By Dustin Dopirak
Tom Allen made his first trip to an American Football Coaches Association convention back in the mid-90s when he was still a defensive coordinator at Armwood High School just outside of Tampa, Fla. Head coach Sean Callahan brought the whole staff, and they got to sit in on schematic and leadership presentations and see the Coach of the Year award ceremonies.
In the quarter century between then and Tuesday, when it was announced that Allen had been named the AFCA’s Coach of the Year for college football’s Bowl Subdivision, he had coached football at just about every possible level. He spent another decade coaching at the high school level before he finally got a college job as a special teams coordinator and secondary coach at Division III Wabash and went from there to be a defensive coordinator at NAIA Lambuth. He didn’t break into Division I until 2010 and he bounced around to five different programs in the next seven years before Indiana finally promoted him to be a head coach in 2016.
So being honored by the organization from which he learned much as a young man gave him an opportunity to think back and consider everything it took to get him where he is. In his fourth year at Indiana, his Hoosiers just finished the season ranked No. 12, their highest ranking in more than 50 years, and the rankings that hit the internet Tuesday after Monday’s national championship game expect him to helm a preseason Top 10 team in 2021.
“It just helps you think of all those things,” Allen said in a Zoom press conference Tuesday. “The journey that you go on and and all of the people that help you get here. I think about my wife and our kids and all the sacrifices they’ve made. I thank the Good Lord above for all the guidance and direction along the way and I think about my dad too.”
The award also allowed him to consider the steps the Indiana athletic department took with him. Allen was hired in 2016 to finally stabilize a defense that had dragged Indiana down even while then head coach Kevin Wilson was building spectacular offenses. He helped the Hoosiers to a bowl game, and was promoted when then athletic director Fred Glass decided to part ways with Wilson over what at the time were describe as disagreements with his style of leadership. For some, Allen’s hire was considered overly safe and a cheap way of avoiding a national coaching search, but Glass believed he had the right man for the job in house and time has proven him right.
“This is a program award,” Allen said. “This is an Indiana University award. You think about Fred Glass and his belief in me and Scott Dolson and his leadership and what he’s done in the short time he’s been here. You’re thankful for that and everybody that’s represented in what this award means.”
He also hopes that it means something for coaches that are following along his same path, grinding at the lower levels of the sport and starting to wonder if they’ll get to where they want to go.
“It gives the high school coach the hope that, ‘Hey, if I just stay the course I have a chance to live out that dream,’” Allen said. “If I’m coaching at a Division III school or an NAIA school, if you believe in something and you stay the course and persevere through difficult times. I mean, there were times when I didn’t know what tomorrow was going to bring when I didn’t know where I was going to end up. … I think it gives those guys an opportunity to believe that if this guy can do it, then I can do it.”
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