Jon Gruden makes a living with ESPN analyzing football. It's what the 22-year coaching veteran does.
So what he said Saturday should have IU fans feeling optimistic about what Tom Allen is doing with Hoosier football.
“This is a very interesting place, this place — IU,” Gruden said. “I can’t remember when they’ve had a winning season. That’s changing here. I just have this feeling, and I’m pretty good at forecasting events in football.”
Gruden's words, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. He was addressing the media inside Indiana football's Team Room at Memorial Stadium wearing IU gear as a guest of the program for the annual Spring Game.
Gruden's father, Jim, was an assistant coach for Lee Corso. Jon spent the early days of his childhood in Bloomington where he went to elementary school and even worked as a ball boy for Bob Knight himself.
So no, Gruden's assessment wasn't going to be negative. He said himself that he wants to rekindle his family's ties with Indiana football four decades removed from when it was such a substantial part of their lives.
“I want to see the beginning of it,” Gruden said about IU football's upward trajectory. “I’m really intrigued by Allen. I’m really intrigued by this program, and I want to be a part of it, honestly — selfishly.”
Gruden hooked up with Indiana's football staff back in March when the offensive staff visited him in his Tampa, Florida, home. Gruden had previous ties with new IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord through Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Holmgren.
While meeting with Indiana's offensive braintrust, Gruden said the coaches talked about topics ranging from play-action passing to how to cash in when the offense gets into the red zone. That conversation continued, at least in part, when Gruden got to Bloomington over the weekend to chat with the coaching staff once more and the players.
"It was good, just getting a different angle," IU All-American linebacker Tegray Scales said of the conversation with Gruden. "He's got a lot of experience. It was just good for our program to hear from a different perspective."
Gruden, an intense man himself who didn't manage to stay in one place for long in front of a podium addressing the local media, was impressed by Allen's own intensity. Gruden called the combination of Allen running the defense and DeBord taking the offense "great for IU" moving forward.
“When you see Allen at these press conferences, I think he just feels — this guy loves football,” Gruden said. “I love being around that, and I love being around DeBord for the same reason. I think that’s going to permeate through this entire roster and program.”
Allen will struggle at times. Vitually all first-year head coaches do.
Gruden's best advice for Allen while he finds his own head coaching voice was to make sure he takes care of himself. A job in football can become consuming, and Gruden warned Allen should be cautious.
“You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, you don’t take care of yourself,” Gruden said about getting a new coaching job. “So I challenge him to do a good job of measuring when enough is enough. He’s going to push it to the brink. He’s going to have to have a contingency plan for when things don’t go right. That’s the challenge of all first-year coaches. Not everything’s going to be roses.”
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