First-year IU football defensive coordinator Kane Wommack paced the sideline at the John Mellencamp Pavilion as the Hoosiers practiced their two-minute drills.
After yelling instructions to his players, Kane reached behind his left ear for a red pen to scribble some notes. He twirled the pen in his hand a few times and slid it back behind his ear.
Kane doesn’t use a red pen because it makes him feel like a teacher handing out grades to the IU defense. He uses them because of his father, 38-year coaching veteran Dave Wommack, whose fingerprints are all over Kane's coaching philosophy at IU. He always used PaperMate red felt-tipped pens on yellow notepads.
It wasn't just red pens that have left a lasting impression on Kane. Ever since he was a young boy, he always aspired to follow in his father's footsteps and become a coach.
Dave coached at 11 schools before retiring from the University of Mississippi after the 2016 season. Growing up in a football household, Kane got plenty of exposure to what life as a coach was like both on and off the field. He recalled the hours his father would spend preparing game plans and the late nights when his father's eyes were glued to the television screen as he watched film.
Kane also remembers being enamored on the University of Southern Mississippi's sidelines as he watched his father instruct the players he looked up to.
“I grew up watching my dad work and groom these players — my heroes that I looked up to and thought so highly of,” Kane said. “From a young age, I knew that I wanted to have the same impact and coach like him.”
Despite his success in the field Dave wasn't immediately sold on Kane's coaching dreams. When Kane was about to graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009 and begin his coaching career, Dave felt an obligation to show his son the realities of being a coach.
“I wanted him to understand that it’s a very volatile profession,” Dave said. “I took him to the National Coaches Convention and introduced him to some of my friends, half of which were out of a job, and wanted to make sure he truly understood what he wanted to get into.”
Regardless of his father’s warnings, Kane’s mind was made up. After the convention, Kane sat with his parents on the couch in their living room and told them, "This is what I want to do.”
Kane went on to coach at Jacksonville State University and the University of Tennessee at Martin before coaching under his father as a graduate assistant at Ole Miss.
The two seasons Kane coached under his father transported him back to his childhood — standing on the sidelines watching his dad. As Kane stood side-by-side with his father, some of his dad's coaching philosophies rubbed off on him and became the cornerstones of his own style.
One of the biggest methods both Kane and IU head coach Tom Allen — who was the linebackers coach during the same time at Ole Miss — learned in Oxford, Mississippi, was the 4-2-5 defensive scheme that is used at IU. Dave helped pioneer the do-it-all 4-2-5 defense that became popular throughout college football alongside Gary Patterson at Texas Christian University and Bud Foster at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
“We all kind of built it together,” Dave said. “We would talk with each other, build off each other's designs and steal from one another to build our schemes.”
Kane said it wasn’t the schemes or the play-calling he adopted from his father that have been the most important in his success. It was the emphasis on maintaining constant communication between coaches and players.
“He wanted to talk to everyone and genuinely hear what people thought,” Kane said. “He understood that he wasn’t going to know everything and wanted other voices to help with his decisions.”
Kane adopted this philosophy by seeking input from those around him in his first season as IU’s defensive coordinator.
“He’s always someone you can talk to about anything and he seeks out talking to us,” freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen said. “He wants to know what we are thinking and feeling, and it’s a great thing as a player.”
Most coordinators in college football don’t have full discussions with their players during a game. But Kane has prided himself on maintaining a dialogue with his players this season, and he believes it has led to some of the Hoosiers' success on defense.
“Honestly, I believe that communication is why we’ve adjusted so well in the second half of games,” Kane said. “Between players and coaches, we have been able to communicate exactly what is happening on the field and talk through the adjustments that need to be made.”
In the second half, IU’s opponents have averaged about 50 yards less of total offense compared to their totals in the first half and have had their rushing yards almost cut in half.
The Hoosiers have also been much better at keeping their opponents off the scoreboard in the second half of games. In the first half, IU allows an average of 14.5 points, which ranks No. 70 in the country. In the second half however, the Hoosiers' defense is ranked No. 38 in the country while only allowing an average of 11.3 points.
Though Kane has seen success as the youngest coordinator in the Big Ten at 32 years old, he still leans on his father for guidance sometimes.
During fall camp before the season started, Kane invited his father to Bloomington to help him prepare IU’s defense for the upcoming season.
“It’s awesome to have him come up and give his insights,” Kane said. “You’re getting the creator of this defense to give his opinion based on what he’s seen over the years and what he knows. He’s someone who will tell me the truth, sometimes things I don’t want to hear, and always try to help me and the team the best he can.”
Dave has had a bigger influence on his son's coaching career than he cares to admit. Kane's coaching philosophy, which has helped lead the Hoosiers to the upcoming Gator Bowl, is rooted in the lessons he's learned from his father.
“I’m so proud of him,” Dave said. “He’s had great success so quickly and at a young age. I’d like to think I’ve helped with that, but he’s gone beyond what I could have done for him.”
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.