- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before coaching a game for Indiana, Kevin Wilson got into a spat with two sports radio hosts who poked fun at the Hoosiers' lack of success on the gridiron. Whether or not you agreed with Wilson's blunt approach, he showed he's willing to stand up for a program that has often served as a piñata.
Now he wants Indiana fans to do the same.
Wilson, speaking Tuesday as part of Indiana's Tailgate Tour at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, told a crowd of IU alumni that he needs their help to create positive energy around the program. Part of that is eliminating an apathetic and negative mindset.
"It makes mad when I walk in the bookstore and I see the shirt that says, 'We've never lost a tailgate,'" Wilson said. "I've actually bought a bunch, took them home and I started my fires with those. You can laugh, but it's embarrassing to me that you guys like the fact that we don't lose tailgates because I don't like the fact that when we lose that football game and it's a different environment than in other sports.
"There's other sports when you lose, there's a different feel. There are great people at this school. There's a huge commitment at this school for our program to do well. Take some pride in what we're about."
Indiana's tailgating scene for football games is impressive, and while Memorial Stadium attendance has improved in recent years, the contrast between the number of folks inside the stadium and outside of it is noticeable at times.
The Hoosiers have eight home games this season and a good chance to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Wilson implored the crowd not to just hope for a bowl game ("I don't like the hope word," he said). He added that just making a bowl isn't the program's ultimate goal.
"Selling tickets is one thing; you need to come in the building and make a difference," Wilson said. "You can laugh about that, but you guys were in that basketball arena my first year, and you helped those guys make a difference. When you've got the lead [against] Michigan State and you pop out in your tailgate, you need to come back in 'cause we need you to make that noise, so we can get them to flinch on third down and get a stop and not lose Homecoming 31-27. Those 27 points we scored on Michigan State was the most they gave up to anybody all year. We did that in a half.
"You ought to watch the Ball State game or the Ohio State game as we're coming back at the end. You look at the crowd shot. Where's everybody at? So we're going to sell some tickets this year, right? But I need you in the stands to help us make a difference. ... We've got to collectively do it. We've got to do it together."
Winning is the obvious solution to get more fans in their seats, and IU hasn't given its fans enough wins during the years. But the Hoosiers made strides in Wilson's second year, boast an exciting, high-powered offense and signed one of the better recruiting classes in the league.
There are reasons for fans to come inside the stadium this fall. Will Hoosiers backers heed Wilson's challenge?
12hAndrea Adelson and Austin Ward