Though he had two years left on his current contract, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson wanted an extension. Pleased with the direction of the football program after it went to its first bowl game since 2007, Indiana Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass rewarded Wilson with a new six-year contract that doubled his annual salary.
"I think it's a great commitment from the institution and our department to give us a chance continue to develop the program, the players and the staff," Wilson said when he met with the media Wednesday afternoon. "Very appreciate of that, very humbled and honored."
Wilson's new contract runs through 2021. While it may not seem like a big deal, it gives the program critical stability at its top coaching position for the forseeable future.
That's especially important for the 2017 players Wilson has been recruiting.
Wilson said players have told him that they like Indiana's style of offense, but wondered if he'll be there for their remaining two years. The extension now theoretically assures that.
"Very pleased to look at some recruits and say, you're talking to juniors, and you've got a contract that gets you through their career," Wilson said. "Because it's kind of tough when I guy says, 'Hey, I love your offense, am I going to play in it?'"
With stability for the future assured for potential Indiana football players, Wilson also took time to address the current situation with the program heading into the offseason.
The Hoosiers finished with a 6-7 record in Wilson's fifth season at the helm, ending the season with a 44-41 loss to Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl. Left tackle Jason Spriggs and right guard Dan Feeney earned All-American honors, becoming second and third Hoosiers to do so under Wilson. Former Indiana running back Tevin Coleman received the same honors last season.
As a team, the 2015 Hoosiers earned one win over a Top 25 team this season. Five of their seven losses were by eight points or less, including competitive losses to Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan.
The Pinstripe Bowl was Indiana's first bowl game in eight years and second in the latest 22. However, with a new six-year contract in place, Wilson was adamant about improvement being made.
"I think we've gotten to where we're competitive in a good way," Wilson said. "But we've talked about building a winning program in the Big Ten East, and we're still a little bit short of that for sure. So we know we've got a lot of improvement, and I think this commitment is going to give us a chance to keep doing that."
Underclassmen draft updates
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft is January 18th, and a couple of Indiana players have already made their decisions ahead of the deadline.
Junior running back Jordan Howard declared for the draft on Dec. 28, two days after the Pinstripe Bowl. Fellow junior and defensive tackle Darius Latham declared for the draft on Dec. 30.
Howard has been projected by draft expercts as a second or third round pick, while Latham's projected draft position hasn't been clear.
Still, Wilson says he wasn't surpised when Latham decided to declare.
"I thought there was a good chance," Wilson said. "Very talented guy and a lot of upside, and I just think that's something he felt was best for him. We showed the information and talked to some people to say, 'here's what people think of you.' But at the same time, he's got a skill set to make it. Everything we do in life is a gamble and there's a calculated risk."
Wilson said Latham's family was one of the first to contact and congratulate him after he received the new contract. "We worked collectively together, (and) we're very very supportive of him."
One underclassmen who still remains undecided is right guard Dan Feeney.
Feeney, a junior, earned All-American recognition this season, highlighted by first-team honors from ESPN. He didn't allow a single sack during the 2015 regular season and has allowed just one in his Indiana career.
According to Wilson, Feeney is back in school, but still has the opportunity to declare. However, Wilson also said he did not want to speak for Feeney.
"He's back with us right now, working out and starting school," Wilson said. "We're just trying to collect the information for him and going to be very very supportive of that."
Strength coach hired
After former strength and conditioning head coach Mark Hill departed for Kentucky, Wilson was asked about the progress being made regarding the hiring process for Hill's replacement.
Wilson praised Hill for the strength support staff Hill hired, but said the hire would likely be one that comes from outside the program. Thursday morning, Wilson and the program announced the hiring of Keith Caton.
Caton previously served as Baylor's director of football for athletic performance. He's also had stops at Western Kentucky (two-year stints totaling four years), Missouri (2005-2010), Elon (2003-04), Auburn (2001-03) and Southern Miss (1999-2001).
In Caton's four years at Baylor, the Bears posted a 40-12 record including three straight 10-win seasons over the last three years.