BOZICH | Lessons from Bill Mallory Era still loom over Indiana football
Six coaches have followed Bill Mallory as the Indiana football coach but none of the six have matched what Mallory achieved in Bloomington.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Bill Mallory couldn’t make Indiana football fans laugh about 63-7 losses the way Lee Corso could.
Mallory showed that a successful coach could be feisty, competitive and directly in the grill of his players without being nasty about it the X-rated way the basketball coach carried himself during Mallory’s stay at Indiana.
Mallory won. But he did not win at the Hall of Fame levels of Bob Knight, Jerry Yeagley, Doc Counsilman, Sam Bell and other legends who overshadowed him during his time at Indiana.
Mallory was 82 when he died Friday in Bloomington, the tragic aftermath of a fall the coach suffered last week.
But honor Mallory by remembering more than the six bowl appearances at IU or the victories over Ohio State and Michigan.
I remember the spot that Mallory and his wife, Ellie, occupied on the left side of the third row of the Memorial Stadium press box over the last decade or so.
What’s the big deal about a former coach showing up to watch football games from the press box on a Saturday afternoon?
Mallory came back and watched games at a program that fired him and later fired two of his sons as assistant coaches.
Some guys throw life-long temper tantrums after they get asked to clean out their offices. They vow never to return to the stadium — or town. Lawyers get called in. The venom flows and flows and flows.
He wasn’t happy when Indiana ended his 13-season run after the Hoosiers won three of 11 games in 1996. Mallory was even less excited when his youngest son, Curt, was part of an IU staff that was dismissed in 2004 or another son, Doug, took the fall as Kevin Wilson’s defensive coordinator in 2013.
Who could blame him?
But Mallory came back. You could find him on the left side of the third row in the press box, analyzing the action with former Bloomington sports editor Bob Hammel.
Indiana was still Mallory’s program. Some people working with the team were still Mallory’s guys. That mattered to Mallory. He didn’t hold a grudge as if he was trying to stick it in the end zone.
If anybody had reason to be locked into a perpetual scowl with Indiana, it was Mallory. He was as successful as any coach in IU history, lifting the Hoosiers from an 0-11 start in 1984 and into a bowl appearance against Florida State two years later.
That was 1986, before there were 417 bowl games.
Mallory made a habit of going to bowl games, taking Indiana to the Peach Bowl twice and the Liberty Bowl once on his six-bowl resume.
Mallory went 5-6 against Kentucky. He went 2-0 against Louisville. He beat Missouri, South Carolina and Baylor.
In 1987, Indiana beat ninth-ranked Ohio State and then the Hoosiers backed it up by defeating No. 20 Michigan two weeks later. Ohio State coach Earle Bruce was so perturbed that the Buckeyes lost to the Hoosiers that he called it the “darkest day” in his Ohio State tenure.
Mallory got the last word, informing Bruce, “You tell Earle, I’ve had a couple of dark days, too, and I don’t want to hear that.”
And Indiana fired that coach?
Yes, Indiana did in 1996.
The administration did it because it seemed as if Mallory was losing his mojo. In his final two seasons, Mallory went 2-9 and 3-8 while losing 15 straight Big Ten games.
Even in the era before the impulsive blasts of social media, critics grumbled that Mallory’s brand of football was stale, uninspiring and ineffective.
Indiana was going to find The Next Great Thing.
Indiana is still searching.
Cam Cameron, Gerry DiNardo, Terry Hoeppner, Bill Lynch, Kevin Wilson and now Tom Allen have all achieved less than Mallory achieved at Indiana.
Mallory won 69 games in 13 seasons. The six guys who have followed him have won 85 games in 21 seasons.
I consider The Mallory Era a reminder of two other things:
That Indiana football can grind its way into the middle of the pack in the Big Ten; And that the next time the Hoosiers are led by a coach who achieves everything Mallory achieved, the administration needs to pause before thinking it can do better.
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