After years as one of the nation's top assistants, Kevin Wilson will make his collegiate head-coaching debut Saturday night when Indiana faces Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium. But he's not getting wrapped up in the moment. Too much to do. Wilson has conducted his first preseason camp in Bloomington, evaluating positions and bringing his no-nonsense philosophy to a program that needs a jump-start.
Wilson took some time Tuesday to discuss camp and the outlook for IU in 2011.
How do you feel the players have adjusted to you and your staff so far?
Kevin Wilson: We're gaining on it every day. We've made a lot of strides, with not just our physical conditioning level but in our schemes, how to practice, how to be upbeat, how to have some energy. We've yet to play and go through a season, so can we maintain that in good times and bad times? But they've done better than I would have hoped or thought they could have done. I'm very proud of our guys.
Are there examples where you see them understanding what you want?
KW: Just on a consistent basis, our effort's greater, our physicalness in practice is greater, our enthusiasm, the tone of the guys when they're talking. Our total body language and team attitude, they're embracing the structure, the discipline, the toughness and the work ethic that we believe good teams have. Not that we didn't have it before, but I like the way they're relating to our staff.
What are your realistic expectations for Saturday?
KW: We want to take care of the ball. It's easy early in the season to be off your mark and allow an opponent to beat you because you're playing sloppy football, so ball security is something that's been strongly emphasized and encouraged. I'd like to make sure we're not sloppy with a bunch of penalties, getting us behind chains or helping the opponent. Really like to see if we can tackle well, whether it be in the kicking game or on defense, and let the scores be what the scores can be. Taking care of the ball, being smart, tackling well, being physical. I never put a score or a stat or a number or how many yards on either side of the ball. I'd like to see our play show the values we've been trying to preach to our team.
You said you're probably going to play multiple quarterbacks. How do you see that going? Will you play two? Three?
KW: I don't know if we have a guy who has clearly separated [himself]. There will be a guy that goes out first and we'll decide that. They've all done pretty well, they've all got different strengths. It's not going to be like after the second drive we're putting a [new] guy in or at the start of the second quarter. We'll see as the week finishes which one goes out first and that guy's going to go out and be the starter. And even if he has some glitches, we'll play through that.
We don't expect a guy to be perfect and hit every pass, but also you can tell when a guy can handle the arena, the environment, handle the emotions. So if a guy's doing well, we'll let it play out. If he looks to be struggling, out of whack, and we need a little jump-start, we'll go with someone else. We're not trying to be coy. They've all done well, but the quarterback needs to be the greatest extension of the coaching staff and a guy we feel needs to play smart and handle the ball properly so he's giving our team the best chance.
How close are you to making that decision?
KW: I don't know if there's going to be an official announcement. And even if the guy goes out first, that doesn't mean he's the starter. It might be one or two or three weeks down the road. These guys have had a contested battle, very close. We've got a young guy [Tre Roberson] that's learning and getting better all the time, but still is a young guy. You don't know how any of these guys are truly going to play when the weight of the team is on their shoulders. When you get in the game, some guys can handle that and some guys can't. So there's still some unknowns to go through. It's been a very positive competition, I don't think there's tension. It's really just communication of our offense, and the guy who manages the ball will get the first opportunity. And we'll see how it plays out.
How are you looking at running back?
KW: We've got a handful of guys in the mix that will all play. They're all young, haven't played much. Hopefully, we've got a guy who will separate as we go through, but I do think you need to play two, three or four backs to stay fresh, to run hard, for wear and tear. Matt Perez has been our most consistent guy through practice, a redshirt freshman coming off a knee injury. Two newcomers in Stephen Houston and D'Angelo Roberts, they've both been very impressive. They're young, there are some glitches, but they show some great flashes. Again, those are three guys who have yet to play D-1 games. Nick Turner, Darius Willis is still in the mix. So we'll go four or five. I do think we'll play three, and right now the first three have been the two newcomers and Matt Perez.
Who has stood out to you on defense in camp?
KW: Our inside tackles of [Adam] Replogle and [Larry] Black have been really, really good. Nick Sliger, another D-tackle, has given us some really good play. We'll be pretty solid in there. Fred Jones is a senior D-end, he's a big man at 6-4, pushing 275, he's coming on. Donnell Jones at our nickel back has had a really good camp.
If there's one thing you want to see from the defense Saturday, what would it be?
KW: I'd like to see us get lined up and tackle well. Ball State will be in a little bit of a no-huddle. I want to make sure our structure is sound. Will we line up disciplined and will we tackle well and do the things to get stops and get us off the field? A lot of times guys will talk about a no-huddle offense putting stress on a team. But it can't if you go three-and-out. So can we play good first- and second-down defense? Can we get our opponent into third-down situations we like and get off the field? That comes with alignment, structure and good tackling. We're doing tackling drills every day. We started [Monday's] practice with tackling drills. I'd like to see if we can make some strides and get folks on the ground.
How will the offensive play-calling work? Are you going to have final say or will it up to Kevin Johns and Rod Smith?
KW: We'll see at the end of the week. A couple of scrimmages, I did a fair amount of it and then turned it over to those guys. There are certain things I'm a little bit more used to, so initially I might be more involved. And we'll see how it evolves. It's not going to be a power struggle or a lack of who's in charge. Right now, I've got a lot of confidence in our defensive coaches, Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. So when I'm not [doing head coach duties], I'm doing offense, I'm not doing defense. Randy Walker and Bob Stoops were basically the same way. Randy was an offensive guy, Bob was a defensive guy. That's where their expertise was, that's where they split the bulk of their work, and short term, that's what I'm doing. So I'll keep working with the offense and the play-calling will play out.
You've waited a long time for this. How excited are you to be the head coach in a game?
KW: I don't know. I get so much in the routine of the work. I've done this routine a long time, so I didn't really think that much about it. During two-a-days, we were practicing so much and working on getting better. We weren't having meetings talking about our quarterback competition and all that. We were just in the grind of our process, how to practice and how to prepare. I'm excited about it, but I'm very pleased with the way our players have responded. Really pleased with the way our staff is working together. And for me, I know I'm the head guy. It's going to be interesting in the game, where I watch defense more than I used to watch. But at the same time, I still have a little bit of offensive work when the defense is on the field. I'm still an offensive coach. The game's going to be a little different, we'll see how that goes.