Emotional Allen savors his own Hoosier homecoming
Before his Hoosiers battled the Buckeyes, Tom Allen fought back tears.
Allen had completed The Walk, Indiana’s pre-game procession through the parking lots and into Memorial Stadium, on seven prior occasions as IU’s defensive coordinator last fall. But Thursday’s march amid the revelry of a season-opening football game — his first as Indiana head coach — touched Allen more deeply than it had previously.
This was the realization of a dream, and Allen hugged the day and didn’t let go.
Flanked by quarterback Richard Lagow to his right and IU athletic director Fred Glass to his left, Allen walked toward the stadium with an appreciative smile, clapping and acknowledging the supporters cheering the team’s arrival.
Indiana fans saw one of their own, a 47-year-old New Castle native leading the IU football team into the program’s most anticipated game in recent memory. What they didn’t see were the tears welling in Allen’s eyes.
For decades, Allen toiled at the sport’s lowest levels, moving his family around the country as he climbed the coaching ladder, before finally — and unexpectedly — landing the head job at his state’s flagship university.
His college head coaching debut came at the Foster Farms Bowl in December, but Thursday meant a little more. It was Allen’s own Hoosier homecoming. As such, he embraced the applause and the pageantry, taking in each step toward the stadium where his dream would become reality.
So two hours prior to kickoff, while his players dressed for warmups, Allen lingered on the field. Students had begun filling the first few rows of bleachers along the east sideline, clamoring for the attention of ESPN’s cameras. Allen gave them a more personal connection.
Clad in his dark suit with a red and white tie, Allen walked toward the stands and greeted the students with a series of high-fives. He clapped and motioned for the students to get louder as he moved left to right, slapping hands with the scores of students hanging over the edge of the wall.
Allen could comfortably reach the students closest to the visitor’s bench along with east sideline, but there were others who wanted their moment with IU’s newest coach. So Allen jumped as high as his dress shoes would allow, high-fiving every young hand he saw.
By that point, it was time for Allen to head inside the football facility, change his clothes and begin his final pregame preparations. But first, he stopped to do a television interview for ESPN.
Once again, Allen felt tears swimming to the surface.
“It just means so much to me,” Allen said, choking back his emotions. “So many friends and family out there, cheering us on and you just have a lot of pride in who you represent, you know? It’s personal and it means a lot to me. It’s special. It’s really special.”
It was well past midnight by the time Allen finished his postgame press conference inside IU’s team room. Allen answered the night’s final question, then took the hand of his wife, Tracy. The couple walked through the adjacent weight room, where their son, Thomas Jr., a freshman linebacker, waited.
The game itself lasted three hours and 34 minutes, ending with a 49-21 Indiana loss to No. 2 Ohio State.
It was a disappointing result, to be sure.
But this had been a good day. It was a full day, long in the making.