Building a program: Tom Allen's approach to recruiting is changing the game for Indiana
Chicago — Tom Allen doesn’t try to hide his passion. Anytime he’s talking about building a winning culture at Indiana, a program that has lagged behind in that regard, you can hear the fire in his voice.
Allen was in typical fashion at B1G Media Days in Chicago on Thursday, speaking again about his dedication to building a strong program in Bloomington. His confidence and energy was contagious.
“I believe in what we are building at Indiana and how we are building it,” Allen said in his opening remarks. “It’s a process to get where we want to be as a program.”
From a record standpoint, Allen’s first two seasons with the Hoosiers could be categorized as mildly disappointing. Following back-to-back bowl appearances (2015, 2016) and four-straight wins over Purdue (2013-16), IU has failed to reach the postseason, and has the last two to its in-state rival.
There’s more to building a program than just the wins and losses, though, especially early in a coaching change. The lifeblood of rebuilding — or in Indiana’s case, building — a program is recruiting at a high level.
Already, Allen is exceeding expectations. And after hearing him speak on Thursday, it’s easy to understand why.
“We’re going after guys that I don’t care who they got offers from,” Allen said during a breakout session. “If we think we’ve got a chance to get somebody to come to Indiana, we’re not going to back off just because they’ve got offers from a bunch of big-time places.
“We’re trying to go after really good football players that fit with us.”
In his short time as the head coach at Indiana, Allen has already locked up commitments from some of the highest-rated recruits in program history. Three of those players — Sampson James (RB), Beau Robbins (DL) and Cameron Williams — will be freshmen in 2019. Wide receiver Rashawn Williams is an early verbal pledge in the 2020 class.
Recruiting at Indiana presents challenges a lot of places don’t have to overcome. There isn’t a trophy case overstuffed with bowl trophies or B1G titles. For most, if not all of the school’s history, basketball has been the superior sport. IU doesn’t have the allure or prestige as a lot of its conference counterparts.
That’s where Indiana’s current players, and incoming recruits, step it. It’s their energy, honesty and optimism about the program that is helping Allen rake in the type of talent that usually speeds past Bloomington.
“The guys who we are recruiting, since they’ve been born, they’ve never seen us win a bowl game. They weren’t even born when it last happened,” Allen said. “So, we don’t really focus on that. We’re focused on the future.
“I’m trying to create an expectation. You listen to our recruits when they talk. They came here to change this place…They came here to create the change.”
Indiana finds itself picked to finish near the bottom of the B1G East again. With Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State still dominating the division, the Hoosiers still have quite a ways to go before they’re challenging the blueblood programs.
Those challenges don’t faze Allen, though. While he admitted instant success would’ve been nice, Allen also understands that running a successful program doesn’t happen overnight. Part of that process is finding talented kids who fit in well with the program.
Indiana isn’t afraid to rack up the frequent flyer miles to ensure they’re bringing in those type of players. As for the players who pass on IU? Allen has a message for them, too.
“I’ll go wherever we got to go across this country to get those kids. I want someone that believes that we’re gonna do it. Bottom line,” Allen said. “I don’t care what state you’re from.
“I’d love to have a roster full of Indiana guys but if those guys choose to go somewhere else, you know what, so be it. And then we’re gonna beat your tail when you don’t come to Indiana. That’s the way I think. And I want them to regret not coming here two or three years from now. I want them to regret it.”
Allen hasn’t changed his message since he took the job at Indiana following the 2016 season. He’s talked about building a winning culture and changing the expectation for Hoosier football.
Maybe the results aren’t showing up on the scoreboard just yet, but it’s happening on the recruiting front. Right now, that’s arguably the more important aspect for Indiana.
He’s a third-year coach at a program that hasn’t gotten much respect in the past. Yet Allen is still going toe-to-toe with the big boys on the recruiting front. He’s doing it with the same amount of passion he showed at B1G Media Days on Thursday.