Tom Allen spent four seasons steadily taking Indiana up the Big Ten 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, two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Sunday. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the school did not announce the firing.
“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. “It’s out of my hands.”
Allen had four years left on a contract he received in 2021 and is owed $20.8 million. That number was scheduled to drop to about $8 million next December, raising the question: Would it be too expensive to fire Allen or more costly to keep a potentially lame duck coach?
It’s the biggest buyout ever paid by a Big Ten school, surpassed nationally only by Texas A&M’s recent payout of more than $75 million to Jimbo Fisher and the $21.2 million Auburn owed Gus Malzahn when he was fired after the 2020 season.
Allen’s successes and failures in 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 AFCA 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 Washington following the 2020 season, and 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.
“You have to adapt to the changes as a program, as a university, and sometimes those adaptations are slower than they need to be,” he said before the season finale at Purdue. “The bottom line is you can see the trajectory of where we were going prior to the changes, and as things are right now. So the bottom line is the way the rosters are built now is different than it used to be, and the NIL piece is the biggest component that has made the biggest difference. We have to embrace that in a full-fledged way and a more aggressive way.”
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.
Apparently, the Hoosiers concurred, giving him a new contract.
“Tom Allen has proven himself to be not only the right person for our student-athletes and our program, but one of the best football coaches in the country,” athletic director Scott Dolson said then. “The enthusiasm and outlook for our program is at an all-time high, and the future of Indiana football is in great hands. I look forward to Tom leading our program for many years to come.”
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.
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