BLOOMINGTON — Fred Glass doesn't pass the buck. Indiana's athletic director hired the man he believes will turn the Hoosiers' perennially struggling football program around, and if Kevin Wilson fails, Glass knows who ultimately gets the blame.
But then, Glass didn't hire Wilson to fail, and signs are everywhere that the Hoosiers are poised for a special 2013 seasons.
Hold that thought.
Indiana football never has it easy. The Hoosiers have played the sport for well over a century (starting in 1885) and have participated in just nine bowls, winning only three. They've had just one winning record since 1995, and that was a 7-6 mark in 2007.
With 19 returning starters and a potentially strong recruiting class, optimism is high, although this week's departure of highly regarded assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Mark Hagen for Texas A&M was a blow.
Still, Glass likes what he sees. The resources have never been better; Memorial Stadium is a first-class football facility with the recent North End Zone addition; and momentum is building. He recently met with the News-Sentinel to discuss where the program is and where it's headed in the second of a four-part Q&A series.
KEVIN WILSON'S PROGRAM SHOWED SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS IN HIS SECOND SEASON, GOING FROM 1-11 TO 4-8. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE DIRECTION THE PROGRAM IS HEADING?
I'm extremely optimistic. I love Kevin and his staff. He's exactly the right guy that we needed. He's very well respected in football circles. He has a mental and physical toughness about him that I think we needed. It takes a special person to go from as bad as we've been to as good as we want to be. Hayden Frye did it at Iowa. Gary Barnett did it at Northwestern. Barry Alvarez did it at Wisconsin. I think Kevin has those kinds of chops. I think there's greatness in him. I'm excited he's leading our football program.
We had a few wins this past season. We could have had a few more. The recruiting class looks extremely good. There's a spirit about the team and a growing trust factor between the coaches and the student-athletes that I think portends really good things for the football program.
DO YOU LIKE THE FACT WILSON HAS HIT THE STATE HARD WHEN IT COMES TO RECRUITING? FIVE IN-STATE PLAYERS ARE PART OF THIS CLASS, INCLUDING HOMESTEAD RECEIVER ISAAC GRIFFITH. DOES THAT HELP ATTENDANCE?
I really do (like it). The potential fan interest is gravy, but there are a lot of really good football players in this state. We got a lot from the Fort Wayne area. Some of our most outstanding players are from the Fort Wayne area.
(Former IU coach) Bill Mallory used to say, when he had it going on, that he was getting more than half of the top players from the state. That's the backbone of winning in this state. Kevin gets that. He's been developing positive relationships all around the state. We've been excited about, A) the quality of football in Indiana and B) our ability to compete for the very best players.
Add that in the mix with some of Kevin's natural recruiting bases outside the state and we have an extraordinary class. I'm skeptical about stars and rankings, and saying a guy is a 5 star or a 4 star or a 3 star. I'm a free marketer. It used to be we beat out Toledo and Akron and Eastern Michigan and whoever. Now we're beating out Illinois, Purdue, Pittsburgh and Arizona. That tells me we've moving up the food chain. We're getting kids who have options to go to other outstanding BCS schools.
IS GOING TO A BOWL NEXT YEAR REALISTIC AND DO YOU SET THAT AS A GOAL?
I don't set arbitrary goals about whether I think the team is going in the right direction or whether I think it's a successful season. I think that's wrong headed. Sometimes people in my role can fall into a trap — I'm going to set the mark at whatever number of games. That takes me off the hook because then I don't have to apply any discretion or evaluation. It's paint by numbers. I think that's wrong. Things happen. Close games happen. Kids get hurt.
You've got to be subjective in your evaluation in the progress of programs. Having said that, I believe six wins, seven wins is very doable. I think we're going in the right direction. I'm optimistic that will happen.
ARE THERE ANY IMMINENT FOOTBALL FACILITY UPGRADES?
We need to keep doubling down in our investment in football facilities. Every year we've tried to do something to demonstrate to our fan base, to perspective student athletes and maybe to our current student athletes, that our current administration is serious about getting better in football.
We're sitting in the North End Zone Facility which has the country's largest strength and conditioning center. It has great amenities. We've added the academic center under the east grandstand. We've dramatically improved our training table under the west grand stand. We added the gigantic scoreboard with all its video capabilities. We did the outdoor practice field with artificial turf and iron gates. We've made the investment and we'll keep doing that. If you stop that's trouble. Every season we'll add something we think is pretty significant. Over time we'll do some very significant things.
CAN YOU LIST SOME OF THOSE SIGNIFICANT THINGS?
No. I'm not ready to reveal any of that stuff. It's very important, for us to get where we want to be, that we continue to invest in our football facilities and personnel. Hopefully they'll be successful and there will be economic pressure to raise their salaries, and we need to be ready to do that. The combination of investment and continuity is how we get Indiana football where it needs to be.