CHICAGO --- One of the most overused terms in the sports world when talking about rebuilding programs, a team’s “culture” is a relatively abstract concept difficult to quantify.
As head coach Kevin Wilson enters his third year at Indiana the idea of the program’s culture has never seemed more important. With five wins over two years, it’s time to see if the off-field development meshes with physical development and translates into more wins.
One thing seems clear: the current group buys into to what its coach is selling.
“I think we’re still climbing right now,” senior defensive back Greg Heban said. “Coach Wilson’s done a phenomenal job getting the team together, even off the field being with us together. We’ve had so much fun this spring and the summer.
“It’s been so much different. I know all the players have enjoyed this offseason and we just can’t wait to start the season.”
When Wilson took the job in December 2010, not everyone was thrilled. Some players were used to the old system, the old coaching staff, and the old way of doing things.
He had to wade through a muddy trench of entitlement and figure out which players were in for the long haul, and which were negative influences.
Senior wide receiver Kofi Hughes was a sophomore when Wilson took over and experienced the process of “weeding out” the bad eggs.
“They’re gone now and I look to my left and I look to my right, and I trust everybody on this team,” Hughes said. “That’s the first time I could say that. We’ve been working hard, even harder than the past years — but you know that’s all just hard work. At the end of the day, this team has a trust bond that it hasn’t had in the past.”
Under former head coach Bill Lynch (2007-10), upperclassmen usually played over underclassmen and most freshmen redshirted. If a player was number one on the depth chart, it didn’t matter how well he practiced that week, or how hard he tried — he would play.
When Wilson came in, he naturally ruffled some feathers. It didn’t matter what year you were, it mattered how well you performed in practice.
“You’re just as equal as me,” Hughes said of underclassmen. “‘I know that you got the talent to do it;’ I think that’s kind of the whole mindset that’s changed at IU.”
A multitude of players quit the team Wilson’s first year. The main message was accountability, and not everyone wanted to hear it. There was a new sheriff in town, and he couldn’t afford to be benevolent while trying to change the entire attitude of a historically bad program.
In year three of the Wilson era, it’s the players who hold each other accountable. Wilson doesn’t have to be Kojak; he can lay back and trust that the players will police each other.
“I think as we’ve kind of got with them, we think they’re gaining on realizing when they’re short,” Wilson said. “So when you make a comment of, ‘Hey that’s not good enough,’ I think we have more guys that kind of know that before we say it, where it used to be they were shocked.”
Wilson said practice has never been more competitive, and he thinks the results will show on the field. The depth has improved so much that some players that lettered on last year’s team might not be invited to preseason camp, which is capped at 105 invitees.
The program is arguably in a much better state than what Wilson inherited, but he recognizes there’s a ways to go.
“I don’t like where I’m at because this team hasn’t won,” he said. “What I do like is we’re not fighting ourselves. I’ve got guys that believe in what we’re doing now. They come to work every day, got a phenomenal attitude and we’re standing on some solid ground.
“I actually think we’re at the point where we’re starting to build. I don’t know if we were building the first year or two.”
Follow AllHoosiers.com intern Joe Popely on Twitter at Twitter.com/joepopely