Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has a big challenge on his hands in elevating the Hoosiers toward becoming a consistent bowl team and Big Ten contender. The former Oklahoma assistant is busy putting in his system and philosophy. I had a chance to talk with Wilson on how things were going in Bloomington. Here's Part I of our conversation.
I know you had a chance to travel around the state a bit and talk to different groups of fans and alumni this spring and summer. What's the general reaction among fans and their perception of where IU football is now?
Kevin Wilson: It's been really good. We've got a large alumni base -- the third largest in the country, I think -- so we have a boatload of fans. A lot of people love and appreciate the school, and they're intrigued by the coaching change with me and the new staff. They want to know, can we get things going in a more positive fashion? We've been recently competitive. We've been in a lot of close games in the past couple of years, but we just keep getting on the wrong side of the ledger.
The fans have been very gracious and supportive, and they seem very excited.
It seems like you've gotten off to a good start in recruiting this year. What is your sales pitch to prospects?
KW: The number one thing we're selling is, this has a chance to be a great total package. Everything is in place for the program to take off. We've got a great campus. It's a beautiful college town, an excellent academic school in a great atmosphere. Facilities-wise, they made a huge commitment a couple of years ago to upgrade our infrastructure, so now we're showing them our end-zone complex, a tremendous weight room and meeting-room set up, the academic center, locker room -- it's all well-connected, where you can go from eating dinner to getting treatment to the locker room.
So when you have the facilities now and you back it up with a great academic school in a great college town, you've got things in place. Then here I come in as an unproven head coach. The rub right now is, are these guys going to get over the hump and start winning games and become a winning program? But there is a mystique about the background of not just myself but the staff, where we came from. The institution has given us a great deal of resources. Our weight room staff went from three coaches to five, we hired a full-time nutritionist. So there's a lot of support from the administration.
When we go out recruiting, the sell is, it's not like climbing Mount Everest. We've seen a lot of teams build programs and get over the hump this decade and in the late '90s. I think everything is in place here to attract great students and great kids, and we should attract great players. We just need to get out this fall and start winning games and show we have a winning product.
You talked a lot this winter and spring about building the right mindset, about getting the team to practice as hard as the Oklahoma teams you coached. How do you feel that progressed this spring and even this summer in voluntary workouts?
KW: We don't have a lot of contact in the summer, but the entire team is here in summer school and going through workouts. We have one young man who had to stay home because of a family issue, but everyone else is here. That's a change from years past. The kids are making the commitment and wanting to be here. They're working very, very hard.
But as hard as we've worked, if we don't have the winning mindset, the championship mindset, we won't be that kind of team. So we've worked very, very hard to try to embrace those concepts. We even talk about, who are you listening to, what are you listening to, what are you locking into when you're having a conversation? When you see the preseason publications -- and you're a preseason guy, you know where you've got us slotted in the Big Ten --- do we listen to that and believe it or not?
I know that, in the last two years, we've lost seven Big Ten games where in the fourth quarter we were either leading by seven or three, we were tied or we were down by three. Everybody says, "Well, talent-wise, Indiana must not be any good." Well, we're playing competitive football. Now it's taking that talent and getting over the hump and learning how to win these games. That's where the mental approach and confidence comes in. I don't think we're a fragile team. We're working hard and they've got a great attitude. And as we gain, then we'll get the confidence and the mental swagger that really good football teams have.
Coming out of the spring, what did you feel good about and what were some concerns?
KW: In general, across the board, we had very few guys who had any issues with injury. Everyone was out there, and there wasn't one day where I said, "Man, we had a bad practice." If there was one issue it was, I just wanted to keep going, because our guys were like sponges. It wasn't just learning schemes and X's and O's; it was just learning how to compete, how to practice hard every day and how to have that great attitude.
I thought across the board, we did a lot of good work. We focused on the physical side of the ball and our ability to have a physical presence. A lot of times when you say that, it means running the ball. But I think even the way a quarterback plays can show confidence and physical presence. There are ways receivers and defensive backs are battling that can show physical presence. It's not just a big, blowup shot by a DB. I think we're gaining on that, and you build your physical presence every year.
We've got some areas where we need to be more consistent, with our offensive line play and with our secondary play, as we made some changes on both sides. I'd like to see those two areas shore up. We haven't announced our quarterback situation yet because I wanted it to play out through the summer and see how the kids lead the team and get into the preseason. But I'm very, very comfortable with our quarterbacks. And I think our background shows that we'll do well and be fine at quarterback. I just wasn't going to pre-anoint a quarterback. I want to let that position be earned through time.