BLOOMINGTON — Indiana football coach Tom Allen recalled going to American Football Coaches Association conventions as a young high school coach, soaking in information, listening to award winners speak.
It was part of a 28-year journey that took Allen through different levels in his coaching career, from high schools in Florida and Indianapolis, to smaller colleges at the Division III and NAIA level, to major Division I programs.
Allen reflected on that path when he was named American Football Coaches Association National FBS Coach of the Year on Tuesday, selected by a vote from his peers. He joins Bo McMillin (1945) and John Pont (1967) as just the third IU coach in history to earn the honor, which was first handed out in 1935.
“Was kind of taken aback by receiving that and just so humbled and honored to be voted by my peers, the fellow coaches in this country,” Allen said.
Earlier Tuesday, IU finished with a No. 12 ranking in the final AP poll, its highest ranking at the end of the season since 1967-68, the year Pont guided the Hoosiers to their last Rose Bowl appearance.
“Tom is very deserving of this honor, which recognizes the remarkable job that he has done in propelling our football program to a level of success that we have not enjoyed in decades,” IU athletic director Scott Dolson said.
Among other notable achievements, IU (6-2) posted its most Big Ten wins since 1987 and its highest ranking (No. 7) since 1967. Indiana’s three wins against Top 25 opponents in 2020 were its most since 1945, and it spent six weeks in the AP top 10, the second-longest span in school history.
Already named Big Ten coach of the year, Allen also remains a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award and the George Munger College Coach of the Year Award.
“This is a program award,” Allen said. “This is an Indiana University award for everybody. You think about (former AD) Fred Glass and his belief in me and now Scott Dolson and his leadership and support and what he’s done in our short time together, so I’m just thankful for that and everybody that’s represented and what this award means.”
For Allen, who turned 50 last March, there were sacrifices along the way, but he said he never lost sight of his dream and didn’t want to live with regrets.
“You just stay the course and persevere through some difficult times,” Allen said. “There were times when I had no idea what tomorrow was going to be, I had no idea where tomorrow was going to end up. There were times in the journey where I mentioned in the past I almost went back to high school because I didn’t want to put my family through more hard moves and more uncertainty and no money and all of those different things and struggles that that creates.”
Now, there’s even greater expectations for 2021, which Allen embraces. Several early polls released Tuesday have IU slotted as a preseason Top 10 team.
Allen admitted losing the Outback Bowl to Ole Miss was a disappointment and left a sense of emptiness but said it would be unfair for it to define the whole season. The Hoosiers have gone through a series of additions and subtractions since the bowl loss. Starting center Harry Crider, receiver Whop Philyor and safety Jamar Johnson all declared for the NFL draft, but some key players decided to return, including Big Ten receiver of the year Ty Fryfogle and defensive back Marcelino Ball, who sat out the entire 2020 season with a torn ACL. In addition, IU added a pair of transfers this week, Michigan offensive lineman Zach Carpenter and Ole Miss defensive lineman Ryder Anderson.
“I feel really good about where we are as a roster,” Allen said. “Excited about all of our positions and I’m excited for our spring competition that we’ve got. A lot of chances for redshirt guys … and think about this, our strength staff is phenomenal here, and they haven’t had a chance to really work with our guys yet, and that excites as much as anything.”
Indiana also is seeking a new defensive coordinator to replace Kane Wommack, a search process that’s ongoing. Allen wants to hire someone who shares his defensive philosophy and will commit to the 4-2-5 scheme.
“The No. 1 objective is to find a guy that’s the best fit,” Allen said. “If he happens to be a linebackers coach, yeah, that would be very convenient and an easy transition that we would plug him in right there. If he’s not, then we would look at adjusting our staff. We could just move guys around. We have multiple guys that could coach multiple positions.”
• Allen said a main offseason objective is for the Hoosiers to run the football better in 2021. IU finished the year 12th in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 108.7 yards. “To me, it’s just being more multiple, even schematically,” Allen said. The effects of preparation due to COVID-19, Allen said, played a factor in the Hoosiers being forced to be more vanilla in terms of schemes in 2020. “We had to cut back for sure, especially in certain areas,” Allen said. “Sometimes that might’ve hurt us, and sometimes that might have helped us, sometimes you get better when you do less things.”
• Allen said his son, linebacker Thomas Allen, is progressing through rehab of a hip injury he suffered in November against Michigan State that sidelined him for the remainder of the 2020 season. “Trying to get his lower body in the pool,” Allen said. “Rehab is a major emphasis for him right now. He’s actually able to upper body lift with our strength staff, so he’s progressing.”