Three years ago Tom Allen was comfortable turning over the game day defensive play-calling duties to Kane Wommack, a young up-and-comer the IU head coach was quite familiar with.
That decision paid off, as Indiana produced effective defenses in 2019 and 2020 under Wommack’s direction, and Allen found more time to be involved in the offense and recruiting, and less demands on his time during gameday.
But the defense dropped off dramatically in 2021 under one-and-done defensive coordinator Charlton Warren. To get things back on track, Allen is going back to where he started at Indiana — calling the defensive plays.
“I will be calling the defense,” Allen said on Sunday as he introduced new defensive staff members. “It’s something that we’re going to be doing a little bit different.”
Allen made that remark just after he introduced new defensive coordinator Chad Wilt, who arrives in Bloomington after serving as the defensive line coach at Minnesota.
The arrangement involving Wilt as the defensive coordinator and Allen as the play-caller was of course discussed and agreed to before the hire was finalized. Wilt has no experience as a defensive coordinator, so Allen’s decision to shift his focus back to the defense makes sense, especially since he hired a highly experienced offensive coordinator in Walt Bell.
“He (Wilt) and I have talked that through,” Allen said of the play-calling duties. “And he’ll be organizing our staff and all the things that we do.”
“My goal was to be able to find a person that could be my right-hand man in the meetings because what I’ve found the biggest issue is when you’re — whether it’s scheming during the week or you’re working on things and things happen, you get pulled out of a meeting, to be able to continue to flow. And that’s what I want to get with Chad.”
The arrangement isn’t uncommon in college football. Ryan Day calls the offensive plays at Ohio State. His offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson called the plays at Indiana when he was the head coach. And there are many other examples across the country, and something that is fairly common in the NFL too. In the end, Allen believes his effectiveness as a defensive play-caller helped him achieve success in his career, and he wants to make sure he is delivering his best attributes to the team.
“I’ve missed that part of it,” Allen said. “And I just feel like that that’s definitely one of my strengths as a coach. And it’s the reason why I’m sitting here in this position.”
Of course the head coach has a game day role that must be balanced with play-calling. Clock management and fourth down decision are just a couple examples. Those are things Allen had previously realized necessitated support, and he believes they already have the right system in place.
“We already have a separate individual that does all of our game day analytics. So that will stay consistent. And I communicate with him throughout the whole game about the uses of the clock, you know, the going for it on fourth downs,” Allen said. “You know, at the end of the day, it’s a gut decision you make as a head coach, but we do utilize the data to give us a baseline to go off of. So that will be consistent. I thought that’s really helped me a lot. So that won’t change.”
For his part, Wilt is getting an opportunity to be groomed for a more traditional defensive coordinator role, either at Indiana or beyond. A successful partnership with Allen can certainly create that opportunity, and Wilt seems to be cut from the same cloth as Allen when it comes to his defensive philosophy.
“This is not a group that’s going to just be a bend and don’t break mentality,” Wilt said. “We want to attack. We want to pin our ears back. We want to again create our havoc.”
Wilt also shares an Indiana heritage with Allen.
Although he is a Pennsylvania native, Wilt has deep ties to the state. He played his last three years of high school football at Eastbrook in Marion, Ind. He played under his father at Taylor University in the southern part of the state. He coached at Ball State for three years, and Wilt’s wife is from Indiana as well.
“We really consider ourselves Indiana people, an Indiana family,” Wilt said. “To be able to be here in this state, to be in Assembly Hall and know what this university means to this state, represent this state, is a tremendous honor for me and my family.”
Together the Allen-Wilt duo will try to rediscover some of the defensive magic from 2019 and 2020. The Hoosiers finished No. 71 in total defense in 2021 after posting No. 43 and No. 36 efforts in 2020 and 2019, respectively. The most noteworthy drop off was in turnovers generated. Indiana had just nine takeaways in 2021 after creating 20 in just eight games in 2020, and 17 in 2019.
One change Allen sees on the horizon is reverting back to more zone coverage so his playmakers can have eyes in the backfield and be better positioned to capitalize on the disruption created by the pass rush.
“Playing with more vision gives you an opportunity to do that (have eyes on the quarterback) without question,” Allen said. … “I think structurally, schematically, there’s things you can do to help yourself with that. And that’s definitely one of those things for sure.”
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