CRAWFORD | For DeBord, Hoosier homecoming provides a welcome challenge
Indiana offensive coordinator Mike DeBord started his football career in Indiana, and hopes to finish it in his home state with a successful stint at IU.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – It was a move that might’ve elicited a few scratched heads below the Ohio River, and maybe in college football in general.
Mike DeBord has had a successful coaching career. As an offensive coordinator, he’s coached five quarterbacks who went onto the NFL, including one of the best of all time in Tom Brady at Michigan, as well as Brian Griese, who won a national title in Ann Arbor.
He was at Tennessee, and having success. He was working with another talented quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, who now is with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two seasons ago, as offensive coordinator DeBord directed the Volunteers’ offense to its best rushing season since 1951.
In short, it was the kind of job, in the Southeastern Conference no less, that guys spend a lifetime working to get. But as soon as he heard that Tom Allen had been named head coach at Indiana, DeBord told his wife, “If he calls, we’re going to Indiana.” With her OK, of course.
Allen called. DeBord and his wife were on their way to see their grandchildren in Michigan on a Saturday morning when the call flashed up on his cell phone. Four days later, DeBord was being announced as associate head coach and offensive coordinator at IU.
“The phone rang and it came up as Tom Allen, and I showed her the phone, and she said, ‘Well, answer it,’” DeBord said. “We talked for several hours on that drive, just about what he wanted in a coordinator, and the type of offense and all that, and what my role would be. So then I said, ‘Let’s both think about this and talk again tomorrow.’ By the end of Sunday, we basically had it finalized, and on Monday I went into Tennessee and got my stuff and said my goodbyes and got in my car and drove to Bloomington. That’s how fast it all went, but I knew what I wanted, and he knew what he wanted.”
Now, for most guys, that move would not be a no-brainer. Tennessee is a program not just with potential and an average attendance of 100,968 per game, but it also has a past. It has won national championships. It’s a destination job.
Indiana averages 43,027 fans per game. It hasn’t won a national championship. It hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 1967. You get the picture.
Tennessee-to-Indiana is not a featured route in college football, unless there’s more to the story.
There’s more to DeBord’s story. To get that, you need to take a peek inside a garage in New Castle, Ind., nearly 40 years ago. The garage belonged to Tom Allen, a high school coach. His young son, Tom Jr., was running around somewhere. He was 9 years old.
“It was 1979, I was a high school coach in the state, and I was asking around about the Veer offense, and who ran it the best, and Tom Allen’s name kept coming up,” DeBord said. “I didn’t know him, didn’t even know where he was coaching, but found him at New Castle and called him up and we actually spent a whole day together. We were in his garage. We had trash cans set up, I’ll never forget. Trash can for the center, and for the linemen, and he took me through and explained his offense, and I just had great respect for him, not just for taking the time to do that, but just for the kind of man he is.”
Years later, as a college coach, he was recruiting at Ben Davis High school when the coach kept raving about his young defensive coordinator. When he heard the coordinator’s name, Tom Allen, he asked to meet him. They went to his classroom, and from that point on, the younger Allen and DeBord have been good friends.
They talked on the phone. Allen, who aspired to coach in college, leaned on DeBord for advice.
“I think he called me to ask about every job offer he ever got,” DeBord said, “until this last one. He didn’t need my advice for that.”
But it was even more than that relationship that brought DeBord from Knoxville to Bloomington. It was a chance to come home.
DeBord is a native of Muncie, Ind. He played football at Wes-Del High School, and was an All-American at Manchester College. His coaching career has taken him from Indiana high school to the NFL, as an assistant for the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks. He was head coach at Central Michigan, and has coached at Michigan, Northwestern and Colorado State.
“He’s a valuable asset for us,” Allen said. “I wanted someone to be the head coach of the offense. To run that room. But he also brings a lot of winning experience. And he’s someone who knows this state, and the values we have for this program.”
DeBord returns the respect.
“I just wanted to work for Tom Allen,” he said. “And I love this state. I grew up here. It’s where I played high school football, and college football, and where my coaching career started. And this is where my coaching career is going to end. I’m going to stay here. I’ve been able to connect with a lot of people. I went out to dinner with my high school quarterback last week. I’ve had a lot of people contact me and welcome me back, and that’s great. Every job has meant a lot to me. I mean, every one, because I wanted to succeed and I wanted to help. But this one has more meaning. It has a lot more. I think you can see why.”
All of that, of course, is well and good. But for his career to end the way he’d like it to, DeBord knows that his offense has to produce. The key, he said, will be taking care of the ball. Quarterback Richard Lagow threw 17 interceptions a year ago. The Hoosiers turned the ball over 29 times last season, sixth-most in the nation.
“I know they had a lot of yards and stuff here last season, but they didn’t have the points they had in the past because they had a lot of turnovers,” DeBord said. “We went back and studied the seven losses, and turnovers were a key factor in all of them. I’m not into yards, I’m into scoring points and taking care of the football. So we’ve got to do a better job of that than they did last year. We don’t want to be 6-7. We have bigger aspirations than that. And to do that, we have to take care of the football. And the emphasis is at every position. It’s a tight end or receiver or back catching the ball and not letting it bounce off them. Once they catch it, securing it. A running back, securing the ball. And it’s something we stress every day. We talk about it all the time. I don’t want to talk about it too much, but we emphasize it every day.”
In Lagow, DeBord sees some raw material he can work with. He is giving him the same advice he gave to Griese before a national championship season – don’t try to do too much, just run the plays that are called, and make the easy play. Don’t try to be spectacular.
“I love him. I think he’s got a great arm. Obviously, I like his size,” DeBord said of Lagow. “The biggest thing Richard’s got to do is take care of the football and just take what the defense gives him. That’s easy to say, hard to do. But I think he got better in the spring, got more patience, learned the system, and he’s becoming a better leader. I like him a lot. The biggest thing is that even though we call a deeper pass concept, that doesn’t mean he has to throw the ball deep. Obviously if that’s taken away, just check the ball down and take what they give you. . . . It’s just following the rules of the play, not trying to be a hero, just trying to be a quarterback.”
DeBord has made other changes. Expect the tight end to be more of a feature in the offense than it ever was under former coach Kevin Wilson.
DeBord knows he faces a challenge at Indiana. He also is right where he wants to be.
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