuity is a valuable commodity, IU should be in good shape for the 2020 campaign.
But a former Indiana head coach and current Big Ten Network analyst sees cause for concern in Bloomington due to the loss of spring practice and other organized team activities.
“Indiana is certainly one of the (Big Ten) teams (that will be negatively impacted by the pandemic), and the reason is personnel, and I don’t mean the players, I mean the coaches,” BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said on a broadcast this week.
While there is not significant turnover on the roster from last season, there have been several changes on IU’s coaching staff.
Most notable was the departure of former offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.
DiNardo believes that DeBoer’s replacement could have benefited the most from a full spring of practice.
“Let’s start with Nick Sheridan, new offensive coordinator for a defensive head coach, DiNardo said.
“Then we talk about players missing reps with spring practice that wasn’t going on. I would tell you that a new coordinator misses those reps more than a player does. Nick Sheridan would have been in a very competitive situation in spring practice going against his defensive coordinator.”
Sheridan has been with the Indiana program since Tom Allen was hired as the head coach in 2016. He knows the personnel and he has said that he plans to keep DeBoer’s highly successful offensive system largely intact.
But Sheridan has never called plays. He will get some at bats during fall camp, but DiNardo believes that a trial run in the spring would have gone a long way towards Sheridan getting ready for his first season as an offensive coordinator.
“It’s training ground, it really is,” DiNardo said. “Nick Sheridan would have benefited so much from spring practice because it is not as competitive in the fall camp because you are trying to get ready for a season. So I think that’s one way that it’s going to hurt Indiana.”
DiNardo coached for three seasons at IU from 2002 through 2004 and he amassed an 8-27 record. He knows how special Indiana’s 2019 season was when the Hoosiers won eight games for the first time since 1993.
And he also knows that stacking winning seasons at IU is an even greater challenge.
Was 2019 a fluke, or the start of something?
“Sustaining success at Indiana has been a challenge for generations,” DiNardo said. “Bill Mallory, the winningest coach in Indiana history won 69 games and it took 13 seasons. There was only three times when he had back-to-back winning seasons and the last time was in the mid-’90s. Bill Lynch had a winning season in 2007, and then Tom (Allen) had one last year.”
If you have momentum, the last thing you want to see is disruption.
While every team across the country is dealing with the pandemic, Allen would have liked nothing more than to keep things rolling after a Jan. 2 Gator Bowl appearance.
DiNardo sees at least one area where Indiana can keep pushing forward while they wait to return to the weight room and practice field.
And while athletic department budgets are being squeezed during the pandemic, he is looking at IU’s new Athletic Director as someone critical to ensuring that Indiana is on a path towards long term success.
“Scott Dolson is the new athletic director at Indiana. He’s a Hoosier, and he’s been in the athletic department for a long time,” DiNardo said. “He has to realize that this build is not over. I mean Tom has done an unbelievable job, but if you look at their history, winning two seasons in a row is monumental.”
Indiana’s success in 2019 means that no one will be overlooking the Hoosiers in 2020.
While Indiana’s 8-5 season in 2019 isn’t likely to have any of their opponents circling the date on the calendar, the Hoosiers should have everyone else in the league’s full attention.
“And now in Big Ten football, people are going to get ready to play Indiana more next year than they ever had to before,” Dinardo said. “This build has to continue, and it has to come from great support from Scott Dolson.”
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