In his first year as Indiana's head coach, Kevin Wilson took a standoffish position about how the team was viewed from the outside.
In our conversations, he never hesitated to point out where Brian Bennett and I had his Hoosiers projected on the Big Ten blog (at or near the bottom of most rankings). He had an infamous appearance on an Indianapolis sports radio show that had taken some not-so veiled shots at the Indiana program. He didn't deny the program's mostly horrid history, but he got fed up with it being used against the team going forward.
His team then proceeded to feed right into that history, going 1-11 with zero wins against FBS competition. A program viewed as one of the weakest in the FBS managed to take a step back.
Wilson is taking a slightly different approach heading into his second year at Indiana. He knows where Indiana will be projected heading into the fall, and he understands why the forecast is bleak. But he also knows how vital it is for the Hoosiers to begin climbing out of the canyon and raising expectations both inside and outside the program.
From The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required):
"This year is a fight year," Wilson said. "We've got to fight. We've got to establish some credibility. If we lay an egg, then it's just a vicious cycle that can go right down the toilet. It's a critical year. And the bottom line is that, at least at some point in time, we've got to win games."
I love hearing this from a coach in the second year of a seven-year contract. Indiana gave Wilson time to get things right -- more time than most first-time head coaches receive. But Wilson understands the shift needs to take place sooner rather than later.
He's taking accountability to make sure improvement takes place in Bloomington.
"No aspect is satisfactory," he said, "when you're 1-11."
But he said he's learned some things about being a head coach after a year on the job.
"I have to do a better job coaching, and be in a position to do that," he said. "As I evaluate my own weaknesses and strengths, maybe the best thing I have in the background is just being a good, solid football coach. Hopefully, we can get the whole organization on the same page, so I can get back to being more of a football coach. Last year, I could have done a better job of time management, of leadership to help those people developing our program, and therefore allowing me the freedom to coach."
The transition from top assistant to CEO (head coach) can be rocky for some, and while Wilson will have more on his plate than direct coaching, this statement is encouraging to hear.
Wilson is never going to be Mr. Rah-Rah. His personality and style will turn off some, especially those accustomed to hearing what they want to hear from a coach, even if it's not true.
I love his approach. I've known Wilson for a long time -- back to his days as a Northwestern assistant, and mine as a Northwestern student reporter -- and I've always appreciated his bluntness and candor. He doesn't hold back, and you always know exactly where he stands on a topic.
Regarding the 2012 season, he knows it's big. He's willing to be accountable. He wants to lead the fight. Indiana fans should be excited.