Hoosiers hire Cignetti to lead football program


BLOOMINGTON — The bills will keep coming for the Tom Allen regime for some time, $15.5 million worth of them, but Indiana University’s athletic department acted at a sprinter’s pace to replace him as the head of the school’s foundering football program.

Thursday afternoon, a successor to Allen was announced. Curt Cignetti, late of James Madison University, was anointed to replace Allen and achieve what almost no one has been able to do in the long history of IU football — consistently produce winning teams.

No easy task at a place that has been synonymous with defeat compared to many other major college programs. The Hoosiers played their first football in 1887 and went 0-1. A small sample, to be sure, but that turned out to be an accurate long-term predictor.

As Cignetti, 62, takes over, the all-time Indiana football record stands at 496-704-45. Being 208 games under .500 means if the Hoosiers go unbeaten for about 19 straight seasons, they will break into the positive win column. So don’t wait up. Allen was head coach for seven years, and two of them, 2019 and 2020, when IU went 8-5 and 6-2 led to bowl game appearances.

Unlike some schools which part with coaches because they caused controversy, there was none of that with Allen. He came across as a good man and a passionate football man, a native of Indiana who cared deeply about coaching in Indiana.

He just couldn’t pull it off. The last three games of this season illustrated how Allen teams could just about get it donen but left him, staff, players and fans frustrated. The trifecta of Big Ten losses closed the season against Illinois 48-45 in overtime, 24-21 to Michigan State and 35-31 to Purdue. So IU finished 3-9 in a depressed mood.

The Purdue game was last Saturday. Allen was fired Sunday. There was a new coach Thursday. In the old days, Indiana would have taken more time to get to know potential candidates. Now, wining and dining is pretty much a fast-food business, time to ingest a Big Mac and fries maybe.

That’s because the rules have changed since Allen was hired. These days, players can be wooed with cash to harvest name, image and likeness benefits, getting paid to play. Recruiting used to be built around wooing parents in the living room. Now, it revolves around bank accounts.

Then there is the other part of the equation. The NCAA-approved transfer portal allows athletes to change allegiances to another school without sitting out a year on the sidelines.

Both of these developments meant IU had to act fast and put a new coach on the field to build a new team. Cignetti, the 30th Hoosier coach, was 11-1 with James Madison this fall and 52-9 over five seasons, including shepherding the program into the top level of NCAA play. He is 119-35 as a head coach in 13 seasons, including a stint at small-school Indiana University of Pennsylvania, perhaps offering some kind of symmetry with this Indiana U.

Cignetti has plenty of experience, and Scott Dolson, IU’s athletic director, hopes his additional 27 years as a major college assistant, including years as recruiting coordinator and assistant with Nick Saban at Alabama when the Crimson Tide won a national title, will pay off.

Cignetti knows the difference between Alabama and Indiana, something suggested by comments directed to supporters. He said, in part, he wants to “change the culture, mindset and expectation level of Hoosier football.”

It may shock Hoosier fans who days ago rooted for favorite players that they are fleeing in clusters, entering the transfer portal as if they are flocks of migratory birds headed south.

Among those who have declared are quarterback Brendan Sorsby, the No. 1 field leader most of the year, and Dexter Williams II, who looked like a likely contender for that job before getting injured at the end of the 2022 season.

Plus, linebacker Myles Jackson, defensive lineman Patrick Lucas Jr., linebacker Jared Casey, running back Trent Howland, safeties Phillip Dunnam and Louis Moore, receiver Donaven McCulley and even kicker Chris Freeman.

McCulley, who was playing the best football and ended up with 48 catches, came to IU as a quarterback and made a successful switch to receiver. He is probably wondering who will throw the ball to him next year. And there are more.

Maybe feeling pressure to do well quickly, Cignetti might not have wanted those players to stay in Bloomington. And maybe the players felt it was better to start fresh elsewhere. In any case, Cignetti better have a mighty fine cattle roundup in a hurry to field replacements.

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