Before the news broke Sunday by a press release, Indiana football head coach Tom Allen sat down with his offensive linemen to tell them face-to-face that Darren Hiller was fired.
The response was emotional. Allen said the whole group, himself included, loved Hiller.
“There’s people below all this,” Allen said at Monday’s press conference. “Our players were emotional. They took it personal, in a good way. They know it’s about accountability and those guys stepping up. I’m challenging them to be able to rise up as a group.”
In his place, Indiana promoted quality control coach Rod Carey, who played center at Indiana from 1990 to 1993.
Carey was previously the head coach at Northern Illinois University from 2012 to 2018, then was the head coach at Temple from 2019 to 2021. He was fired from Temple after losing the last seven games of the 2021 season.
He came back to Indiana because the school is special to him. A lot of what he does as a coach, Carey said, goes back to what former Indiana coach Bill Mallory did for him. He wants to do the same for his players.
It won’t be an easy task. The offensive line allowed seven sacks against Michigan, and Indiana’s pass block rating is 119th in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. Its run block rating is slightly worse, at 122nd.
Carey was candid about his new role. He has a job to do, but he’s not sure how much impact he can have immediately.
“I don't know, to be dead honest with you. I don't know,” Carey said. “We're in the middle of a season. This isn't a wave your magic wand and all of a sudden everything is better. I certainly am not a miracle worker as far as trying to get production out. There isn't time. We’ve got to play Maryland in five. But I know this: I'm going to try because coach Allen asked me to try.”
Carey said he wouldn’t be stepping into the role if it wasn’t for Allen. He said getting to know Allen has been one of the best pleasures of his coaching career, describing him as someone who is as genuine as they come.
He’s also back in Bloomington, an experience which he described as surreal.
Allen didn’t go into detail on the process of deciding to fire Hiller, instead noting the business is performance-based. With an offensive line that wasn’t producing results, Indiana was due to go a different direction.
Allen wants accountability within his program, and that lies on coaches for the way the team performs.
“To me it wasn't meeting the standard we have to have to be able to be successful on game day in this conference,” Allen said. “When that doesn't happen and you don't get the results you want, then you make a change, and that's what we've done.”
Quarterback Connor Bazelak said his relationship with the offensive line has steadily built since August, and after the game on Saturday called them his brothers. On Monday, he took blame for the sacks and mentioned throwing the ball away more to help stop opposing teams’ pass rush.
"They've been putting their bodies on the line, smashing heads against other grown men for 80 plays," Bazelak said. “I respect them for that. That’s hard to do.”
With only six games left, and little time to implement any large scale changes or build relationships with players, it remains to be seen how the unit will respond to Carey.
“They're a bright and intelligent group,” Carey said. “Identification and marking from some technical alignment stuff has not been the problem. It certainly has not. That means they're really smart. So that's my first impression of them. I think they want to be good. That's a big-time quality to have.”