May 26, 2011

Wilson has high hopes for Hoosiers

Kevin Wilson knows the sordid football history at Indiana.

Wilson knows that the Hoosiers haven't been to the Rose Bowl since the 1967 season. He knows there has been just one bowl appearance (2007) since a trip to the 1993 Independence Bowl. He knows he's the fifth IU coach since 1997.

Wilson doesn't care. He is undaunted, and he's determined to change history.

"It is what it is," Wilson says of Indiana's lack of bowl trips. "But everything is in place here. The administration has made a commitment to winning. And that's exciting."

Bill Mallory is one of the few coaches who wasn't beaten down by Indiana's history. He knows you can win consistently in Bloomington. He did it. That's why he's royalty in southern Indiana, the most popular coach in Monroe County not named Bob Knight.

From 1984-96, Mallory led the Hoosiers to a 69-77-3 mark, with six bowls, before being unceremoniously dumped despite posting more wins than any other Indiana coach. Seems the IU brass at the time had grown weary of going to second-tier bowls on a fairly regular basis.

In came Cam Cameron, who went 18-37 from 1997-2001. Then there was Gerry DiNardo, who was 8-27 from 2002-04. He was followed by Terry Hoeppner, who went 9-14 in 2005-06 before passing away. Bill Lynch followed Hoeppner and went 19-30 from 2007-10.

The Mallory years have looked better and better as the coaching turnstile has clicked rapidly and the losing seasons have mounted.

DiNardo, now an analyst for the Big Ten Network, says you can win at Indiana.

"That is what Bill Mallory did," DiNardo says. "It can happen again. And it appears to me that this is the most committed the university has been -- and this includes when Bill was head coach -- ever.

"They are on such better financial footing than they ever have been because of the revenue being shared in the Big Ten. It appears they are using the added financial resources on football. I couldn't hire my own strength coach. We only played five home games one year. We shared the indoor facility with the field hockey team -- practicing at the same time."

"It appears they are using the added financial resources on football. ... [When I was there] we shared the indoor facility with the field hockey team - practicing at the same time."
- Former Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo
Mallory did his best work from 1986-1991, posting a 40-28-3 record with five bowl appearances. His two best seasons were 1987 (8-4, including a second-place finish in the Big Ten) and 1988 (8-3-1), and the Hoosiers finished ranked in The Associated Press top 20 in each of those seasons. Indiana hasn't been ranked since, and its highest Big Ten finish since Mallory left was fourth place (4-4) in 2001 under Cameron.

Mallory had Indiana rubbing shoulders with Ohio State and Michigan. Can it happen again? And can IU actually win the conference?

"I think you're always focused on that," says Mallory, now retired and living in Bloomington. "We didn't do it, but we were up there vying for it. I think what you are focused on is to win and get to bowls.

"I don't think you get frustrated because you haven't gone [to the Rose Bowl in a long time]. Something may fall in place and you're able to get to where you'd love to get to [the Rose Bowl]."

Wilson arrives in Bloomington with a resume that says he's ready for a Big Six job. He spent the past nine seasons at Oklahoma, serving as co-offensive coordinator from 2002-05 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006. Before that, Wilson coordinated the offenses at Northwestern from 1999-2001, building some of the most prolific attacks in the nation.

bowl blues
If you dust off the history books, you can find some Indiana lore.

The program has been to nine bowls in its history, with the pinnacle being a trip to the Rose Bowl after the 1967 season. Coach John Pont and quarterback Harry Gonso were the architects of the "rags to Roses" season that saw the Hoosiers head to Pasadena after going 1-8-1 in 1966.

Lee Corso led Indiana to a win over BYU in the 1979 Holiday Bowl, and Bill Mallory closed the 1980s with three bowls. But there has been little postseason success since. In fact, only two schools have gone to fewer bowls than the Hoosiers since 1990. The Hoosiers' only bowl since 1993 was a trip to the Insight Bowl in 2007, a 49-33 loss to Oklahoma State.

Here are the Big Six conference schools with the fewest bowl appearances since 1990.

Duke, Vanderbilt: 1
Baylor, Indiana: 4
Connecticut*, Rutgers: 5
Iowa State, Kansas, Wake Forest, Washington State: 6
(NOTE: * - UConn began playing in the FBS ranks in 2000.)

"How many times do you get a chance to be a head coach at a state university in the Big Ten?" says Wilson, who in recent years came close to landing the coaching jobs at Mississippi State and East Carolina. "It was hard to leave a place like Oklahoma. ... But I am as convinced as before I took the job that we have a lot potential and a great opportunity. We are going to see if we can max it out."

It's his time at Northwestern under the late Randy Walker that fuels Wilson's belief that he can win at Indiana. At Northwestern, Wilson honed his version of the spread offense, a go-go-go attack that has become the rage in college football. Thanks to that offense, Northwestern won a share of the Big Ten championship in 2000. And Wilson's offenses at Oklahoma consistently were among the nation's best.

"No doubt one of the reasons I came here is because of my success at Northwestern," Wilson says. "I told the assistants that I hired, 'Don't underestimate the power of what we can accomplish, the way that can move your career.' "

Wilson's Indiana tenure hit a few speed bumps early, as four assistants he hired left shortly after arrival. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease went back to Boise State, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery left for Michigan, running backs coach Jemal Singleton bolted for Oklahoma State and cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond left for Nebraska.

"They all were up-front with me," says Wilson, who signed a seven-year deal that pays $1.2 per season. "Our guys gave me a great package to hire assistants. I have a $2 million salary pool. But timing, those things happen. The next choice we went to was someone who was in the mix beforehand."

Indeed, the Hoosiers' staff looks solid. Doug Mallory -- one of Bill's sons -- will serve as co-defensive coordinator with Mike Ekeler. Kevin Johns and Rod Smith will serve as co-offensive coordinators. Mark Hagen is a former star IU linebacker who will be the special teams coordinator.

His players are excited about the change.

"[Wilson] is here to win," tight end Max Dedmond says. "He is here to win a Big Ten championship, here to win games. We bought into it. It got me excited. The seniors got together after the first meeting, and we were pretty fired up."

a whole lot of losing
Indiana has the fourth-worst record among Big Six schools since 2000. Here's a look at the 10 worst Big Six schools from 2000-10.
SchoolRecordWinning pct.
Mississippi State51-80.389
Improved facilities will help Wilson.

A 138,000-square-foot building was added; it means an enclosed north end of the stadium, giving Memorial Stadium a horseshoe look.

There's a 25,000-square-foot Student-Athlete Physical Development Center, which has one of the largest weight rooms in the country.

The old coaches' office was remodeled into a 25,800-square-foot Academic & Student Engagement Center.

The Hall of Champions is the school's athletic hall of fame; it features museum-quality displays and serves as the largest banquet hall on the IU campus.

The school also has hired a nutritionist and increased the weight-room staff from three to five this offseason. Now, the on-field work begins.

Indiana needs to find a quarterback and improve the offensive line. Still, the biggest key to success will be developing a solid defense, which time and again has been an issue in Bloomington. The anemic unit forced a Big Ten-low 13 turnovers in 2010 and ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (34.0 ppg). Wilson says another big task is instilling a winning attitude.

"Hopefully our skill level and coaching will keep us in close games," Wilson says. "And hopefully we can start teaching our players how to do the little things to win them.

"A couple of positions aren't as deep as we like, but we are trying to create some competition and have more spirit, enthusiasm and energy. We are trying to create a more enthusiastic atmosphere and expectation level. We need to be better, but the winter and spring have gone well. I like where we are headed."

He is hoping the Hoosiers are headed back to a bowl.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for He can be reached at, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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