Mike DeBord is back home again in Indiana. And the Big Ten.
Home was the compelling reason why DeBord left his job as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator this winter to take the same post with his home-state Hoosiers. The 61-year-old was contemplating retirement before Indiana coach Tom Allen approached him with the opportunity.
“I had told [Tennessee] coach [Butch] Jones that I wanted to get closer to my family and yet I still wanted to coach,” DeBord said. “It’s amazing how these doors opened up.”
DeBord grew up in Muncie, Indiana and played football at Manchester College. His brother, Eric, was a four-year letterman for Lee Corso at Indiana, and DeBord said he’s followed the Hoosiers program closely most of his life.
Now, Indiana is banking on a pair of home-grown coaches to lead it to the next level.
Allen is a New Castle, Indiana native who was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach when the school fired Kevin Wilson in December. DeBord remembers visiting Allen’s father, himself an Indiana high school football coach, in 1979 to learn about the split-back veer. DeBord got to know the younger Allen when he was an up-and-coming high school assistant at Ben Davis in Indianapolis in the late 1990s.
Allen said at the time of DeBord’s hiring that he wanted someone to “be the head coach of the offense and to run that room.” He has fully entrusted that side of the ball to DeBord.
“He hasn’t even walked into our [offensive] staff meeting one time,” DeBord said. “That’s great trust on his part. It’s also a great responsibility for me, and I appreciate that.”
DeBord inherits an offense that was known for putting up lots of yards and points under Wilson, an offensive-minded head coach. He says he’s not planning on changing a whole lot of what the Hoosiers succeeded at. But he does want to fix some things, like the team’s poor turnover and red-zone statistics from 2016.
“Our biggest emphasis is taking care of the ball,” he said. “They had a lot of yards last year, but they didn’t score a lot of points. We spend all week in the red zone. That’s where it starts. You’ve got to practice it and have a package you feel good about.”
DeBord is a familiar name to Big Ten fans. He spent one year as the offensive line coach at Northwestern in 1992 and later was an assistant at Michigan from 1993-1999 and again from 2004-07. In his first year as the Wolverines’ offensive coordinator, the team won the national championship in 1997.
After some stints in the NFL, he was working in the Michigan athletic administration before Jones coaxed him back into coaching at Tennessee in 2015. The Volunteers averaged 36.4 points and 443.7 yards per game last season, and quarterback Joshua Dobbs led the SEC in touchdown passes and pass efficiency. Nebraska had a difficult time containing Dobbs and the Vols’ offense in a 38-24 loss in the Music City Bowl.
“I’m proud of the way we improved our offense there,” DeBord said. “We were really rolling in the last half of the season.”
Yet DeBord also faced constant criticism from fans during his two years in Knoxville. As a longtime offensive coordinator, he was not surprised.
“I don’t think the fans get after the defense too much, but they all can call plays,” he joked. “I understand that it comes with my job, with my business. Honestly, I don’t pay any attention to it.”
DeBord has a tough act to follow in Bloomington, where fans have gotten used to fast-paced, high-powered offensive attacks. Should the Hoosiers fail to continue those ways, the fingers will again be pointed first at the offensive coordinator.
But DeBord is confident in his plan and the fellow Hoosier he’ll be working for. He’s excited not just to back home, but to do something special there.
“I really think this program is ready to take the next step,” he said.