The first-year coach has installed a new offense, instilled a different attitude and created a more player-friendly environment as practice begins this week.
Sure, the softer approach that might make some old-school coaches wince, but the Hoosiers have embraced Allen’s style after watching it work wonders for the defense last season.
Allen was promoted from defensive coordinator in early December after Kevin Wilson resigned amid reports of player mistreatment.
“It’s all part of believing in the culture that coach Allen has established,” quarterback Richard Lagow said Tuesday during the team’s annual media day. “When we know the coaches love us and will fight for us without demeaning us on the field, it’s different. Sometimes that (yelling) is necessary. But it’s made this team extremely close with these coaches. Everybody on this team wants to do something for coach Allen.”
Wilson was the first coach to lead Indiana to back-to-back bowl games in a quarter century and is now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator. Last week, Lagow praised Wilson at the Big Ten media days and called playing for Wilson “fun.”
There doesn’t appear to be any acrimony about Wilson or his impending return for the Aug. 31 season opener.
Indiana has moved on, with Allen using the new camp schedule to give his players as much rest as possible. It’s an effort to help them stay fresh late in games and later in the season.
Indiana’s trademark up-tempo, high-scoring offense will stay mostly intact with some tweaks added by new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, a longtime friend of Allen’s.
The oft-criticized defense finally turned the corner in 2016 under Allen, going from near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision rankings to the middle of the pack. With nine starters back, the Hoosiers have set even higher goals this season.
But the biggest change inside the locker room has been Allen’s simple team-first philosophy, which he has dubbed “Love Each Other.”
“It’s all centered around the fact that it’s not all about me,” he said. “It’s centered around the fact that I’m going to do things that allow the guys around me to have success. When we do well together, the individuals get recognized. I want that mindset. It’s not normal. It’s not what is often maybe advertised, but I believe that’s the key.”
Lagow has emerged as Allen’s strongest proponent.
After Allen allowed his incumbent starter to help DeBord with the offense during the spring, Lagow has returned for his final college season with more confidence and a leadership style crafted to individual personalities.
Perhaps that explains why Lagow showed up to the players’ interview session wearing tight end Ian Thomas’ No. 80 jersey. Thomas took the cue and dressed in Lagow’s No. 21 jersey.
When asked if the switch was meant to show the importance Thomas could have on Indiana’s success this fall, Lagow said: “You can take it that way because it’s true.”
Still, the genteel appearances haven’t softened Indiana’s growing expectations.
Fifty years after Indiana won its last Big Ten title, Allen has a chance to make history by leading the Hoosiers to a school-record tying third consecutive bowl game.
And Allen knows it will require some tough love to be successful.
“It’s hard to be able to say to one of my friends, ‘You shouldn’t do this,’ get on a guy for whatever, even on the practice field, when we’re running, while we’re conditioning, when you’re off socially, whatever,” Allen said. “That’s what I want. To me, that’s a powerful thing that doesn’t just happen. Everybody talks about family. Every program in America talks about that. A lot of times it’s just that, its talk. I want it lived out. I want it to be able to be felt.”
Notes: Defensive lineman Nile Sykes will miss the entire season with an undisclosed injury, Allen said. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior was expected to be a key contributor this season. … Allen also said two players will be limited at the start of practice — right tackle Brandon Knight and receiver Whop Philyor. Knight started six games and played in eight last season before missing the final four with a knee injury. Philyor is a freshman from Florida. Allen didn’t provide details of their injuries or a timetable for their return.