Monday, February 7, 2011

Here Are Indiana’s Football Coaching Answers; Can Hoosiers Win at Mackey?

So what kind of assistants did Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson get?

How about a young guy, a military guy and an intern guy.

What does that mean for Hoosier football players? The hope is they are developed into studs who will bring the program back to the Bill Mallory glory days, and perhaps more. The reality is we won’t know for a couple of years -- assuming these coaches stay around that long.

By now you know Jemal Singleton (pictured left), Brett Diersen (center) and Brandon Shelby (right) are the final -- Wilson hopes! -- pieces to his coaching staff. Each brings a unique background, as we’re about to discuss. Singleton will coach the running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator. Diersen will handle the defensive ends. Shelby is in charge of the cornerbacks.

Oh, for those seeking conspiracy or drama in the fact three of Wilson’s assistants bolted after just a few weeks on the job, well, as far as we can tell, there is no deep, dark secret. It’s just three good coaches who got better offers and took them. An optimist would say that shows a lot about Wilson’s ability to pick good assistants. A pessimist would say, bull!

We’ll let you make your own call on that one.

In a quick summary of the newcomers, Singleton coached running backs at the Air Force Academy, Shelby coached cornerbacks at Louisiana-Monroe, and Diersen was a defensive intern at Nebraska, which at first doesn’t sound promising.

So let’s start with Diersen. No, he is not some 22-year-old greenhorn who only got the job because of some secret information he has on Wilson. Diersen spent the last three years as a defensive line and special teams intern at Nebraska. He also helped with the team’s strength and conditioning program. The Cornhuskers went to three straight bowls during his time there thanks to one of the nation’s top defenses. He’s been around excellence. He knows what it takes.

Can he recruit and develop it? That’s the million-dollar question Wilson and his whole staff must answer.

Anyway, Diersen might have been the most seasoned football intern on the planet. He previously coached the defensive line at Minnesota State University-Mankato. He had the same job, plus coached defensive backs, at Wisconsin-Stout. He also was the recruiting coordinator and assistant strength and conditioning coach. Before that he coached the defensive line, outside linebackers and special teams for the Universty of Dubuque. That all happened after a strong collegiate career at Huron University in South Dakota. He was a three-year all-conference defensive end and a four-year Dean’s List student.

In other words, he’s a bright guy with, potentially, a very bright future. Defensive co-coordinators Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler recommended Diersen. Wilson passed on him the first time. Not this second.

“He will be in sync with those guys coming from the exact same system they are going to implement,” Wilson said in a university release. “He has a strong special teams background and will a good compliment to (assistant coach) Mark Hagen there and on the defensive line.”

Now let’s take a look at Shelby. As the cornerbacks coach at Louisiana-Monroe, his starters combined for 97 tackles and three interceptions last season. Before that he was the secondary coach at Portland State. In 2008 he coached the defensive backs at the University of San Diego. Three of his players earned all-conference honors.

The connection with Wilson comes from Oklahoma. Shelby was a stud defensive back there and earned All-Big 12 honors for football and academics. As a Sooner senior he tied a school record for defensive backs with four sacks. He then became a defensive assistant at Oklahoma.

Wilson was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator during Shelby’s time there.

“I have a great relationship with Brandon from his playing days at Oklahoma,” Wilson said. “I think very highly of him as a person and a coach. He had a great high school career, a great college career, and is off to a great start in his coaching career. Brandon places a great focus on academics. He is very intelligent and has a tremendous future in this business.”

That leaves us with Singleton. He played running back at the Air Force Academy in the late 1990s and coached there for the last eight years after fulfilling his military obligation. In the last four years under Singleton the Falcons ranked in the top-10 nationally in rushing every time. Last year they averaged 306.5 yards rushing to finish second in the country.

Also, in 2007 the Air Force’s Chad Hall rushed for 1,478 yards and earned All-America honors under Singleton.

After graduating Singleton was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas as a public relations officer. He returned to the Air Force Academy and spent time as the executive officer for the athletic director. He’s the son of a retired Air Force sergeant and was born in Turkey.

“I like what we are getting in Jemal,” Wilson said. “I like his background. I have a great appreciation for what he did at the Air Force Academy. Jemal is coming from an academically-oriented and tough-minded environment. His kids are mentally strong and when looking at his rushing attackes through the years, the numbers speak for themselves.”

For the record, here is Wilson’s staff:

Doug Mallory - Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
Mike Ekeler - Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Mark Hagen - Defensive Tackles/Special Teams Coordinator
Brett Diersen - Defensive Ends
Brandon Shelby - Cornerbacks

Kevin Johns - Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Rod Smith - Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Greg Frey - Offensive Line
Jemal Singleton - Running Backs/Recruiting Coordinator


In case you’re in a Super Bowl stupor from all the blown national anthem singing, botched seating and cheesehead euphoria, IU plays at Purdue tonight.

It would be a huge, huge victory for the Hoosiers if they could manage the upset. However, don’t count on it. The Boilers have one of the nation’s best big men in JaJuan Johnson, and soon-to-be-2,000-career-point-guy E’Twaun Moore. Plus they have the Mackey Arena advantage which has helped make them unbeaten at home this season.

It would be a huge challenge if IU was at full health. It is not. Christian Watford is almost certainly out with his broken hand. Verdell Jones is battling an inflamed knee, although at least he is playing now. Most of the Hoosiers are dealing with the kind of bumps and bruises you’d expect in Big Ten action.

“We have to have a rebounding mentality first and foremost,” coach Tom Crean said in a university release. “Our defense has to become a positive for our offense. We have to attack and get to the free throw line. Defensively we have to communicate and help, and not allow them to get the type of plays that will raise the intensity of their crowd to another level.”

So what does that mean? Can the Hoosiers win at Mackey?

We’ll know that answer tonight.

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