Spring Football Q&A: Indiana defensive coordinator Tom Allen
Kevin Wilson has done a lot of good things since taking over Indiana in 2011, landing the Hoosiers in a bowl last season for the first time since 2007. This program is on stable ground and trending up. The future is bright. But, more progress may be difficult unless the defense begins to carry its weight for a program that annually has a super-charged offense. That’s why IU is turning the page at defensive coordinator … again.
DC Brian Knorr and his 3-4 scheme are out after two seasons. And Tom Allen is in. He is the third coordinator under Wilson, who originally had Doug Mallory running his defense. Allen walks into a challenging situation. The defense has been an albatross around the neck of the program, ranking last overall in the Big Ten (509.5 ypg) and last in scoring (37.6 ppg) in 2015.
Time and again, the defense has let down the Hoosiers under Wilson. To wit, potential upsets last year vs. the likes of Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State were squandered by defensive meltdowns. And the Pinstripe Bowl loss to Duke was painful to watch, as the Hoosiers permitted the pass-centric Blue Devils to rush for a whopping 373 yards.
Bottom line: The defensive bleeding must stop if Indiana wants its program to evolve.
Enter Allen, who was the DC at South Florida in 2015 after working on defensive staffs at Ole Miss (2012-14) and Arkansas State (2011)—among other stops–before landing at USF. He was a hot name in coaching searches this offseason. In fact, the 46-year-old Allen was a top candidate for the same position at Auburn. Allen is a native of New Castle, Indiana, and a former prep coach in the state. He implemented a 4-2-5 defense at South Florida that was successful and is intrigued by the possibilities in Bloomington.
I caught up with Allen recently as the Hoosiers were going through spring drills.
Q: What intrigues you about trying to turn around this defense?
A: It has been a long time, the early 1990s, since they played what I consider to be good defense. The opportunity to come to a place that is in a conference I was raised in at the university that represents my home state … the challenge and opportunity to come here and help them do something that hasn’t been done in a long time was a great challenge and opportunity. It excited me. Most of the places I have been to in my 24 years haven’t been successful (before I arrived). The chance to come in and change that excites me and fits who I am and what my strengths are and what I love to do. It doesn’t intimidate or scare me.
Q: Talk about the 4-2-5 scheme you employ. Why do you think it will work?
A: I like the flexibility of it in how you can be multiple and not be complicated. I believe in keeping things simple for your guys. You play much faster when you are confident. It’s not always about 40 times. It’s about how quickly you react and get to the ball. And the game has changed. It has become a sideline-to-sideline game. Offenses make you defend the whole field. It’s like that in many leagues, including the Big Ten and SEC. They said when we ran this defense at Ole Miss that we would be run out of town. But we had the No. 1 defense in the league my last year there (2014).
Q: Do you think you have the personnel to run your defense?
A: I think we have a chance to have a strong secondary. I know that has been an area of concern. It may have been exposed last year because of some youth that had to play. It’s always tough to play freshmen. But those guys are a year older. The linebacker corps is a group that needs to rise up. The area we really need to develop is the line. We lost some good players. We need some young guys to step up. Having Coach (Mark) Hagen here (to coach the line after being at Texas A&M) is exciting for me. I think he will get those guys right.
Q: Who has most shaped your career?
A: Dick Dullaghan at Ben Davis (in Indianapolis). I spend so many years with him at Ben Davis High School. His understanding on how to build a team and develop toughness … how to create culture with high expectations. He always talked that conviction driven leadership is based on a vision of perfection. I never have forgotten that. That shaped my coaching philosophy. The second guy would be Hugh Freeze. He had a faith-based relational type of environment that I believe strongly in. Those two guys really forged my philosophy as a coach … not just Xs and Os, but the people side of it, which is a huge part of it.
Q: What did you think when Kevin Wilson called about the job?
A: I never had met or spoken to him before. He called, but I didn’t know his number and didn’t answer the call. He left a message and I called back. It was a quick turnaround to taking the job. I was surprised and didn’t expect it. But it’s a great opportunity that has me excited.
Email Tom Dienhart using the form below.
And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.