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No magic wand: Rod Carey takes over IU football’s offensive line with no time to settle in

Tom Allen reached the tipping point.

He knew Indiana’s offensive line has not played well enough to win for much of the season. It was a make-or-break year for the unit, after its struggles in 2021 prompted a lot of internal questions about processes and leadership. And they have not yet rose to the challenge.

So Allen made a move. Out went offensive line coach and run game coordinator Darren Hiller, up stepped Rod Carey into his spot. The program announced the change Sunday afternoon.

“There’s a standard that we play with and want to play with, and I didn’t think we were playing to that standard on the offensive line,” Allen said. “Wanted to see improvement, and did not see it to the degree that we needed. So I felt like a change was necessary.”

Allen informed the offensive linemen of the decision Sunday before it was released publicly. He felt it was important to tell them face-to-face. And it wasn’t easy.

Hiller coached at IU since 2017 — Allen’s first season as head coach. They were close as coaches, and the players were fond of him. They’d all seen the heat Hiller was getting on social media and elsewhere, and it had clearly worn on Allen.

“(The offensive linemen) love Coach Hiller. I love Coach Hiller,” Allen said. “Relationships with people matter. People matter. It’s families. I know everybody just throws stuff around, says things. I get that, understand that’s probably what we do. But there’s people below this.”

That’s not to suggest the change wasn’t due. Indiana’s offensive line has struggled mightily this year. Right tackle Parker Hanna, a transfer thrust into a starting role after Matthew Bedford tore his ACL in the season opener, owns the lowest Pro Football Focus player grade of any Big Ten tackle. Right guard Tim Weaver has the second-lowest grade of any Big Ten guard.

Something the offensive line has been doing isn’t working. And it’s now on Carey to try and fix it.

Can he?

“I don’t know. To be dead honest with you, I don’t know,” Carey said. “We’re in the middle of the season. This isn’t ‘wave your magic wand, and all of a sudden everything’s better.’ I certainly am not a miracle-worker, as far as trying to get production out. And there isn’t time. We’ve got to play Maryland in five days. But I know this. I’m going to try because coach Allen asked me to try.”

Carey was previously a quality control coach, meaning he couldn’t give instruction to the athletes. He was working with the coaching staff, in several areas of the game. He primarily worked with the defensive line, giving those coaches an offensive perspective. And he was enjoying that role.

He joined IU’s staff this past offseason after he was fired as head coach of Temple, closing a three-year tenure with the Owls. Prior to Temple, he spent seven years as head coach at Northern Illinois, where he led the Huskies to six bowl games.

Carey served as offensive line coach in each stop of his collegiate coaching career after his two years as a graduate assistant at Minnesota in 1998-99.

He, too, thought highly of Hiller. And given the time constraints of taking over a position group during a season, there’s only so much he can do to impact Indiana’s offensive line play this year. He said he’s going to emphasize fundamentals, and tweak some routines to fit his coaching style.

“There’s no time to change the scheme,” Carey said. “There are maybe things we can do in setup to help scheme, which we certainly will do that and get that done. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the setup before, from the naked eye.”

When Carey came on as a quality control coach, it marked a homecoming. He played at IU from 1990-93, starting at center for three years during the Bill Mallory era.

After so long away from Bloomington, Carey called it surreal to be back.

“I’ve been in this profession a long time. From the time I got done playing here, I went and coached right away in high school, and then my journey in coaching started. A lot has changed,” Carey said. “There are some things I certainly recognize, and some things I certainly don’t. It’s been a real surreal experience with the town.”

Monday began an arduous task for Carey. He takes over an offensive line group whose play, thus far, was making it harder for Indiana to win games. He did so on short notice, and with very little time to get acclimated to the new role. IU has two more games until its bye week.

It’s a lot to take on simultaneously. Carey has to start building relationships with the offensive linemen, who he wasn’t actually working with before this week, while also getting them prepared for a Big Ten game this weekend.

He knows it’s a tough situation, not only for him, but for the players and the entire team. But Carey will do what he knows how to do: teach the game of football.

“Our guys have a great understanding of football. Now, some of the execution hasn’t been at the highest level that we all want it at, but that’s part of teaching too, how do you teach execution? That’s through repetition. That’s where it crosses over into coaching. To play offensive line, it’s about resistance and repetition. It’s big men trying to move other big men, all the time.”

See also:  Carey introductory Q&A session

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