Tuesday, December 7, 2010
All Things Possible For New IU Football Coach
For some, Kevin Wilson walks on water. He can do no wrong. He is Indiana’s latest football coaching Chosen One, the Right Fit who will lead the Hoosiers to the Promised Land and for now, it is all sunshine and rainbows.
There is nothing wrong with this. Wilson arrives from powerhouse Oklahoma bringing the hope that all things are possible. And maybe they are. This is the era where Temple, of all schools, wins big and if it gets screwed out of a bowl game, well, nobody said we live in a fairy tale.
Wilson looks like a football coach. He is stocky of build, square jawed of face. He talks of toughness, discipline and physical play. The goal is to build a championship program and you don’t do it by conceding.
He is asked about Nebraska, the team his Sooners just beat to win the Big 12 championship. It is a historic rivarly and, just a few weeks ago, one that Wilson would no longer be part of because the Cornhuskers have joined the Big Ten. But now he’s in the Big Ten and IU and Nebraska will play, although that won't happen for a couple of years.
Or will it?
“Now we can play them in the (Big Ten) championship game," Wilson said with a hint of a smile, "so if they are good enough to win their division, we could see them the next two years. So we’ll see if they can get there.”
Wilson implies the Hoosiers will win their division, finishing ahead of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.
Who needs reality when you have nearly 10 months of honeymoon bliss?
Except, of course, there is no bliss, although there is a seven-year, $8.4 million contract. Some fans grumble. A few see Wilson as someone who will join the long line of failed Hoosier coaches. They are unhappy with the way fired coach Bill Lynch was treated and the fact Wilson has never been a college head coach and lacks the defensive background crucial to turn Indiana into a consistent Big Ten contender.
They are the naysayers of a negative age, where anger roils just below the surface and you turn the other cheek only because somebody smacked it that way.
But at least some of those who played the game see it differently. Take Anthony Thompson, the former IU All-America running back who attended Wilson’s introductory press conference.
“You could tell by his body language there is a sense of toughness,” Thompson said. “He has a tough-guy demeanor, like Coach (Bill) Mallory, and I think the team will take on his personality. He talked about how we’re going to compete every day. I liked that because the kids get a sense of that.”
Athletic director Fred Glass got a sense of it during his coaching search.
“I needed to focus on guys who have done it on a big stage,” Glass said. “(Wilson has) done it in the Big Ten. He’s done it at a place like Oklahoma. I’m very confident that he’s ready for the top job.”
Wilson is an offensive coach who understands the important of defense, who pushes it from a high-scoring pedestal because that’s what Oklahoma does under coach Bob Stoops.
“Nine years of going up against Coach Stoops every day you learn that you’ve got to play great defense and you win the Big Ten and you win championships by being able to play ‘D,’” Wilson said. “We’re going to play some great defense. We’re going to be a team that plays hard, that plays smart, that plays disciplined. That doesn’t take a lot of talent, but that is the talent of winning. That’s what it’s going to take to win.”
Wilson talks about winning right away. That next year’s seniors don’t have time for a multi-year building program, and neither does he.
IU returns eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters, but it has a huge hole at quarterback and hasn’t shown it has the powerhouse offensive linemen needed for a consistently productive running game. An inexperienced quarterback and no running game -- we won’t dwell on the forever struggling defense -- suggest more struggles are coming.
But Wilson is an offensive guy who likes a multiple, diverse attack geared toward its players’ strengths. So maybe he can take what appears a weakness and make it a strength.
He has a background in recruiting football-rich Ohio (he coached at Miami of Ohio for nine years, much of that along with former IU head coach Terry Hoeppner). He will take the next few weeks to assemble a staff and set the course for a new Hoosier era. He might still coach the Sooners in next month's Fiesta Bowl, although that decision rests with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
Wilson has paid his dues. He’s 49 years old, coached at two of the nation’s best conferences, thrived at one of college football’s traditional superpowers, been passed over for head coaching jobs a handful of times (Iowa State, Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State). He was voted America’s best assistant coach in 2008 after directing the most explosive offense in history, one that averaged 58.5 points and scored at least 60 points in five straight games.
That those Sooners lost to Florida 24-14 in the national title game is yet another indication that defense, rather than offense, wins championships.
Wilson gets that.
“I think it’s time,” he said about becoming a head coach. “I think it’s been time. It just hasn’t been the right place. For years it has been time. My job has been so good it has been hard to leave.”
Wilson did leave. He doesn’t have to walk on water at Indiana. He just has to do what the Northwesterns and Temples do these days, what Bill Mallory once did while becoming the winningest football coach in IU history. What Bill Lynch, who did everything else right, couldn’t do.