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'We've got to compete': Indiana makes historic investment in hiring Kalen DeBoer as offensive coordinator

For nearly 20 minutes, Tom Allen sat in the corner of Memorial Stadium’s Team Room on Friday afternoon and watched the introduction of his new offensive coordinator, Kalen DeBoer.

Allen had just answered questions of his own, but now he observed intently upon the most imperative hire of his tenure.

Indiana’s head coach smiled as DeBoer described his offensive philosophy as “revolved around what it takes to win,” and creating more explosive plays than the opponent. It is precisely what Allen said he wanted to hear throughout the hiring process: basic fundamental concepts of offense such as getting the ball downfield, converting 3rd downs, and consistently scoring points to lessen the defensive burden. In 2018, the Hoosiers struggled in all three facets -- finishing 107th in yards per passing attempt. In 2019, DeBoer will replace the retired Mike DeBord as IU’s offensive coordinator and associate head coach.

“It's going to be all revolved around what it takes to win, first of all,” DeBoer said Friday. “And there's a fine line between excitement, putting people in the stands and getting people excited about what we do offensively, and then making sure we're not putting our team in a vulnerable position.”

On paper, the hiring of DeBoer is an impressive success for Indiana’s football program. The former coordinator at Fresno State, Eastern Michigan, and Southern Illinois has improved his offensive units at every stop in his career. In 2017 and 2018 at Fresno State, the Bulldogs jumped from 120th nationally in total offense to 47th. The Mountain West and Mid-American Conferences are difficult places to create significant offensive improvements, and yet DeBoer did.

Prior to DeBoer’s arrival, Fresno State was fourth-worst (125th) in scoring offense nationally -- scoring just 17.7 points per game. The Bulldogs jumped to a modest 77th (27.1 ppg) in 2017 before finishing as the nation’s 26th-best scoring offense this past season, at 34.6 points per game. Only Buffalo made a better two-year jump in scoring offense than Fresno State. Compared to his predecessor, DeBoer brings a more innovative, more explosive offensive philosophy to Bloomington. He wants the Hoosiers able to play fast, explosive, and aggressive on offense. That includes utilizing Indiana’s 6-foot-3 receiver Nick Westbrook and 6-foot-4 receiver Donavan Hale. Westbrook saw his production decrease 40 percent under DeBord’s offense in 2018.

“We want to be physical,” DeBoer said. “We want to have explosive plays that should come off of -- when you have a little bit of a run game. You should be able to have some play action to go along with it. Play action doesn't have to be shots down the field, but it should open that up. We've got some big receivers from what I've seen that can go up and get the football and some guys that can get it down the field, as well.”

Indiana University will be compensating DeBoer an historic amount. Sources confirmed reports that DeBoer will earn a salary of $800,000 per year, a school record for an assistant of any sport. Under athletic director Fred Glass, Indiana has attempted to attract high-level talent through facility improvements and budget increases. The on-field results have not materialized, but the Hoosiers have made significant investments to hire, and keep, coaching personnel such as its strength and speed braintrust of David Ballou and Matt Rhea. Allen said Friday that Glass was on the phone with DeBoer to show Indiana’s commitment and investment to advancing its football program.

“We had talked quite extensively, so there was a lot that I knew about where the program was at,” DeBoer said. “But getting on campus and just seeing the facilities, I was really honestly blown away with them, and it's exciting to see the investment that Coach talks about that's been made here with the facilities, and the guys have a great environment. It's a winning -- it's a feel of winning that we're surrounded by.

Based on USA Today’s assistant coach salary database in 2018, DeBoer’s salary would have ranked in the top-40 this past season. For perspective, former IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s $502,500 salary ranked 126th in 2018. Kevin Johns made $332,500 as Kevin Wilson’s offensive coordinator before DeBord arrived.

“To be able to sit down with Fred and just say, hey, this is where the market is right now, and we want to go out and get the best, and we've got to compete, and you've got to be able to step up, and Fred absolutely was 100 percent supportive of that and trusted me to be able to say, this is the guy we believe in, this is the guy we've selected, and this is what we're going to need to do to get him,” Allen said of IU’s investment in hiring DeBoer.

DeBoer will be Indiana's ‘head coach of the offense’ while Allen coaches without defensive coordinator duties for the first time in his career since 2014 and former linebackers coach Kane Wommack takes over as DC. DeBoer will do so with Indiana’s offensive staff intact, a rather rare attribute of a coordinator hiring. But Allen values his offensive staff of Nick Sheridan (QBs), Mike Hart (RBs), Grant Heard (WRs), and Darren Hiller (Offensive Line), while the tight ends assignment remains open. By his account, they have recruited and coached well, and he does not want to lose them nor search for replacements. He believes DeBoer will ‘fit in great’ with the offensive coaches Allen brought in two years ago.

Now that the dust has settled, DeBoer will get to work. He’ll complete the move from central California and help his wife, Nicole, and two daughters become situated in Bloomington. There are relationships for DeBoer to build, and competitive depth charts to begin sorting out. His first power-conference offense will face Ohio State in Week 3.

“It's not something where there's the coaching staff and me and there's the players,” DeBoer said. “We're all in this together. We all want the same thing. We all want a great season. We want a great team. We want a great program. It goes well beyond the years of us all being here.”

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