Tom Allen was not able to accomplish the Indiana football breakthrough in 2017. The defensive mastermind undeniably led the IU defense to a breakthrough in 2016, but by just about any measure, there was no significant breakthrough in his first year as head coach in 2017.
While the second year head coach may have set the standard, it may have been unrealistic to expect it to happen in year one of Allen’s tenure.
Whether it is year one, year two or year five — there have been significant turnarounds in college football history.
Today, we take a look at some of the most notable program breakthroughs around the country and note how long it took to complete the transformation. It is worth noting that in each case the wait was at least three years, with the full transformation being defined as winning a conference title.
Some will scoff at the idea that Indiana can ever really establish a consistent top level program. You are entitled to that opinion of course, but it won’t have anything to do with the fact that IU has historically been a basketball school. Anytime you discuss an IU football turnaround, someone will invariably suggest that it cannot happen because Indiana is a “basketball school”, whatever that means.
We reject the notion that “Indiana is a basketball school” and therefore that somehow by definition prevents Indiana from building a successful football team. In order to believe that myth you would have to explain schools that are successful at both football and basketball. And you don’t have to look far.
In the B1G you have Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Elsewhere you have Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and others. A successful football program at Indiana is undeniably possible, and the basketball program has never held it back.
Want to dream? Take a look at eight of the more notable college football program turnarounds in recent history.
The Ultimate Turnaround
Kansas State – When Bill Snyder was hired at Kansas State for the first time on November 24, 1988, Kansas State had a cumulative record of 299–510 (.370) in 93 years of play, which was the most losses of any team in Division I-A at the time.
While the team steadily improved, the break through did not happen until Snyder’s 5th year with the Wildcats. That year saw them tie a ranked Colorado team and defeat ranked Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Wyoming teams.
Snyder has gone on to compile a career record of 210-110-1 and lead Kansas State to two Big 12 titles and 18 bowl games.
Notable Big Ten Turnarounds
Northwestern – The Wildcats went 47 years between bowl games, lost an NCAA record 34 straight games from 1979-82 and averaged two wins per season from 1971-95. Gary Barnett was hired in 1992, and after three losing seasons Northwestern made it to the Rose Bowl in 1995.
Wisconsin – After a 1962 Rose Bowl appearance the Badgers went 103-174-6 and never finished better than tied for 3rd in the Big Ten until the 1990 hiring of Barry Alvarez. Indiana even had a five game winning streak over Wisconsin during the late 80’s and early 90’s.
It wasn’t until year four that Alvarez and the Badgers recorded a winning record, and they did it in style with a Rose Bowl victory.
Iowa – Iowa was 54-124-5 for the two decades before Hayden Fry arrived in 1979. It wasn’t until year three that Hayden Fry recorded a winning record. Iowa went to the Rose Bowl that year.
Other Notable Turnarounds
Oklahoma State had a 12-1 season in 2011, won the Big 12 championship, a Fiesta Bowl victory and the No. 3 national ranking under head coach Mike Gundy. Prior to that OSU had only one shared conference championship to its credit since joining the Big Eight in 1960. The Cowboys had just one winning season between 1988 and 2002.
Gundy’s first season, 2005, resulted in a 4-7 record. But OSU gradually improved in the following years leading to the breakthrough 2011 campaign.
Virginia Tech had one bowl win in its history prior to the arrival of Frank Beamer. During his first 6 years the Hokies did not get a bowl invitation. Starting in year 7 they went to 23 straight bowls (the first a win over Indiana in 1993), won 7 conference championships, and had a national title game appearance.
Baylor won the 1974 Southwest Conference championship in coach Grant Teaff’s third season. Baylor was 1-9 in 1973, had won just 12 games the previous seven years, had not had a winning season in a decade, and hadn’t won a Southwest Conference title since 1924.
Kansas achieved a 12-1 season in 2007, securing an Orange Bowl victory and the No. 7 national ranking in the process in Mark Mangino’s 6th season. Kansas had just one winning season in the previous 11 years. In the previous 55 years, Kansas had reached eight wins only four times.
Have another favorite rags to riches story that we missed? Tell us about it.
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