IU Coach Kevin Wilson sat at the microphone after his team’s 45-24 loss to Iowa on Saturday, an expression of exhaustion on his face. He looked like a man whose spirit was crushed.
While he didn’t answer any questions regarding the decommitment of star recruit quarterback Gunner Kiel — NCAA rules prohibit Wilson from doing so — the football coach appeared to have more on his mind than just a fifth consecutive loss . He had to be thinking about the phone call he received Thursday night from the high school senior who was supposed to help him turn the IU football program around.
Kiel was a source of hope, a reason to keep believing things will get better during a season in which everything that’s happened suggests the team is actually getting worse.
Now, this hope might be gone before he ever even arrives in Bloomington.
Kiel’s decision isn’t stunning by any stretch. The rumors had been rampant for weeks, and many of us were surprised when he chose IU in the first place.
But his decision is incredibly sad.
It’s sad for an IU fan base that has waited far too long to see a winner.
It’s sad for IU Athletics Director Fred Glass, who has worked hard to help Wilson succeed.
And it’s sad for Wilson, who has experienced about as bad a first season in Bloomington as he possibly could.
The obvious question, and one I’m sure Wilson was asking himself again and again during the flight home from Iowa, is why would Kiel decommit now?
The obvious answer is he finally came to his senses and realized he was never going to win at IU.
That probably played a role, but I think there might be something more to it.
After Kiel waited so long to make his initial decision, there has to be. If he really opened his commitment because of the Hoosiers’ struggles this season, it doesn’t make sense to me. He had to expect they would struggle this year, especially with it being Wilson’s first season in Bloomington.
Maybe Kiel heard negative things about Wilson from his brother and current IU quarterback, Dusty Kiel.
Maybe he committed to IU thinking other top recruits would follow him, and it didn’t happen.
Maybe he just changed his mind. Kids do that, you know.
We can speculate all we want, but we may never know the true reason. All Wilson and IU can do now is move forward with the players currently on the roster, as hard as that may be.
With Kiel no longer on the way, it looks like freshman Tre Roberson is the quarterback of the future. Judging from what we saw against the Hawkeyes, that might not be such a bad thing.
Roberson opened a lot of eyes in his first career start, a game in which he threw for 196 yards and ran for 82 more.
He showed incredible poise for such a young player. Roberson made several big third down throws and routinely escaped the pocket for positive yardage instead of taking a sack.
He’s not Kiel, but maybe he’s not so bad.
“The more he’s played the last two weeks, the better he’s practiced,” Wilson said. “He’s a very calm kid. He really hasn’t hurt us in any communication. He was decent. He’s got a lot of work to do to be a good player.”
I remember listening to Wilson speak at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago during the summer.
It was just days after Kiel had committed to IU, and Wilson was glowing. He seemed to talk with a certain swagger many of the players said he brought to the team before the season.
Some 12 weeks later, a portion of that swagger seems to be gone.
Wilson will certainly continue to say everything is fine and that he’s confident his future quarterback is on his roster. There’s nothing else he can do at this point.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t incredibly disappointed.
Wilson had his heart ripped out by a certain high school quarterback’s decision. Now he must put back together his heart, and his program, one piece at a time.