IU’s football program is changing for the better.
That’s what former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach Jon Gruden said Thursday before IU’s Cream and Crimson spring scrimmage.
He stood in front of the media with a crimson IU polo shirt and his trademark visor over his long, blond hair. The current ESPN NFL analyst spent his childhood and early grade school years in Bloomington, and he returned as a temporary honorary coach for the Hoosiers.
“This is a very interesting place, this place — IU,” Gruden said. “I can’t remember when they’ve had a winning season. That’s changing here. I just have this feeling, and I’m pretty good at forecasting events in football.”
Gruden met IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord through what Gruden called the “coaching fraternity.” Both coaches have spent time in the NFL and working for former NFL head coach Mike Holmgren, and at Tennessee. The two are good friends, Gruden said.
Gruden’s father, Jim, was an assistant coach with legendary former IU head coach Lee Corso, and Gruden was a ball boy for the IU men’s basketball team when former head coach Bob Knight was leading the program.
Gruden said he remembers his days at Binford Elementary School, playing youth football with his dad as his coach and winning a state championship in Little League baseball. He said he’s happy to be back in the Bloomington community, and he’s happy to be linked to the IU football program and IU Coach Tom Allen.
“I want to see the beginning of it,” Gruden said about IU football’s rise. “I’m really intrigued by Allen. I’m really intrigued by this program, and I want to be a part of it, honestly — selfishly.”
The connection between Gruden and the IU coaching staff began in March, when the offensive staff visited Tampa, Florida, and Gruden was host. They discussed play-action pass, red zone offense and empty protections, Gruden said.
The former NFL coach said he found Allen interesting.
“He’s intense,” Gruden said. “He’s a defensive guy. I think he’s a great fit for IU. I really believe that Mike DeBord on the offensive side of the ball and Coach Allen on the defensive side of the ball is unique.”
Gruden said he admired Allen for maintaining his defensive coordinator position while also being named head coach. He said that passion at the leadership positions is what is going to help Allen win games with IU.
“When you see Allen at these press conferences, I think he just feels — this guy loves football,” Gruden said. “I love being around that, and I love being around DeBord for the same reason. I think that’s going to permeate through this entire roster and program.”
Gruden said Allen needs to stay true to himself and trust his coaches. Passion won’t win all of the games. The new IU coach needs to keep his energy high but be sure to get rest.
Allen has been known to have high energy as a coach, and Gruden confirmed. Allen is going to give the head coaching job all he has, but he has to remember that rest is important too, Gruden said.
The analyst said during one of his coaching positions he worked so hard that he looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize himself. Allen will lead this program to wins, but it’s not going to be easy, Gruden said.
“You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, you don’t take care of yourself,” Gruden said about getting a new coaching job. “So I challenge him to do a good job of measuring when enough is enough. He’s going to push it to the brink. He’s going to have to have a contingency plan for when things don’t go right. That’s the challenge of all first-year coaches. Not everything’s going to be roses.”
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