IU Coach Tom Allen still talks about his defense using the word “we.”
It’s after practice, and he is describing what he saw from his team’s first scrimmage. The former defensive coordinator is adjusting to his new role as head coach, but the early returns are positive.
As spring practice heads toward its conclusion, Allen says the philosophy he disseminated to the defense last season has infected the offense.
“It’s a little bit of a unique situation because those guys on the defensive side of the ball, they really truly believe,” Allen said. “That’s helped the offensive guys.”
This is critical because Allen has implemented more of a hands-off approach to the offense. Allen hired offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and entrusted the keys to the offense to him. That means that instead of making sure that its scheme is running smoothly, Allen’s role with the offense is to make certain that it plays with the same intensity that the defense had last season.
If you listen to any Allen speech from an IU practice or even when he’s simply speaking to the media, his enthusiasm is effusive. The more you hear him talk, the more you feel motivated to go run right through a brick wall.
Allen’s not going to design the perfect play-action pass, but he’s going to galvanize an offense that was missing something intangible last season.
For all the strong offenses that former coach Kevin Wilson constructed, last year’s version struggled with consistency and being able to make winning plays in games where the defense held down the opponent. It was a talented unit that couldn’t seem to get out of its own way.
The offense lost some of its key pieces in offensive lineman Dan Feeney, running back Devine Redding and wide receiver Mitchell Paige. But now, instead of watching Allen coach the defense, it’s now receiving the same message that transformed that unit last season.
That could help it regain the swagger that it did not play with at all in 2016. The defense played with Allen’s ferocity, and if the offense could replicate that, it could gain what it was missing.
Following Saturday’s practice, Allen discussed how one referee for their scrimmage noticed Allen’s famous saying, “love each other,” taking root. He said the official said there was something genuine and different about how this team is acting toward one another.
“They’re practicing hard and making each other better, but they understand it’s not about me, it’s about the guys around me,” Allen said. “When it becomes that and becomes way bigger than me, it becomes really special.”
Allen’s fiery speeches may seem contrived to some, but they have proven to work. His message of playing for the player next to you is simple but effective.
He’s never coached at this level before, and the Big Ten East may just be the best division in college football once again this season. Allen’s tasked with an extremely difficult coaching job, but with his message spreading throughout the team, he may just be able to pull it off.
Wilson got IU close against the top teams in his division by trying to beat them with superior schemes. Allen’s trying to break through with love.
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