Indiana makes a tough call, but right one

In a perfect world, college football's classiest coaches could also be the best ones.

If so, Bill Lynch might be hoisting a crystal football in early January.

Instead, Lynch's Indiana Hoosiers players hoisted the Old Oaken Bucket on Saturday at Purdue. Indiana had ended a 12-game Big Ten losing streak and beaten its archrival on the road for the first time since 1996.

It was a great moment for Lynch and the Hoosiers, but that's all it was. A moment. Reality set in Sunday, as Indiana athletic director Fred Glass looked at the football program under Lynch's leadership through a wide-angle lens.

For all the good things that Glass saw -- and that so many of us see in Lynch -- the AD couldn't turn a blind eye to the number three.

As in, three Big Ten wins in the past three seasons.

Glass proceeded to make a bottom-line decision in a bottom-line business and fired Lynch on Sunday after the Hoosiers finished 5-7. It was the first major personnel move for Glass, and it likely will be one of the toughest choices of his career.

"I take no joy in this at all," Glass said at a news conference Sunday afternoon, "but I'm confident that it's the right thing to do."

Glass had three options with Lynch following Indiana's third consecutive bowl-less season:

  • Extend Lynch's contract

  • Allow Lynch to coach in the final year of his deal

  • Make a change

"Three Big Ten wins in three years isn't the basis for an extension," Glass said.

You might remember Glass, after being hired, talked a lot about how contracts needed to be honored and needed to mean something again at Indiana. Some might view Sunday's decision as hypocritical because Lynch still had a year left on the extension he received in November 2007 after leading Indiana to its first bowl appearance in 14 seasons.

But in today's college football, a coach with one year left on his deal might as well have no years left. A coach can't recruit without some semblance of security, and going through a season as a potential lame duck would be tortuous.

"That wouldn't serve Bill or Indiana University very well," Glass said.

Glass made the right call Sunday, even though it was a tough one.

Lynch is the consummate gentleman, a total class act and an excellent representative for Indiana and its football program. His players stayed out of trouble for the most part, and he and his staff upgraded recruiting in recent years.

Lynch viewed Indiana like few coaches do -- as a destination job. He grew up in the state, starred as a player at Butler and coached at three in-state schools (Butler, Ball State and Depauw) before taking over at Indiana in 2007 following Terry Hoeppner's death.

But he didn't win enough, plain and simple. Especially in the Big Ten, where he went 6-26 with two last-place finishes in his four seasons. Indiana came so close so many times in league play, especially last season and also this year, but the Hoosiers couldn't get over the hump.

The Big Ten is a tough league that is about to get tougher in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska. Indiana needs a coach who can help the program take the next step. It will take time.

"Any change often results in one or two steps back," Glass said.

Glass called Lynch "a fabulous guy" and "a great teacher" and said several times how hard the decision was to make.

"It’s been really hard on me," he said. "But boo hoo for me. It’s part of being an athletic director. It’s my decision."

The next coach also will be Glass' decision, and he's willing to take his time to find the right man. Indiana won't use a search committee, although Glass will consult many people, including Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, former Colts coach Tony Dungy and Chuck Neinas, who runs the Neinas Sports Services consulting firm.

Dungy, for the record, now is being used as a consultant for both Big Ten vacancies (Indiana and Minnesota).

Glass declined to outline the specifics he's looking for in Indiana's next coach but mentioned several times that he'll reach out to the Black Coaches Association. I'd be surprised if Indiana doesn't strongly consider some minority candidates in its search.

Some early possibilities for IU: San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, former Minnesota coach Glen Mason, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell.

Glass might not find many coaches who view Indiana as a dream job, as both Lynch and Hoeppner did. But Indiana certainly is a better job than it was several years ago, as the school has upgraded its stadium, its football training facilities and, perhaps most important, its home attendance.

“I think it's a fantastic job," Glass said. "Properly understood, it will be highly sought after. Indiana University is clearly committed to the football program."

Indiana can show its commitment by paying its next coach appropriately. Lynch made $650,000 this season, well below the bar for a coach from a major conference.

"We’re prepared to make the resources available to get the group that we want," Glass said, "and understand that it's probably going to be significantly more expensive than what we're spending now."

It takes tough decisions to become a better program. Indiana made one today.