Tom Allen spent his first four seasons as Indiana University football coach steadily taking the Hoosiers up the Big Ten Conference ladder. Then everything came crashing down in college football’s rapidly evolving world.
Three consecutive losing seasons and a three-year conference record of 3-24 cost Allen his dream job on Sunday, when the two sides reached a financial settlement of $15.5 million to part ways.
“It has been my greatest professional honor to serve as Indiana’s head football coach for the past seven years,” Allen said in a statement released by his agent. “Representing this university and this state has meant more to me than you can imagine. Our entire journey here has been based on a simple concept–Love. Each. Other. It’s what we’ve done, it’s what we’ll always do. I continue to believe it’s a recipe to change the world.”
Allen had four years remaining on a contract he received in 2021 and was owed $20.8 million. But IU’s athletic department said Allen agreed to take two payments worth $7.75 million, all of which will come from donor funds. It’s the biggest coaching buyout ever paid by a Big Ten school, surpassing the $15 million Scott Frost received from the University of Nebraska last year.
Allen’s successes and failures with Indiana mirrored the way college football has changed.
Before name, image and likeness deals and building programs through the transfer portal became the norm, Allen’s teams posted a 24-25 mark and he coached in three bowl games—all losses, the first coming in his college head coaching debut in 2016.
Allen capped the ascension by going 6-2 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Hoosiers celebrated the program’s highest final ranking, No. 12, in The Associated Press Top 25 since finishing fourth in 1967, and Allen was named the Big Ten and American Football Coaching Association national coach of the year.
He was rewarded with a big contract, but nothing has gone as planned since then.
Oft-injured starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. reunited with his former offensive coordinator at the University of Washington following the 2020 season and has become a Heisman Trophy contender. Meanwhile, Indiana had three successive losing seasons.
But going just 9-27 overall and 3-24 in league play were only part of Indiana’s problem. Shrinking crowds, intensifying criticism and a desire among some administrators and boosters not to embrace college sports’ new era created a disadvantage for the Hoosiers on the recruiting trail.
Allen, meanwhile, continued arguing for acceptance of the new rules.
“College football has changed dramatically over the past several years,” Allen said in his statement. “Some of those changes have been a shock to the conscience of those who support IU football. The time has come to fully embrace those changes and I pray that IU does just that.”
That will be a concern for whoever the Hoosiers choose as Allen’s successor.
Indiana seemed to be changing directions when it promoted Allen from defensive coordinator to replace Kevin Wilson in December 2016.
An 8-5 mark (5-4 Big Ten) in 2019 resulted in Allen getting a seven-year contract extension. After the 2020 season, Indiana gave Allen a $1 million pay raise to $4.9 million and bumped him back to seven years.
Allen’s emotional postgame speeches became must-watch video on social media in 2020 and after winning at Wisconsin, several Hoosiers players slapped him on the back or hugged him as he did a televised interview. One player even shouted that Allen was the best coach in America.
Those perceptions changed dramatically over the last three years, at least in the eyes of the athletic department.
“After continued evaluation of our entire football program, I have determined that we have lost momentum and that a change in leadership is necessary at this time,” athletic director Scott Dolson said. “I want to thank Tom for all of the contributions he has made to IU in his seven years leading our program. His passion, character, and class made a positive impact on our student-athletes. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Allen grew up in New Castle, Indiana, the son of a high school football coach and started his own coaching career at the prep level in Florida and Indiana. His made college stops at Wabash, Lambuth, Drake, Arkansas State, Mississippi and South Florida before Wilson brought him back to his home state as defensive coordinator.
When accusations of player mistreatment against Wilson surfaced during the 2016 season, Wilson resigned and then-athletic director Fred Glass named Allen the new coach despite being in his first season with the program.
Allen took it from there and showed progress—until Indiana was slow to adapt and the Hoosiers slipped back into the Big Ten basement.
But he showed indications after Saturday’s 35-31 loss to rival Purdue he knew what was about to happen.
“I understand you have to win. I want to win as bad as anybody,” he said Saturday after a 35-31 loss at rival Purdue.
In Sunday’s statement, Allen added: “There have been so many incredible memories made and relationships formed. I’ll always be grateful for the players, coaches and staff who believed in our vision and gave their heart and soul for this program.”
He grew up in New Castle, Indiana, the son of a high school football coach and started his own coaching career at the prep level in Florida and Indiana. His made college stops at Wabash, Lambuth, Drake, Arkansas State, Mississippi and South Florida before returning to his home state.