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Q&A: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, Part I

The wait is over for Kevin Wilson.

After climbing up the ranks to become one of the nation's top assistant coaches, Wilson finally landed a head-coaching position Tuesday at Indiana. He received a seven-year, $8.4 million contract to make Indiana relevant in an improving Big Ten Conference, and the work begins right away.

I caught up with Wilson on Wednesday.

Here's the first half of my interview with the new head Hoosier.

Why Indiana?

Kevin Wilson: Well, I get an opportunity to be a head coach. I've had some opportunities before, but when you're an assistant coach, how many times do you get an opportunity to be a head coach in the Big Ten? Great league to be a part of, a place I think has got a lot of untapped potential, has a lot of upside. A place where we can build on what's going on and maybe have a huge positive effect on our state, on our community, on our school.

I had 12 years at Northwestern, Miami of Ohio, my wife's from Cincinnati. I'm a Carolina guy, Miami of Ohio guy, Oklahoma guy. For 25 years, I've been in a college-town environment. I'm coming to one of the premier college towns in the country, Big Ten football, a chance to build a program, a chance to do something special.

I know you had other options in the past. Was coming back to the Big Ten something that was always on your radar?

KW: I don't know if anything was technically on the radar. When you're an assistant, it's very difficult to get those head-coaching opportunities, so I didn't really have anything on or off the radar. I really felt working for coach [Bob] Stoops, working at Oklahoma, it's a great place to be, great people to be with. It's a great program, it's difficult to leave. And in some ways, as a coordinator, especially economically the way they're doing things at upper-level programs now, those jobs maybe are even better than certain schools where you could have been the head coach. So there really weren't a lot of options that were better than the job that I had.

Again, a chance to have a Big Ten opportunity, a chance to be a coach at the state institution. When you go around the country and when you say, 'The University of,' there's not a lot of those. So it's a very unique opportunity. I'm very fortunate that Mr. [Fred] Glass and president [Michael] McRobbie have given me this opportunity, and I'm also very appreciative they've given us seven years in a contract so we've got a chance to have some continuity and build something strong and start putting together our process of how to win on a daily basis and build this into a strong program.

What's the most challenging part of this job?

KW: The initial challenge is to make sure that we have the right mind-set, enthusiasm and energy within our building. We can't control on the outside what other people may think or believe are our inherent problems. Our problems are we have a great opportunity to play Big Ten football, which is some of the best in the country, and we have a chance to compete with what looks to be a lot of good players returning. There was a lot of contact with good recruits, and it looks like we can put together a strong class.

But for this to work, the first thing that needs to happen is our mind-set, our energy, our enthusiasm that's generated from me, our staff, our building, through our players. With that energy and that strength of purpose, we can then maybe start generating a change of thought with other people's perceptions. Perception vs. reality: how are we perceived vs. the reality of what we are and how we can be.

You're not the first coach with an offensive background to come to Indiana. Why do you think you'll be different from the guys who didn't have the success Indiana wanted?

KW: I think my background with coach [Randy] Walker and Bob Stoops, those are the premier guys. Twelve years working under Randy, nine years with coach Stoops, and every other coach I've been a part of as a player, my high school background, college background, I've been fortunate to always be in great programs with great coaches. Guys that were winners.

What Randy was able to do at Northwestern was build some consistency. Coach [Pat] Fitzgerald's been able to keep that thing going. I don't know, going a long time back, where Iowa and Wisconsin were, but there were coaches that came through that changed internally the culture of the players, the culture of the staff, started building some consistency. And with that change in their school and the state, they became strong Big Ten football powers and teams. We're looking forward to doing that here.

I think we've got the resources, the league, the region. We'll put together a strong staff, we're going to take some time to do that. But I don't think there's any doubt that there's untapped potential here for this to be a great, strong program. What's happened in the past, I don't know because I wasn't a part of it and I was focused on where I was. We're concentrating on where we are today and moving forward and building this thing in a strong fashion.