When Tom Allen hired offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer in 2019, his offense needed a breath of fresh air, and he got it.
Allen was willing to go outside of his network and bring in someone with a proven track record in part because he needed to fix something that was broken.
Of course DeBoer was a one-and-done OC for IU, and his brief stay in Bloomington provided just the spark Allen was looking for. That Allen replaced DeBoer with Nick Sheridan, a current member of the staff, is one of several instructive data points when it comes to how hiring outgoing defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s successor will be handled.
Allen also hired from within to replace himself when he promoted Wommack after the 2018 season.
Indiana’s defense was not broken then, it isn’t now, and Allen isn’t rushing to change anything.
“My phone has been very active with that,” Allen said of the search for a new DC earlier this week. “I’m not in a hurry.”
Allen was Indiana’s defensive coordinator in 2016, and when he was named head coach he hung on to that job for the 2017 and 2018 campaigns. He remains heavily involved in the defense on a day-to-day basis.
That creates a unique dynamic for any potential new defensive coordinator. It is going to have be someone that is okay with Allen’s involvement, and experienced in his 4-2-5 base defense.
“It’s a little unique for me, because of my involvement on defense, and the fact that it’s our defensive system that I brought here back in 2016,” Allen said. “I want a guy that can come in here and run this system. We’re not changing our defense. This is what we do. This is our Indiana football defensive system that I believe in and we’ve built here over the years.
“I’m involved in every single meeting, and I don’t tell that coordinator what to call on gameday, but all those decisions that we make in the game plan and in the offseason, I’m involved in all those things.”
That should eliminate the vast majority of the candidate pool.
Don’t run the 4-2-5? You’re out. Don’t want the head coach looking over your shoulder? You’re out.
There is also Indiana’s culture to consider. The last thing Allen needs is someone from the outside who somehow disrupts what is a signature aspect of the IU program right now.
It is all entirely understandable from Allen’s perspective. He has a really good thing going, and he provides continuity on defense even with Wommack on his way out.
Oh, and Allen thinks the defense will be better than it was in 2020.
“I think we have a chance to be really good next year on defense,” he said. “And I expect us to be better than we are this year. That’s my expectation.”
So who can step into those lofty expectations?
“We’re just going to find the best guy that fits with us,” Allen said. “And the guy that I feel is the best to continue to grow this defense.
“That person is going to be given that charge to capture that room and put their personality and stamp on what we do.
“It will take some time here. We’re not expecting to make a decision anytime soon. I want to make sure we get it right.”
THE TOP CONTENDER
Jason Jones is our favorite to get the job. The current IU safeties coach has 18 years of experience, including eight in the SEC and five in the Big 12. No one is as well versed in Allen’s system. Jones served as co-defensive coordinator and coached in the secondary at Ole Miss. He was on staff there with Allen (2013-14), and with Kane Wommack’s father, Dave, who was the Rebels defensive coordinator (2013-16).
He has been on the staff of five conference championship teams and coached in 13 bowl games, including two New Year’s Six games and a Fiesta Bowl championship. Positionally, Jones has the perspective of coaching both safeties and cornerbacks, diversity in experience that Allen likes.
OTHER NAMES TO KNOW
Brandon Shelby is the elder stateman on the IU staff, with 10 seasons under his belt in Bloomington. The cornerbacks coach has substantially elevated Indiana’s play at the position over the last few years, and has been working in Allen’s system for the last five seasons. Shelby does not have DC experience and has only coached cornerbacks to this point in his career.
Wesley McGriff is a defensive assistant on the Auburn staff, working under the recently fired Guz Malzhan. McGriff was on the Ole Miss staff with Allen in 2012, the next three years with the New Orleans Saints, and he then returned to Oxford to become the defensive coordinator. He knows the 4-2-5 defense but used a 4-3 during his time as the defensive coordinator.
Scott Symons is the defensive coordinator under Hugh Freeze at Liberty. Freeze was the head coach at Ole Miss when Allen was there working under Dave Wommack. Running the 4-2-5 scheme, Symons’ Liberty defense was No. 6 in the country in 2020 in total yards allowed per game.
Chris Kiffin is the defensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns. He was the defensive line coach at Ole Miss when Allen was there, and he was the defensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic, where he ran a 4-2-5 scheme.
Clayton White is the defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky, where he has a led a top-25 defense each of the past two years using a 4-2-5 scheme. Western Kentucky has had one the top FBS defenses each of the last 4 years, and White has been a Broyles Award nominee three times during that span. White is connected to Allen by Willie Taggart, a head coach they both worked under in the past.
Raymond Woodie is another coach with Taggart connections and he was with Allen at USF in 2015. He served on the Florida State staff during the 2018-19 seasons. Currently a linebacker coach at Florida Atlantic, Woodie’s lack of DC experience might be a limiting factor, but he is at least a name to watch if IU needs to fill Wommack’s linebacker duties.
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