An Open Letter to Kevin Wilson, Indiana University football coach:
Hey, Kevin. Bill here. Speaking to you from the distinguished pages of IBJ, but also from Section 8, Row 39, of Memorial Stadium.
Yeah, I’m one of the Old Faithful. Never daunted, even though we always seem to falter.
That’s a paraphrase from the fight song, Kevin. Suggest you learn it quickly.
Best I could tell, you’re still unbeaten after the introductory press conference. Said all the right things and made no major gaffes, like referring to IU as the University of Indiana. I could see where you could slip on that one, since your previous employer, the University of Oklahoma, goes by OU.
Now, upfront, I know you’re not the “sexy” choice many were hoping for to replace Bill Lynch, who also was not a sexy choice when given the job in the wake of the untimely passing of Terry Hoeppner.
Hep, of course, wasn’t sexy, either—gee, you’d think Indiana need to look for Playboy centerfolds or Victoria’s Secret models—but Hep arrived with the kind of enthusiasm that spewed forth like champagne from a shaken bottle.
I know you coached alongside Hep under Randy Walker at Miami (Ohio). Even though, unlike Hep, you aren’t an Indiana native, I hope you embrace IU football like he did.
Hep called IU his “dream job.” Imagine that. And he was so irrepressibly optimistic that he had a bowl full of roses at his initial press conference.
A lot of folks think the Rose Bowl and a Big Ten championship are impossible goals at IU, Kevin. But I’m also reminded of the quote Hep used to cite:
“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Athletics Director Fred Glass obviously thinks you can.
You also need to do it the right way. Indiana fans have no small amount of paranoia when they see the phrase “former Oklahoma coach” and “new Indiana coach” in the same sentence. I’m guessing you interfaced at least a little bit with that cheating jackass, Kelvin Sampson, during your time in Norman.
Silly idealist that I am, I’d rather Indiana lose with integrity and principles intact than win by playing fast and footloose with the rules and bringing in the kinds of knuckleheads that neither exhibit class nor go to class.
That’s one of the reasons I was a proponent of keeping Lynch for at least another year or two. That, and the fact that Lynch’s last couple of recruiting classes have—according to the gurus—been among the better ones IU’s had in a while. I hope the shelves aren’t bare, but the obvious reality is that you won’t be fueling your offense with high-octane Oklahoma-level talent.
Besides, and this is what makes you a somewhat curious choice, Indiana’s offense hasn’t been the problem. It’s been the historically undermanned and overmatched defense.
Consider this, Kevin. Indiana never had a winning season with the greatest (statistically, anyway) offensive weapon in Big Ten history, Antwaan Randle El.
Here’s hoping your staff includes the best defensive coordinator you can find, and your recruiting lands some studs who can tackle and cover the other guys.
Anyway, Kevin, you’ve been handed some big money (by Indiana standards, though somewhat average in the realm of power conference compensation) and a couple of bonus seasons in that seven-year contract. Glass, who is doing a bang-up job as athletic director, has made both a significant commitment and investment, and I’m inclined to trust his judgment. I’m actually encouraged by your age, 49, and all your years as an assistant, because that tells me you’re not necessarily coming to Bloomington with your eye on the possible next big score.
Commitment, consistency and patience haven’t exactly been hallmarks of IU football. Then again, neither has winning. I’ve always believed the latter is the byproduct of the former.
Finally, I think I can speak for most IU football fans—or, at least, my pals in Section 8—that while we dream about contending for a conference championship and watching the sun set on the San Gabriel Mountains some New Year’s Day in Pasadena, we would certainly be satisfied with a competitive, respectable program.
Never daunted, we don’t want to falter … at least by, say, 47-7 to an average Virginia team or 62-10 to Purdue or 83-20 at Wisconsin.
See you in September.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.