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Monday, January 20, 2014
Wilson's fate at Indiana now tied to Knorr

By Adam Rittenberg

Indiana fans should remember this date. It could mark the turning point for a defense that has been so bad for so long.

Or it could prolong the struggles for the Big Ten's weakest unit, and possibly cost another offensive-minded Hoosiers head coach his job.

Kevin Wilson
Under coach Kevin Wilson, Indiana's offense has exceeded expectations, but the Hoosiers' defense has been abysmal.
No pressure, Brian Knorr.

Indiana's hiring of Knorr as defensive coordinator marks a pivotal moment for head coach Kevin Wilson and his goal of boosting the long-suffering program. Wilson has done his thing with the IU offense, a dynamic quick-strike unit with playmakers at every skill position. A mediocre defense or even a poor one would have been enough to get Indiana to a bowl game last season, when it had eight home games. But the Hoosiers were a notch below awful on defense, finishing 120th in yards allowed and 114th in points allowed.

Abominable has been the norm for IU's defense, which has finished 103rd or worse nationally in each of Wilson's three seasons and no better than 71st nationally in the past 15 seasons. Indiana has played a ton of young players and has upgraded its recruiting on defense. The unit returns 10 starters and could move forward during the 2014 season.

But Knorr is fighting a long track record of bad.

"There is a buzz about the direction IU football is headed in and I look forward to bringing some of the toughness and aggressiveness that I know Coach Wilson wants to implement on the defensive side of the ball," Knorr said in a statement.

The 50-year-old Knorr spent the past six seasons at Wake Forest, serving as the team's defensive coordinator for the past three. Just last week, Knorr had accepted the coordinator job at Air Force, replacing Charlton Warren, who left to become Nebraska's secondary coach.

Wake Forest finished 32nd nationally in total defense and 38th in scoring under Knorr in 2013. The unit excelled in takeaways in 2012 with 23 but finished 91st nationally in points allowed. Knorr ran a 3-4 scheme at Wake Forest and could bring it to Indiana, which used the 3-4 a bit toward the end of Bill Lynch's tenure as coach.

Knorr brings varied experience to Indiana and has flipped between defense and offense throughout his coaching career. He coached wide receivers at Wake Forest from 2008-10 before moving to defense. He started his career as an assistant offensive line coach at Air Force before becoming linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator at Ohio under Jim Grobe.

Knorr succeeded Grobe as Ohio's head coach in 2001 and went 11-35 before being fired. He then returned to Air Force, his alma mater, as a defensive assistant before reuniting with Grobe at Wake Forest.

It's an interesting hire. Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told me last week that he expected the school's next defensive coordinator to make more than Doug Mallory, who was fired Jan. 10. Glass also reiterated his commitment to Wilson and noted that Indiana has cycled through too many head coaches in the past 20 years.

But if the defense can't become at least adequate, Wilson's long-term future could be in jeopardy. Indiana in 2014 enters the East Division, which could be a meat grinder with Michigan State and Ohio State at the top, along with Michigan and Penn State. Making bowl games will get even tougher for a program that has made just one since 1993, especially when the Big Ten schedule moves to nine league games.

There's little doubt Wilson will produce quarterbacks and offenses that rank near the top of the Big Ten. He's the only true quarterback guru occupying a Big Ten head-coaching position right now, and history shows he'll get it done on offense.

Knorr's job is to change the history on Indiana's defense and write a new chapter for the program.