IU football: Tom Allen’s program navigating ‘heavy things that makes football seem kind of trivial’

After picking up win number eight and reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket, a wave of bad beats hit the IU football program.

From transfers, to coaching staff turnover to the literal bad beat at the Gator Bowl against Tennessee, the hits just seemed to keep coming for head coach Tom Allen and his program.

Perhaps some of it could be chalked up to the price of success?

Much of it was just ordinary offseason football stuff.

And that was all really just the beginning.

What has followed has been decidedly not just ordinary football stuff.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

And no stretch of Allen’s imagination could have envisioned what has ensued since the Hoosiers wrapped up spring practice number four in March.

“Some really heavy things, that are real life, and makes football seem kind of trivial,” as Allen put it on a video conference on Wednesday.

Of course what came first was the cancellation of life as we know it due to the pandemic.

Allen’s players quickly returned to their homes all over the country.  There would be no spring practice, no in-person offseason training program.  Nothing.

And still even that was in many ways just the beginning.

Wide receiver Cam Wilson tragically lost both of his parents last month.

Allen has watched from afar as his players have struggled with the murder of George Floyd and the national fallout since.

And then over the weekend the IU football family lost an alum and a good friend in Chris Beaty.

The football stuff — it has taken a backseat.

Credit – IU Athletics

“You think about what’s happened these last few months, it’s been hard, Allen said.

“I don’t think you probably realize how hard it really is until you take a step back when some of these things pass because when you’re in it you’re just fighting those battles as they come and you’re just mustering the energy.  The emotional drain that it has on you — you don’t always realize how taxing that can be.  But you have to be there for your guys.”

Allen ends each press conference by saying “LEO” (Love Each Other).  He uses the LEO hashtag on Twitter.  There are LEO t-shirts.  The message is everywhere.

During ordinary football times, a skeptic might suggest that LEO isn’t much more than a catchy slogan or worse yet, just a gimmick.

But it is precisely in times like these that you find out that LEO truly means something to Allen.  And he believes the culture he has established in Bloomington can be the rock that everyone leans on during tough times.

“When things go wrong and when adversity hits — it’s not if but when,” Allen said.  “Obviously nobody could have predicted that these kind of things would happen in succession, and such serious, heavy things, happening one after the next, but that’s why you have to live your life with core values and core principles.  And there’s anchors in your life.  This is what we talk about all the time.  When these storms come, not if they come, but when they come, you have a rock solid foundation that cannot be shaken.”

With a locker room of more than 100 players and staff, there are more than 100 ways that the events of the last few months are being processed.

That makes the challenge infinitely greater for Allen, but it is a role that he relishes.

While the story of Allen’s success as football coach at IU is still a work in process, there is no question about Allen’s leadership, and his genuine believe in the culture that he has established.

“The thing about young people, they’re forming that foundation, and we’re helping them establish that foundation, and some kids have a stronger one than others, and some are more fragile than others,” Allen said.  “We as coaches and myself as a leader, for those young men where the foundation isn’t as strong, you’ve got to be part of that stabilizing structure in their life.”

Accomplishing anything productive over the last few months — football or otherwise — has been a challenge with his team scattered around the country.

Being a stabilizing force in the lives of players that are hundreds, even thousands of miles away is next to impossible.

But that is about to change.

Indiana announced on Wednesday that its athletes will start returning to campus for voluntary workouts beginning on June 15.

The football players will be the first to arrive, and Allen will be at the head of the greeting line.

In most cases Allen hasn’t seen his players since mid-March, and he is anxiously awaiting their arrival.

“It’s been so long.  I can’t wait to see them.  Love to give them a big ‘ole bear hug,” Allen said.

But with that comes the reminder that these are still not normal times.  The hugs will have to wait.

“I’ll probably have to give them a fist bump, or an elbow bump or whatever the protocol is for that,” he added.

ALLEN DELIVERS POWERFUL MESSAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Allen also took to social media this week to illustrate what his LEO culture is all about.

Just what is it?

“It’s about life,” Allen said on Wednesday.  “It’s transferable to the field.  It’s how you build a great football team I believe and a great man.  To me that is what my ultimate responsibility is….It’s not for the wins and losses, but the character of the men we develop.”


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