As IU Head Coach Tom Allen stood at the podium in the Memorial Stadium Team Room, Kalen DeBoer sat anxiously.
Boasting a wry smile, the new offensive coordinator nervously cracked his knuckles at each mention of his football résumé.
With thinning blond hair and standing roughly 6 feet tall, DeBoer's appearance mimics that of a drill sergeant.
Yet his voice is youthful and upbeat.
A Midwesterner by birth, his sunny disposition and tan skin reflect the past two years he spent at California State University, Fresno.
But now back in the region that gave him his start, DeBoer is prepared to take IU football to the next level.
“I'm from South Dakota, lived in southern Illinois, lived up in Michigan,” DeBoer said. “This is kind of like right in between those two stops. And so coming out here, it's exciting. It's another place for my family to see. It's a place that I've heard nothing but great things about here in Bloomington. So fired up about that.”
While DeBoer had no real connection to the IU program, the fit is a logical one.
When former offensive coordinator Mike DeBord resigned in late December, Allen said he wanted to see himself in his new assistant.
For one, both he and Allen come from small college backgrounds.
Following his collegiate coaching debut at Wabash College, Allen moved on to Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee, where he served as the assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Also coaching at the NAIA level at the time was DeBoer.
After an All-American career as a wide receiver at the University of Sioux Falls, DeBoer served as the team’s head coach from 2005 to 2009. During that span, USF won three NAIA National Championships, while boasting a 67-3 record.
“They were basically the ones winning all the games and winning all the championships in our division there and had a lot of respect for him from a distance and got to know him through that process,” Allen said.
Logistically, Allen was a staunch proponent of keeping his offensive assistants in place. With DeBoer, the entire offensive staff is expected to return.
“Those were the guys I brought here with when I took over as head coach and guys I believe in, and to be able to find a guy that wants to come here and fit in with those guys and lead them was very important for sure.”
As for the on-field product, Allen’s tenure at IU has been highlighted by a defensive renaissance of sorts.
The Hoosiers boasted one of the worst defenses in college football during the Kevin Wilson era. But since Allen arrived as defensive coordinator in 2016, IU has been in the top-60 in total defense twice.
However, the high-flying offenses that highlighted Wilson’s time in Bloomington have dissipated.
In two years as offensive coordinator, DeBord guided a largely anemic group.
The Hoosiers finished No. 78 and No. 88 in total offense nationally in 2017 and 2018, respectively — a stark contrast from a 2015 unit that finished No. 25 in the country.
That said, DeBoer is no stranger to offensive turnarounds.
After a 1-11 record the year before he arrived at Fresno State, the Bulldogs finished the 2018 season 12-2, capped off by a Las Vegas Bowl win over Arizona State University.
Beyond the records, DeBoer’s offenses were vastly improved. The Bulldogs moved from No. 120 nationally in total offense during the 2016 season to No. 47 after his second year.
On paper, DeBoer inherits a young IU offense not lacking for weapons.
Having already proved himself a quarterback whisperer of sorts with Fresno State signal caller Marcus McMaryion, he figures to have a major impact on a quarterback room that includes incumbent starter junior Peyton Ramsey, redshirt freshman Michael Penix and University of Utah transfer redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle.
"He's been able to do a tremendous job of going multiple places and having success and being able to be a part of some impressive turnarounds," Allen said. "And it takes a special person to be able to create that kind of change."
Closing out his opening press conference, DeBoer highlighted his football journey. On a meandering path that started in a small town in South Dakota, his coaching trajectory has brought him to a Big Ten bottom feeder in need of an offensive resurgence.
DeBoer is confident he’s up for the challenge.
“They're going to get everything I have,” he said.
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