When the news that Indiana was going to name Nick Sheridan as its new offensive coordinator broke, there was some head scratching. Perhaps even some doubt as to the validity of the rumor.
Sitting in the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall media room before Indiana tipped-off against Northwestern on Wednesday night, no one saw that coming, at least not as a perceived top option.
While head coach Tom Allen had stated publicly that he wanted to keep the offensive scheme the same upon outgoing OC Kalen DeBoer’s decision to leave for a head coaching job at Fresno State, a promotion from within did not seem likely.
And while the chatter in the room revolved around Sheridan’s age (31) and his lack of play-calling experience, inside the program Allen and others see a rising star.
At the top of the list banging the Sheridan drum was DeBoer himself — and that started well before he decided to return to Fresno.
“Kalen came to me actually even before he knew he was leaving just about what Nick brings to our staff, the mind that he has, the offensive abilities that he has,” Allen said of the internal dialogue regarding Sheridan during the season.
With DeBoer’s turnaround of the offense being a major story line in Indiana’s first eight win season since 1993, his opinion carried a lot of weight with Allen.
“Kalen was just raving to me about him, what he felt he brought to our staff and the way he thought and saw things, both schematically and in personnel,” Allen continued.
Bringing DeBoer on board to lead the offense after the 2018 season created a challenge for Sheridan.
Indiana’s quarterback coach during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, DeBoer took over that role when Indiana hired him last January. Perhaps as the first public clue that Allen thought he had something special, he retained Sheridan and trusted him to do something he had never done before — coach the tight ends.
“At that time Nick went from coaching the quarterbacks and moved to tight ends and did a tremendous job,” Allen said. “Grew I think even more so as a coach as you kind of work into a new position coaching even in special teams work. It’s just a different feel.
“I saw even more out of him that even impressed me more. The way he handled that, obviously his comfort zone with quarterbacks, that area.”
Rather than going outside the program and hiring a new tight ends coach like Allen has this time with the addition of Kevin Wright to the program, Allen wanted to see how Sheridan would handle the new responsibility.
In many ways, the results speak for themselves.
During The Gator Bowl against Tennessee, Indiana tight end Peyton Hendershot set the record for most receptions and receiving yards for a tight end in a single season in program history.
“I challenged him about being able to grow in that and he responded in a great, great way,” Allen said.
After his success as tight ends coach and DeBoer’s stamp-of-approval, Allen is now ready to give Sheridan an even bigger test — the keys to his offense.
As much as the hiring of DeBoer by Allen helped lead to success on the field and ultimately a major pay raise and contract extension for the IU head coach, the promotion of Sheridan could undo a lot of that goodwill if the decision backfires.
Allen isn’t concerned.
“I feel with very strong confidence to make this decision,” Allen said. “I have talked to all of our coaches prior to announcing it, making the final call. They were all 100% onboard with Nick. I know our players feel the same way.”
Allen referred to Sheridan as having a “mind for the game” — something he has picked up on listening to his former quarterbacks and tight ends coach over the last three years during games.
“The thing that helps me is (Sheridan) being on the headsets throughout all the games for three straight years now,” Allen said.
Something else that helped with the decision is continuity.
Going into the Gator Bowl IU had improved from No. 51 to No. 31 in total offense, and from No. 87 to No. 41 in scoring offense in just one season with DeBoer running the show.
While Sheridan will no doubt have his own wrinkles, neither he nor Allen is looking to make wholesale changes with the offensive attack.
“Obviously some of the scheme additions (under DeBoer), some of the alterations in what we were doing and improvements, obviously those are things that we’ll continue to grow on and build on,” Sheridan said.
So what exactly is Sheridan’s offensive philosophy that he has evolved into under a number of coaches including playing under Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, and coaching under Willie Taggart, Butch Jones, prior IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, and of course DeBoer?
“I think when you look at our identity, we want to be an attacking, pro tempo offense that features its play-makers,” Sheridan said. “We want to be an offense that’s quarterback driven and quarterback friendly.”
When asked who has influenced him as an offensive mind, Sheridan pointed to a number of people, including his father Bill who was twice a defensive coordinator in the NFL and currently holds that title at Boston College.
“I’ve been fortunate that my father is a defensive coach,” Sheridan said. “I’ve learned from a young age some of the things that give them problems.”
Sheridan also pointed to DeBoer of course.
“Coach DeBoer, what he brought to our offense this last year was a tremendous influence,” he said.
Although the decision to promote Sheridan comes with risk for Allen, it isn’t an unfamiliar risk.
In fact, Allen is where he is today because others took the same chance on him.
“Just like anything else, for me, when Coach Taggart hired me (as defensive coordinator at South Florida) from Ole Miss, I had not called it at this level, really not anything close to it when I got to this point,” Allen said. “But he believed in my preparation, the ability for me to do that. I was able to prove him that I was able to.”
Allen and Sheridan’s paths didn’t cross at South Florida under Taggart. It was DeBord who introduced Allen to Sheridan and brought him along to IU from Tennessee.
But now Allen and Sheridan’s careers are inextricably linked.
And the Hoosier head coach is excited to give Sheridan the same opportunity that Taggart gave him.
“I feel the same way with Nick,” Allen said of his belief in Sheridan paralleling Taggart’s belief in him. “I’m excited, looking forward to having him put his stamp on this offense.”
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