Indiana Football: What are reasonable expectations for the program?

Indiana's Head Coach Tom Allen
Indiana's Head Coach Tom Allen /

Indiana football has fired Tom Allen. There will be candidates. What exactly is the floor for the program? 

Indiana parted ways with head football coach Tom Allen early this morning:

Allen, a New Castle, Indiana native, spent all eight seasons as a head coach at Indiana. He leaves Bloomington with a 33-49 record, including going 18-43 in the Big Ten. He led the Hoosiers to three bowl games — he made his coaching debut in the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl.

After consecutive 5-7 seasons in 2017 and 2018, Allen and the Hoosiers won eight games in 2019, the most since Bill Mallory won eight games in 1993. Indiana followed that up with a 6-2 record in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Indiana has had four winning seasons in the last 30 years; Allen has had two of them. He also has one of just seven seasons of eight or more wins. Suffice it to say that Indiana is a difficult place to sustain a winning football program. Despite that, Indiana was fairly competitive under Allen. The Hoosiers lost 21 games by one-possession under Allen, including one-score losses to Penn State and Michigan.

So the question is, what is Indiana’s floor?

What is the reality of Indiana Football?

Brass tax is brass tax, and you can’t sell a half-empty stadium and four-win seasons to boosters. Tom Allen won 33 games in eight seasons in Bloomington, about four wins a year. Coaches get fired fast when donors stop giving, and students stop attending games.

The Hoosiers don’t have an extensive football history. Indiana is known for basketball, not just at the university but also as a state. However, that is changing in pockets around the state, with more high schools producing Power Five-level football players. Given its history, what should the Hoosiers expect?

One crucial part of the answer is the commitment the university is willing to make to the program. What investment does Indiana want to make to the football program? That includes recruiting staff, facilities, and NIL.

Neither Purdue nor Indiana are landing the state’s top recruits. They go elsewhere in the Big Ten if they aren’t bound for Notre Dame. Only one of the state’s top ten recruits is headed for West Lafayette. Indiana got one of the top 15.

The expectation should be 3-5 wins most years and a level-up year every three seasons. However, NIL and the transfer portal have skewed expectations.

Athletic Director Scott Dolson sees what happened at Rutgers this year and asks, “Why can’t we do that?” Despite all the reasons they can’t, fans and boosters want to know that too. The Scarlet Knights were a doormat for years, and Greg Schiano turned that program around.

When you ask, “Why can’t that be us?” you set yourself up for disappointment. However, you have to ask because you have to sell something to boosters. Maybe the next coach will improve the program. Perhaps it’s more of the same.