Tom Allen brings faith in scheme and plan to fix Indiana's defense

Historically speaking, Tom Allen will have as much security in his new job as a Spinal Tap drummer or a henchman for Dr. Evil.

The list of men who have tried, and failed, to make Indiana's defense respectable continues to grow. Allen is already Kevin Wilson's third defensive coordinator in his tenure, the fifth person to hold at least the title of co-defensive coordinator. Allen was hired in mid-January after the Hoosiers once again finished near the bottom of the Big Ten, and the FBS, in several defensive categories.

That's a problem that pre-dates Wilson's arrival in Bloomington. Indiana has struggled to stop anyone for two-plus decades. According to ESPN Stats and Information, since 2004 the Hoosiers rank 119th in the FBS in points allowed and 124th in yards allowed.

Say this, at least, for Allen: he walks into this situation with his eyes wide open. He has followed Indiana football since he was a kid, so he knows the daunting history.

"It's exciting for me," he said. "It's challenging for me. I look at it that way.

"But I believe in what we do, I believe in the way we’re going to do it and I believe in the guys we're going to have here to get it done. There is a formula we're going to follow to get it turned around, and I believe in that process."

Allen has been a part of major turnarounds before. He came to Ole Miss as linebackers coach in 2012, and under that staff the Rebels went from having the SEC's worst defense in 2011 to leading the nation in fewest points allowed in 2014. Last year at South Florida, in his first season as an FBS coordinator, Allen's defense allowed just 22.9 points per game while moving up 15 spots from the previous year in the national rankings for total defense.

Allen used a 4-2-5 defensive scheme he learned under Dave Wommack at both Arkansas State and Ole Miss. The alignment employs five defensive backs, including a third safety who's a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. Allen will use the 4-2-5 at Indiana as well.

"The game’s changing," he said. "It's becoming a spread game. Some teams will still line up and come at you downhill, but then everybody else will be spread. I think the game is played in space now, and you'd better have the scheme and the players who can match that."

The scheme means Allen's defenses will be undersized, and the Big Ten is known as a physical run-the-ball lineman's league. But Allen said that's also the case in the SEC, where Ole Miss' approach worked. His goal, he said, is to recruit as many "6-foot-ish, 200-pound guys who can run and hit" as he can find.

That remains a big challenge for the Hoosiers, who certainly don't have the talent that Ole Miss has. Since he joined the program only a couple of weeks before signing day, Allen mostly had to help Indiana hold onto its existing recruits. His connections in Mississippi did help land a defensive lineman, Jerome Johnson. Allen was so busy getting settled and dealing with recruiting that his first meeting with the team's entire defense didn't take place until last Thursday, the day after signing day.

But Allen doesn't need to learn too much about the IU culture. He was born and raised in New Castle, Ind., and grew up a huge Hoosiers basketball fan. Steve Alford's dad was the basketball coach at the same high school where Allen's dad was the football coach. Allen earned a graduate degree from Indiana and later went on to be head coach at Indianapolis' Ben Davis High School.

Allen had no previous ties to Wilson before he was hired. But he had noticed the changes in the school's football program, including the investment in new facilities and the commitment Wilson received with a new six-year contract after the Pinstripe Bowl appearance.

"All of those things were factors for me," he said. "They're doing things here that they haven't done in the past."

Now Allen will try to reverse the program's woeful defensive history. He helped do so at Ole Miss, where the defense was nicknamed the "Landsharks" and continued that at South Florida, which called its defense the "Bull Sharks." What can we expect from a more land-locked school like Indiana? The "Corn Sharks?"

"We've got to get a nice Midwestern flair to it," Allen said. "That's all built around creating a mentality and a culture. We’ll definitely have a swag about us, whatever we decide to call ourselves."