Curt Cignetti’s first week in Bloomington has been noisy, if nothing else.
Indiana’s new head football coach has exuded a lot of confidence every time he’s spoken to the media — or to a crowd of adoring fans at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. It’s normal for coaches to have a clear vision when starting a new job — that’s how they landed it to begin with. But Cignetti’s confidence, combined with his track record, has energized IU fans over the last week.
But is this what the entire new era of IU football will feel like?
Jack Fitzpatrick, one of the co-creators of JMU Sports News, followed Cignetti’s tenure at James Madison very closely. He talked about Cignetti and the assistants he’s bringing along with him in this Q&A with The Daily Hoosier.
The Daily Hoosier: Obviously Curt Cignetti has been at IU for a few days now, we’ve heard him speak here enough to make our first impressions, but from someone who was following his tenure at JMU closely, what is the full “coach Cig” experience like?
Jack Fitzpatrick: Winning. That is really the full experience.
While he was at JMU the Dukes hardly ever lost, and in the FBS era the Dukes suffered just four losses, two of them coming with an injured starting quarterback last season. Curt Cignetti knows how to win, and more importantly knows how to build a great staff. He isn’t a coach that will give you highlight-worthy pregame speeches, he is more of a CEO coach. But, man does he assemble a great staff and he has an eye for talent like no one I have ever seen.
TDH: How well do you think the success he had at JMU and his previous stops will translate to the Big Ten and IU?
JF: Honestly, I have no earthly clue. This is a big step up. Going from the FCS to the Sun Belt was also a big step up and he handled that well, but going from App State and Marshall to Michigan and Ohio State? That is another world.
He has won at every level with every type of team. James Madison is a program that had built a winning culture, two national titles before he arrived and from 2014 to his hiring in 2019 the Dukes had been in the FCS playoffs every year. However at Elon he turned a bottom-dweller program into a Colonial Athletic Association winner. So he has that track record of success.
If I was a betting man, which I am, I would bet he turns Indiana into a solid team.
TDH: Cignetti is bringing both coordinators with him, so let’s start with Mike Shanahan and the offense. What have JMU’s offenses typically looked like with Cignetti and Shanahan running the show? What sort of system or style did the Dukes play offensively?
JF: Under Mike Shanahan, no not that Mike Shanahan, the Dukes’ offense was one of the best in the conference year in and year out. Not only that, the Dukes’ quarterback play drastically improved under Shanahan (and Tino Sunseri which we will get into later).
Cignetti and Shanahan enjoy running the ball, however something that was really impressive this year was their ability to change philosophy mid season. The Dukes, who typically are one of the best rush offenses in their conference, had one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation. At the bye week of the season, after running it over 50 percent of the time they flipped it on its head and handed the reins to Jordan McCloud and the pass attack.
In a perfect world, Shanahan wants a balanced attack that keeps defenses guessing.
TDH: Defensive coordinator Bryant Haines was a Broyles Award finalist this year. What made JMU’s defense so good this year? What sort of system does he run, and what do his defenses usually look like?
JF: Bryant Haines had an elite defensive line every year he was in Harrisonburg. The last two years the Dukes’ D-line was predicated on stopping the ball and getting to the quarterback. Haines is a coach that wants to dominate the line of scrimmage and win that way.
Expect four defensive linemen, two linebackers, with five defensive backs with one labeled as the “Rover” who plays a hybrid safety role.
TDH: I know it can tough to form concrete opinions on assistants/position coaches sometimes, but if you have any, what are your thoughts on the various position coaches Cignetti is bringing from JMU — QB coach Tino Sunseri, RB coach John Miller, TE coach/ST coordinator Grant Cain, and DT coach Pat Kuntz — and/or what did you typically see out of those position groups at JMU?
JF: I’ll hit each quickly.
Tino Sunseri: Elite. Losing him was a blow to this Dukes team. He came in 2021 and turned every QB he coached into conference player of the year. He is an elite-level coach who will likely be an offensive coordinator sooner rather than later. During his time in Harrisonburg, he coached three QBs and they combined for 10,816 total yards, 119 TD and just 18 INT.
John Miller: A former JMU WR who made one of the greatest catches in program history! He was solid, but he was the RB coach for a room that was one of the worst in the nation.
Grant Cain: Punt team was electric this year with Ryan Hanson. There were lapses in special teams a lot under Grant Cain though. The punt return team was never dynamic and more of an achilles heel than anything else, and the kickoff return team left something to be desired. However, he can coach TEs and coach them well. Zach Horton, who is in the portal, may be one of the best all around TEs in the country you’ve never heard of.
Pat Kuntz: The D-line coach knows what he is doing. He is like the Sunseri of the defense. His D-lines were some of the best in the country and his coaching led Jalen Green to rack up 15.5 sacks in nine games. Kuntz is another guy who may be a defensive coordinator here shortly.
TDH: How would you assess Cignetti’s actual in-game management? Things like timeouts, challenges, aggressiveness on third and fourth downs, etc.
JF: Oh. He will drive you crazy. He is old school. He got better this year, but typically is content with just getting points. He doesn’t like going for it on fourth down and his timeout and clock management leave you scratching your head more times than not.
He is also known for turtling. JMU blew multiple double digit leads this season because after the team built a large first half lead, the second half would consist of trying to drain the clock and run it out.
TDH: Anything else you think IU fans should know about Curt Cignetti and his staff? What sort of football can people look forward to in Bloomington next year?
JF: Cignetti is a good coach. Expect fun football.
That staff he has assembled is good and depending on the recruits and transfers that come in there could be some high flying offensive displays with suffocating defense. I fully expect him to take over Indiana and turn the Hoosiers into winners. Will he take Indiana to a Big Ten Championship? Maybe not. But give him a year or two and the Hoosiers are going to make some noise in the Big Ten.
For complete coverage of IU football, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”