At the time, at least by historic Indiana football standards, it felt like nothing could go wrong.
A win at Purdue, Indiana’s eighth of the season, was soon followed by an invite to the prestigious Gator Bowl. IU had just completed a regular season that saw it reach the top 25 for the first time since 1994, and achieve its highest win total since 1993.
Is this heaven? No, we would soon be reminded that this is still Bloomington.
It wasn’t much later before a series of gut punches hit the program that felt much more familiar to Hoosier fans than eight win seasons.
Consider the last three months that Indiana has endured:
- Dec. 17 – Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer announces that he will return to Fresno State to be their head coach.
- Jan. 2 – The Hoosiers blow a 22-9 fourth quarter lead and lose the Gator Bowl to Tennessee.
- Jan. 8 – Presumed starting offensive lineman Coy Cronk puts his name in the transfer portal and ultimately lands at Iowa.
- Jan. 27 – Quarterback Peyton Ramsey puts his name in the transfer portal and ultimately lands at Northwestern.
- Feb. 5 – Respected defensive line coach Mark Hagen leaves the program for Texas.
- Feb. 6 – Running back Ronnie Walker enters his name in the transfer portal.
- Feb. 14 – Indiana seemed to steal highly regarded Michigan State defensive line coach Ron Burton before he changed his mind.
- Feb. 23 – All-Big Ten tight end Peyton Hendershot was arrested and later suspended indefinitely.
- Mar. 1 – Rumors surfaced that strength coach David Ballou was leaving the program for Alabama. He ultimately did just that and took athletic performance coach Dr. Matt Rhea with him.
- Mar. 2 – Running back Sampson James put his name in the transfer portal.
After so much negativity had emerged following the memorable 2019 season, Indiana head coach Tom Allen had seemingly seen enough.
And he put out a message on his Twitter account.
— Mike Schumann @ The Daily Hoosier (@daily_hoosier) March 3, 2020
“Well, that was sent out on purpose, Allen said of his tweet a couple days later.
“We’ve had some guys make some mistakes. You don’t blink. You have things that happen that you don’t expect. You don’t blink. And we talk that way with our guys. So when I sent that out, they knew exactly what I was talking about because we talk about a lot in our program.”
Allen’s message seemed to work.
Something had to give here, and finally in the last week as spring practice has started, the tide has started to turn for IU.
James pulled his name out of the transfer portal on Friday, and then on Saturday Indiana pulled a stunner and convinced New York Giants strength coach Aaron Wellman to take the same role in Bloomington.
With his team’s fortunes starting to change, Allen saw the opportunity to remind his players that he has led them through transition before.
“I’m just going to ask you to trust me, Allen told his team.
“I had the room, and I said, how many of you guys knew Dave Ballou before you came here, and like six guys raised their hand, and this whole room was pretty full. And I said, how many guys knew Dr. Rhea before you came here, and one guy raised his hand and that was (new tight ends coach) Kevin Wright, who they worked together at IMG. I said, ‘my hand is down too.’ I didn’t even know the guy.”
While Indiana has suffered more than its fair share of change during the offseason, turnover is a fact of life in college football.
And when Allen looks at his team he sees a lot more familiar faces — experienced faces — than he has in the past.
“We have a much more mature team than we’ve had the last couple years and a lot of guys returning,” Allen said.
The same holds true for the coaching staff.
Yes DeBoer is gone. As is special teams coordinator William Inge who went with DeBoer to Fresno State. And Hagen, Ballou and Rhea are all gone too.
Those are significant losses to be sure.
But Allen also sees a lot of continuity on his coaching staff.
“If you come here and spend any time with our staff, there’s a lot of good chemistry with the guys, and that’s because there’s some relationships already established there, so you look at our offensive staff, and even though Nick (Sheridan) is a in new role, you’ve got one new face on that side of the ball and you’ve got two new faces on defense,” Allen said.
Is it positive spin? Of course it is. But the words are not hollow. It is the benefit of the doubt you earn when you lead your team to a historic season and build a track record of making good hires.
And Allen is practicing what he preaches.
“I just think it’s a great life principle because when you start flinching and start worrying about things going on around you, you’re not very effective,” Allen said. “This program does not blink.”
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