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Eyeing a Big Ten Championship

New IU Head Football Coach Tom Allen talks goals for 2017 season.

Writer / Matt Roberts
Photos from Indiana University Athletics

Indiana University Head Football Coach Tom Allen didn’t come to his job in the usual way. He joined the IU staff in 2016 as defensive coordinator after serving in the same role at South Florida. Within days of the end of the 2016 season – and only weeks before IU was to appear in the Foster Farms Bowl –  he was selected to replace Kevin Wilson.

“When you take a job you’re not usually trying to get ready for a bowl game in the next month,” Tom Allen says. “Even though there was a lot of uncertainty, guys locked arms and stepped up.”

The Indiana native not only had to coach his team through a bowl game, but try to hold on to the recruits who had already committed to IU and assemble a staff of assistant coaches.

“Right after that, recruiting became the focus, and during the same time, we were putting together a staff,” Allen says. “It really did (turn out well). I think it helped that I was here before. We only lost one player who had committed. You never know how that’s going to work out.”

The IU defense made huge strides in 2016, reducing the number of points yielded per game by over 27 percent. Allen believes his defense still has room to improve.

“We really did have dramatic improvement (last year), but I want to be a top 25 defense this year,” he says. “We just have to build on that momentum. Red zone defense is an area we have to focus on. We forced field goals, but we didn’t block many, and last year we didn’t finish (games) as well as I’d like to.”

The coach was heavily involved in recruiting last year, but one newcomer is especially familiar. Freshman linebacker Thomas Allen from Tampa Plant High School signed with his father’s team last summer. The younger Allen reportedly received offers from Rutgers, South Florida and other Division I schools, and was listed in the top 100 linebackers nationally. Coach Allen admits that it’s sometimes a struggle not to blur the lines between coach and father.

“It can be hard to separate,” he says. “I mean, he’s still your son, and you find your eyes going to him. So, that’s something you just have to focus on.”

Both Allens will be trying to raise the bar for Indiana University football in 2017. The program has frequently slipped into the shadow cast by men’s basketball, but Coach Allen means to change that.

“Our objective is to contend for a Big Ten championship,” he says. “We don’t have a strong history. We haven’t won a bowl game since before our players were born. We have to start winning them.”

About Matt Roberts

Matt Roberts is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis. His latest book, “Thirty-Two Minutes in March: Four Teams Chase a Title in Today’s Hoosier Hysteria” was published in 2016 and is available through online retailers. He blogs about baseball, basketball, gambling and other topics he doesn’t understand very well at wordsbymattroberts.com.

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