Tom Allen was researching sharks.
He was working under Dave Wommack at Ole Miss and was finding qualities of predators. The “land shark” had become an identity of the Ole Miss defense and Allen found that sharks don’t blink. They don’t have eyelids. They can’t blink.
“So therefore when we go through and talk about that, so you use that whole concept, no matter what happens, if something happens good, if something happens bad, we don’t blink,” Allen said Friday. “I had all these different qualities of a shark that we applied to our defense in how we were going to play and how we were going to perform.”
That concept applied to what Allen was building on defense at Ole Miss. Though with everything surrounding him during the offseason in Bloomington, he brought it back.
So when Allen tweeted “We don’t blink” Tuesday, there was a point. It wasn’t coach-speak. There was a message that all of his players understood.
For there has been change in Bloomington since IU walked off the field in Jacksonville following a Gator Bowl loss to Tennessee. A lot of it. Allen doesn’t want anyone to blink.
This offseason has seen offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer leave for the head coaching job at Fresno State. Special teams coordinator William Inge followed DeBoer there. Defensive line coach Mark Hagen left for Texas. Performance coaches David Ballou and Matt Rhea both left for Alabama.
With the success IU had this past season, winning eight games and reaching the Gator Bowl, Allen’s coaching staff suddenly became quite sought after.
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey, running back Ronnie Walker and offensive tackle Coy Cronk transferred away. It looked as if promising running back and former four-star recruit Sampson James would transfer too, before announcing on Friday he would stay at IU. Tight end Peyton Hendershot was arrested in what is an ongoing case involving accusations of domestic battery.
Hendershot was suspended indefinitely by Allen shortly after the alleged incident, but is on the spring roster.
It has been a tumultuous offseason.
“We’ve had some change, we don’t blink,” Allen said. “We’ve had some guys make some mistakes. You don’t blink. You have things that happen that you don’t expect. You don’t blink. And we talk that way with our guys. So when I sent that out, they knew exactly what I was talking about because we talk about a lot in our program.”
So Allen had to ask his team to trust him. He asked his team if anyone knew of Ballou or Rhea before they were hired. Almost no one had. That includes Allen.
With so many vacancies he had to fill, Allen ensured his team that if they trust him, he’ll find the right coaches. The losses of Ballou and Rhea aren’t filled yet, and for Allen that’s been one of the most difficult adjustments, especially as spring practice starts Saturday. There will just have to be new faces at those practices.
“When you do something that hasn’t happened in 26 years, people take note,” Allen said. “I just feel like that’s the nature of having some success, and we’ve obviously got a long ways to go. It was a great first step to get where we want to be, and those are positive things, but I think with that comes change.”
The most notable change comes at offensive coordinator, though it isn’t with a new face. Nick Sheridan steps into the role DeBoer left and being an internal hire, is expected to maintain much of the schemes that were so productive in IU’s 2019 season. He won’t have to preside over a quarterback competition either as Michael Penix is healthy, and knows its his team now.
Allen said Sheridan wanted the offensive coordinator job when DeBoer was hired — Allen didn’t think he was ready.
Now, after a year coaching the tight ends, which Sheridan hadn’t done before, Allen felt it was time.
“I just believe if you’re a really good coach, you can coach about any position, and so we get rigid where we think, oh, he’s an O-line guy or he’s a D-line guy or he’s a this guy or that guy, I just don’t believe that,” Allen said. “And I saw that from Nick.”
And those new faces include tight ends coach Kevin Wright, who coached at IMG Academy in Florida and Carmel High School in Indiana. His recruiting ties to Florida having coached at a premier high school program builds on what is an IU pipeline in Florida. The same applies to new safeties coach Jason Jones. IU also recently hired Kevin Peoples from Tulane to the the new defensive line coach, filling Hagen’s job.
Allen said he thinks the staff is already fitting together well. There is already a chemistry and for him, it doesn’t feel like all that much has changed. There’s now a Gator Bowl patch on Allen’s typical black quarter-zip jacket signifying the recent success, but the internal alterations have worked well with relationships among the coaches that already existed.
It isn’t all put together yet — Allen still has to find new strength coaches. There are still personnel questions to answer with transfers and legal situations surrounding the players. Yet at least for now, Allen isn’t blinking.