As protests continue throughout the country after George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, IU head football coach Tom Allen has pushed football toward the background as he focuses on being a resource to his players.
Throughout the 2019 season, the phrase, “The habits you create don’t leave you, they become you,” was written in the top left corner of the whiteboard at the front of the team room inside Memorial Stadium.
On the field, those habits come during practice and through the attention to detail while training. For Allen, the habits built outside of football is even more important.
Since becoming the head coach in 2017, Allen has created a culture within the football program of hard work, trust and respect. He ties it all together with the slogan LEO (love each other), which has become the cornerstone for the Hoosiers.
“I just want them to know that I’m here for them,” Allen said during a teleconference on June 3. “I’m willing to listen. I want to know what they’re feeling. I want to know what’s going on inside their mind… sometimes you can tell when a guy is not right, but it’s harder when you’re apart so you have to be able to rely on that previously built relationship.”
Even while players remain spread out across the country, Allen has tried to maintain the family environment within the football team. Over the past few weeks, he has reached out to every player on the team. He's spent time talking with some of them, and just listening to what they have to say.
For him, IU football is not a machine pumping out talent. The relationships Allen creates with his players and seeing their growth are his benchmarks for success.
“You can build a great football team that has a high level of success on game day and a team that can build these young men for life,” Allen said. “That to me is what my ultimate responsibility is, and that to me is what I’ll be ultimately judged for as a coach. Not the wins and losses but for the character of the men we develop.”
While Allen has been focused on helping his players, he has not sat silently through all the unrest. He was one of the first Power-Five football coaches to speak out against the racial injustice in a May 30 interview with Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.
While many coaches are wary about talking about societal issues or taking a stand on social media, Allen knew that to be true to himself he couldn’t stand by and do nothing.
“All I was doing was following my heart about what was the right thing to do,” Allen said. “I tell our team all the time you have to learn to live your life with conviction, and that means that you’re going to take a stand for what’s right. That to me is at the core of what I chose to do.”
Allen knows that a return to football is on the horizon. IU announced that football activities will restart on June 15, and when that time comes, Allen wants to ensure that everything gets put into perspective.
“Real life makes football seem pretty trivial compared to some of these things,” Allen said. “With the pandemic, you’re talking about so many lives that have been lost, and football has been kind of a big topic because you talk about when you’re going to play again. You know what, there are a lot more important things than that.”
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