Ex-In­di­ana coach back in Bloom­ing­ton

Wilson now runs Buck­eyes of­fense


BLOOM­ING­TON, Ind. — Six years ago, Kevin Wilson started ham­mer­ing away at In­di­ana’s lan­guish­ing foot­ball pro­gram.

He came to town from Ok­la­homa with a blue­print, con­structed a new foun­da­tion by at­tract­ing bet­ter re­cruits and as­sis­tant coaches, and even­tu­ally cel­e­brated the Hoosiers’ re­birth with back-to-back bowl bids.

To­day, many of the play­ers and staff mem­bers who helped the Hoosiers end a 25-year drought with­out con­sec­u­tive post­sea­son ap­pear­ance last fall will be re­united in an emo­tional tug-of-war be­tween Ohio State’s new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and the pro­gram he re­vived.

“You hug them all and you love them, and that for me is the tough thing be­cause you’ve lost re­la­tion­ships with kids you love, be­cause those kids played very, very hard for us and we’ve got a lot of re­spect for them,” Wilson said. “I’ve got a lot of re­spect for coach (Tom) Allen, those de­fen­sive coaches, all those guys that were there with us. I know the way they’re coached, the way they pre­pared, there’s a rea­son they’ve been bat­tling and have been so good.”

Eight and a half months ago, an open­ing night home­com­ing for Wilson seemed al­most in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.

Fol­low­ing a Thanks­giv­ing week­end vic­tory over Pur­due, In­di­ana punched its ticket to a bowl game and hoisted the Old Oaken Bucket for a record­ty­ing fourth con­sec­u­tive year. Back then, it seemed noth­ing could tear down Wilson’s re­con­struc­tion project.

Play­ers fo­cused on bring­ing In­di­ana its first bowl vic­tory since 1991. And with so many re­turn­ing starters on a vastly im­proved de­fense and Wilson’s cre­ative mind still con­trol­ling the of­fense, fans started con­tem­plat­ing big­ger and bet­ter achieve­ments in 2017.

Less than a week later, Wilson abruptly re­signed Dec. 1 amid al­le­ga­tions of player mis­treat­ment. Some ex-play­ers and their fam­ily mem­bers com­plained pub­licly that Wilson tried to rush them back from in­juries be­fore they were healthy.

Ath­letic di­rec­tor Fred Glass cited “philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences” as the rea­son for the split. Glass, a lawyer by trade, ex­plained the univer­sity had in­ves­ti­gated the al­le­ga­tions and found no wrong­do­ing but also ac­knowl­edged that prac­tices deemed ac­cept­able at other schools didn’t nec­es­sar­ily meet In­di­ana’s stan­dard.

Allen was pro­moted from de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor to head coach, given a six-year con­tract and handed the task of putting the pieces back to­gether.

“There were a lot of emo­tions that first day,” Allen said. “There was def­i­nitely a level of shock and sur­prise and the strong emo­tion in your heart, hurt­ing for some­one you care about and re­spect, know­ing what he’s go­ing through. I re­ally ex­plained it to our guys this way, ‘He brought you here, he be­lieved in you. He brought me here, he be­lieved in me. I’m re­ally just like you. I was brought here to do a cer­tain job, de­fense, and I’ve been given a new job, team. So let’s go roll up our sleeves and do this to­gether and fin­ish what coach Wilson started.’”

Allen lost that bowl game to Utah, but the Hoosiers haven’t lost their way.

They went back to work, get­ting ready for the na­tion’s No. 2 team and a date against Wilson’s rapid-fire of­fense.

Per­haps the big­gest trib­ute to Wilson will be In­di­ana’s busi­ness-like ap­proach to a game that just a few years ago might have been all about the dis­trac­tions — na­tional tele­vi­sion, ESPN’s “Col­lege GameDay” and the re­turn of their for­mer coach.

“I thought about what it’s go­ing to be like see­ing him in pregame,” Lagow said. “I’ll prob­a­bly give him a head nod or some­thing. It’ll be crazy but I’m not re­ally wor­ried about that.”

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