Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
After the retirement of Mike DeBord, Indiana head football coach Tom Allen was faced with one of the more important hires of his professional career. The offense sputtered for two seasons under the veteran play caller, producing some nice games mixed in with frustrating overall results. While things were somewhat hampered by quarterback personnel, the lack of aggression on offense left a lot to be desired. Now, after two straight seasons of missing a bowl game, the success or failure of this hire may go a long way toward determining how Tom Allen’s tenure is to play out in Bloomington.
According to reports, Allen set his eyes on a number of candidates and landed on Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer. After an extensive process that included interviews with several other qualified coaches, the Indiana Hoosiers spent big to get their man, hiring DeBoer for $800,000 a year, about a $300,000 increase from DeBord’s salary. What are the Hoosiers getting in the new play caller and how will he fit the program? Only time will tell for sure, but his previous work has left us some clues that can shine light on those questions.
Kalen DeBoer was a receiver at NAIA Sioux Falls before turning to coaching post-graduation. He became the head coach at his alma mater, amassing a 67-3 record and winning three national championships. He was then the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Eastern Michigan for Chris Creighton. That staff turned around one of the nation’s worst football programs, taking EMU to their first bowl game in more than 30 seasons and setting offensive school records on the way.
When Jeff Tedford made his return to coaching, he gave DeBoer a shot as the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs and again, there was instant success. Fresno State had slipped from their impressive runs earlier in the 2000s but the program was reinvigorated. Last season, they went 12-2, finished 26th in the country in scoring offense and won the Vegas Bowl over Arizona State.
The attack he orchestrated at Fresno State was led by a dynamic dual threat quarterback in Marcus McMaryion. The senior was 293-427 (68.6%) for 3,629 yards. He had an impressive 25 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Perhaps most impressively, McMaryion’s yards per attempt was 8.5 yards. For comparison’s sake, Peyton Ramsey’s yards per attempt last season was only 6.4 yards. The year before that, Richard Lagow’s was 6.6 yards per attempt. Limitations of arm strength is certainly worth mentioning but a two-yard difference over the course of a season is meaningful. Whoever the quarterback is for Indiana, whether it is Jack Tuttle, Michael Penix or even Peyton Ramsey, I think DeBoer will want the passing game to be more aggressive downfield. In addition to a successful passing attack, McMaryion ran the ball 71 times for 294 yards. The running game was spread out, with three different running backs having more than 70 carries and two of them with more than 110 on the season. That type of balance would be very welcome in Bloomington as Indiana has a stable of running backs they feel very good about. Stevie Scott is the returning horse but the Hoosiers welcome Sampson James and Ivory Winters to the program and bring back four-star recruit Ronnie Walker.
DeBoer used a lot of different formations at Fresno State and gave defenses lots of different looks to spend time preparing for. One of the most effective to run from was the Pistol and I think that would be a great fit for IU’s running back personnel. After watching some of the Fresno State games in 2018, one of the things I was most excited about was the use of two-back sets. In my opinion, getting two of Indiana’s talented running backs on the field at the same time makes a lot of sense.
By all accounts, Kalen DeBoer is a coach on the rise and he was on the “watch list” for several mid-major head coaching positions this offseason. If he succeeds at Indiana, it seems very reasonable to think that his next stop would be as a head coach at a “Group of Five” school. In short, he fits the mold of what IU should be looking for in their coordinators. The only potential issue as far as “fit” is concerned would be a lack of recruiting connections states that Indiana has tapped as pipelines recently. Will DeBoer be able to use previous experience in Michigan or California to bring players from those states or will he be able to forge new relationships and allow his work on the field to attract players from IU’s hotbed states like Florida? Good coaches figure out how to recruit to where they are at and DeBoer is not alone on this staff so I do not think this is a big issue but it is worth mentioning.
Watching this hire play out on the field is going to be very interesting. For now, I see no reason not to be very excited about what the addition of Kalen DeBoer could mean for the future of Indiana football.
The Indiana Hoosiers open their 2019 campaign against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 31st. Click here for ticket information.