Photo courtesy of IU Athletics
s the 2011 Indiana football season winds down, itâ€™s fair to say that Hoosier fans have had to deal with a decent amount of disappointment.
A season that opened with â€˜Win Todayâ€™ could possibly end without a single FBS win â€“ a feat that if completed would make Indiana the only school in a BCS conference not to beat another FBS school over the course of the season.
There have been some subpar seasons at Indiana, but few poor enough to fit that bill.
Despite the multiple bumps in the road this team has hit, the general consensus seems to be that the Hoosiers will need some more time to â€˜Win With Wilsonâ€™ (another ill-fated slogan), and thatâ€™s ok with the majority of the fan base. Most intelligent fans realize that it takes time to build a football program, especially one in such a state of disrepair as this one was when Wilson first arrived.
While fans are by-and-large willing to be patient with the football team as it continues its journey back to respectability, they do want to see a sign that Indiana is improving as a program.
That consists of players showing marked improvement, schemes showing promise and â€“ perhaps most importantly â€“ the development of a relatively inexperienced coaching staff, particularly development of Wilson in his first season as a head coach. During his final weekly press conference of the season, Wilson was asked about the strides heâ€™s made this season and asked to evaluate how heâ€™s done in his first season as the Hoosiersâ€™ head coach.
â€œIâ€™ve learned about getting a greater feel for internal issues and how to make our locker room culture better internally,â€ he said. â€œHow to develop what we have and more than anything just that I need to do a better job connecting with our guys and our coachesâ€¦ short term, itâ€™s the disappointment in me in connecting and getting our guys to play better than theyâ€™ve played because weâ€™re a much better football team than our record.â€
Wilson stayed pretty hard on himself when continuing his evaluation. He reiterated that the best teams are player-driven and that in order for a team to be successful, a coach needs to have the trust of his players.
â€œI think the key thing as a coach is to have your players trust you,â€ he said. â€œBelieve what youâ€™re telling them, believe that you know the proper way for them and youâ€™ve got to earn it. Itâ€™s our job as coaches to get that trust in what weâ€™re doing… that trust is earned, not given.â€
That last sentence couldnâ€™t be any truer because how Wilson goes about trying to win the trust of his players will ultimately determine his success at Indiana.
Based on the off-field turmoil and lack of on-field success, itâ€™s hard to say with any sense of definition that Kevin Wilson has proven that heâ€™s the right man for this job.
Thatâ€™s not to say that the situation that he walked in to was ideal by any stretch, or that he should have been expected to do much more with this team than he has.
It is important to understand though that there have been high profile assistant coaches with spotless pedigrees who have failed as head coaches and right now, there is no empirical evidence that Wilson wonâ€™t end up as a footnote rather than a headline â€“ for Indiana football as a matter of fact, the former would be the norm.
Wilson doesnâ€™t seem to be letting the weight of his potential legacy weigh him down, as he offered one of his trademark stark assessments of how his team has looked this season and some things they need to work on in order to improve.
â€œI think weâ€™ve gotten in great shape and leaned up and made some great gains,â€ he said. â€œBut our kids are way too small, our strength level is way too small, our ability to play physical is not what you need but playing the young guys like we are, hopefully theyâ€™ll grow and weâ€™ll try and compliment that with another good recruiting class.â€
Put like that, it sounds like the road back to relevance could bear fruit later rather than sooner. For now though, long-term recovery is on the back burner as Indiana focuses on Purdue in the final game of the season. The Boilermakers are in their thirdÂ season under Joe Tillerâ€™s handpicked successor Danny Hope, and are in danger of missing out on a bowl bid for the third season straight.
Hope serves as a cautionary tale for Wilson as his seat is currently pretty warm regardless of what happens against Indiana this Saturday. He started at Purdue with a â€˜rebuildingâ€™ year and saw a team beset with injuries the season after that, but a third season below .500 would be pretty damning for a program that Joe Tiller resurrected and that is once again relegated to marginal status.
There will come a time in Bloomington as well (probably not as quickly) when on-field results will matter more than marketing slogans and the ideal of â€˜program stabilityâ€™.
The clock is ticking.
Thereâ€™s plenty of time left for results, and thereâ€™s no point in getting anxious for a change, but there is a timetable on Wilsonâ€™s tenure as football coach. Heâ€™ll have time to get his players and incorporate his schemes, but nothing is ever set in stone and while this season may not have hurt his standing in the athletic department, it certainly didnâ€™t help.
Some men handle the ever-present pressure of college athletics better than others and itâ€™ll be interesting to see if Wilson has what it takes to stay his desired course.
Heâ€™s faced his fair share of adversity this season and hasnâ€™t managed to overcome it. Weâ€™ll find out this weekend if that narrative has a positive epilogue.