Assistant Carousel Annoying, But Ultimately Trivial
There's been teeth-gnashing, message board speculation, and general anxiety over the departure of four Hoosier assistant coaches under head coach Kevin Wilson this winter. Before Wilson has even coached a spring practice he has seen four very talented assistants leave for greener pastures. It's more than a little unusual, but whether you consider it a disturbing trend that hints at something more nefarious or just a natural progression by individuals ultimately on a search for the top of their profession depends mostly on your own disposition.
What's getting lost here is that while this hasn't been a positive for the IU football program by any means, it in no way negates the historic events of the last few months. There's something much bigger than Kevin Wilson and his coaching staff going on at Indiana University right now, something that outweighs anything the eventual Hoosier coaching staff will accomplish in the 2011 season. More important than the loyal commitment of any one assistant coach is the true commitment that Indiana University has made to its football team.
When athletic director Fred Glass took charge in Bloomington he made it no secret that his top mission was to revive the IU football program. While some may have been distracted by the gameday gimmicks and promotions he instituted, it's hard to ignore the entirety of his work in that department now. The weight room is now among the absolute best in the country. The offices and meetings room aren't far behind. The head coach is now paid like a true member of the Big Ten coaching fraternity. His assistants will be getting paid a figure that Cam Cameron's, Gerry DiNardo's, and Bill Lynch's assistants could only dream about. The stadium, largely because of those promotions, gimmicks, and innovative ideas like Knothole Park, is beginning to feel more like a Big Ten stadium on Saturdays as attendance continues to climb.
Taken as a whole these developments prove that Indiana University is now quite serious about turning their football team into a consistent winner, and ipso facto, a legitimate money maker. Glass believes he has found the man to help him complete this mission in Kevin Wilson. But the ultimate success of the IU football program goes far beyond Wilson. Whether he sinks or swims at IU is just a lone factor in the eventual history of the program under Glass that will be written. As long as the financial commitment and will of the university to stand behind the program remains, then the only thing that Wilson determines is whether he will be the one on the sidelines when the program finally breaks through.
Laying The Foundation
There's been a lot of talk about rebuilding when it comes to Indiana basketball. When Tom Crean took over the rubble that remained of a one-time Taj Mahal program it was clear that he had his work cut out for him. Immediate tasks like finding enough players to field a team, finding the right opponents for that team, and getting fans to still come to Assembly Hall despite the likely outcomes filled his first days, months, and years.
Now in the third year of his rebuilding project at Indiana, you can detect a shift in the foreman's work. He's no longer scrambling to get equipment to the site or hire enough people to get started, because all the necessary people and tools are already there—not to win a Big Ten championship, but to learn how to win, period. This year's team is finally starting to develop the attitude of a winner, meaning that they expect to win every time out. Last year's team flirted with the idea, but it never really took hold. What we're seeing this year is a team that can take a few punches and still realize that the fight isn't over or a foregone conclusion. There's been a spirit shown over the last few weeks that simply wasn't around heretofore. You get the distinct impression that if these Hoosiers went up to Northwestern again this weekend they still might not win, but they certainly wouldn't lay down.
Of course, believing you can win and actually winning are separated by a good distance. This program still has plenty of rungs left to climb on a ladder that at one time must have seen a million miles high. But I have a feeling this season will be remembered more for what happened in the minds of the Hoosier players, than what numbers they leave in the win/loss column. That's because there's no more important work to be done than changing the mindset and the culture of this scandal-ravaged program. Crean has long and frequently lamented the fact that what makes a rebuilding job like this so difficult is that there are no upperclassmen to pass down the mind frame and work ethic of a winner. Seniors haven't been able to pull underclassmen aside and explain what it takes to not just compete at this level, but to succeed on a daily basis.
If we look back in ten years and are trying to determine when things finally started to turnaround for this program, there's a good chance we can point to these final months of the 2011 season and say something genuinely changed right here. While that's just a possibility, we know for a fact that next year's freshmen will be walking into a vastly different locker room then the one Verdell Jones, Tom Pritchard , Matt Roth, Daniel Moore, and Kory Barnett walked into three years ago. These guys won't be picking up shovels, because the foundation appears to be laid. For all future incoming classes it's time to start building up.