UPDATE: Tom Allen out as IU football coach after Big Ten record buyout

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Tom Allen

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.

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17 thoughts on “UPDATE: Tom Allen out as IU football coach after Big Ten record buyout

  1. At 33 wins, at a $21 million buyout he got paid $636,000 per win. I realize the math isn’t perfect regarding past salary etc. but either way, a ridiculous amount of money for perennial losing program.

    Here is a novel idea, go year to year contract, and pay based on each win. Take the contract savings and reduce admission fees!

    1. Tell us you don’t understand how recruiting works without telling us you don’t understand how recruiting works.

      Indiana’s football ceiling in the new Big Ten is (on average) a 7-5 program. Some years a little better, some years a little worse. With the PAC-12 schools coming in it will be even harder for IU (and Purdue) to get to bowl eligibility. The new schedules are very tough.

      Here’s their 2024 schedule
      Western Illinois
      UCLA
      UNC Charlotte
      Maryland
      Northwestern
      Nebraska
      Washington
      Michigan State
      Michigan
      Ohio State
      Purdue

    1. Randal El has less than 5 years experience as a NFL position coach. Zero experience on game planning, the thousands of administrative details of a college HC, or recruiting. Spoiler Alert, no 17 year old or anyone in the portal has a clue who he is. Similar to Jeff Saturday, he seems like a nice guy and reminds you of some winning teams, so therefore he would be a great HC

  2. What? Are the trustees who allow these contracts to be signed? Is the defense to such contracts that in order to attract a purported quality coach that these types of contracts cannot be escaped?

  3. Makes you wonder if the real problem wasn’t his inability to recruit, instead of coaching. I know the two go together, but some coaches just are not great recruiters. His early success would have been partially and/or maybe solely off of Wilson’s recruiting classes. The decline over the past 4 years (with just his recruits) is evidence to me that he just did not have a very good handle on identifying talent and recruiting that talent. NIL, the portal, etc. may also have been issues as well.

    1. He ran around like a maniac on the sidelines, even when that accomplishment was beating Akron … in overtime.

      IU gambled he was going to be the guy, someone worth protecting from getting poached by another school with bigger pockets. He wasn’t.

      You could make the case that when it comes to football, IU should just get used to being in the situation where if they find the right coach, they’ll likely get poached to go to another program. Look at what Purdue did with Brohm – they gave him a couple raises during his tenure as other schools sniffed around, but I think all sides understood they weren’t going to give him a Brinks truck to not go home to Louisville.

  4. NIL and the portal are going to make recruiting tough for all but 8 of the 18 Big 10 teams in 2024. IU along with the other 9 teams are hoping to put the best JV team on the field they can.

  5. In 2019 and 2020, Michigan fans wanted Harbaugh gone. Instead, the admin signed him to a 4 year extension. Now, Michigan is once again undefeated heading into a third consecutive appearance in the 4 team playoff. Not saying that Tom Allen is Harbaugh. And, 7 years is a decent time to figure it out. But, I hope IU has a plan (other than fire the head coach). Sounds like things went downhill when IU lost its offensive coordinator.

  6. UK and IU were in very similar shapes several years ago. UK made the decision to actually create its own solid program which required comments from all University Sectors as well as the state & alumni. Today it has a very solid successful program.

    I. U. has to get off its duff, get organized, establish its own solid respectable focused program. It is a outstanding world class academic university, nevertheless having a “not ready for prime time” sports program tarnishes the institution.

    1. Spot on John L.
      The root of the problem at IU is the lack of institutional; support and until that changes switching out coaching staffs is like treating a symptom instead of the disease.
      CTA needed to go but unless the institution looks at the college landscape to see what truly needs to be done to have a successful program and commit to it we will be firing out next coach in 3-5 years and simply restart the fire/hire process.

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