IU’s Allen preaches power of belief to FCA crowd


JASPER — If you didn’t know better, Tom Allen could pass for your Sunday pastor.


The way he freely paces to and fro around the stage; the way he talks with his hands to engage; the 40 minutes he spent quoting scripture, relating biblical stories to everyday life and explaining how God is an omnipresent force in his day-to-day work duties.

Often, there’s an inextricable overlap between his faith and vocation, like there was Sunday. Allen spent the morning guiding an optional chapel service that about half of his Indiana University football team attended. In the afternoon, Allen led the Hoosiers in their second day of spring football practice. After that, he scooted down from Bloomington to Jasper to speak at the Huddle Up with FCA program at Redemption Christian Church. A few dozen students from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapters at their schools were on hand to hear Allen’s message. And if you’ve been listening, it’s one that’s been a constant with Allen, up to his current stint with the Hoosiers as he was the defensive coordinator this past season before being promoted to head coach in December.

In that introductory press conference, Allen delivered his mission statement: “I’m going to work like it depends on me; I’m going to pray like it depends on God. That’s how I live my life,” he said.

Allen, 46, served as the president of his high school FCA chapter at New Castle and helped lead the FCA programs at the high schools where he coached, including Ben Davis, where there was no FCA chapter before Allen helped start one.

Hints of Allen’s faith show up around his current workplace, too. With the set of speakers his wife bought him for Christmas, Allen cranks up praise worship music in his office to get his day started. At the outset of each work day, Allen also allocates a half-hour of mandatory reading for himself and the rest of IU’s coaching staff. Sometimes, it’s the Bible; other times it’s a self-enriching read like “Chase the Lion,” the book Allen’s currently reading which relates to pursuing your own dreams and injecting that spirit into others as well.

That’s relative to the mission Allen has tackled in Bloomington. As the defensive coordinator, he inherited a unit that ranked 121st nationally in defense in 2015 — sixth-worst among Football Championship Subdivision programs. This past season, IU leapt to 40th on that list.

“We can all think of reasons why we can’t do things,” Allen said within his Sunday address. “And I went through and told our staff this a few days ago. We haven’t been to the Rose Bowl in 50 years. We haven’t won a bowl game in 26 years. We haven’t had a winning season in 10 years. And I told them that I believe we’re going to do all of those. The bottom line is, if you don’t believe, it’ll never happen. And I believe that with my whole heart. The journey that we’re on now is to change the mindset of what we think as a program.”

Allen challenged those in attendance Sunday to “be a Caleb.” As the story from the Bible goes, Caleb and Joshua were among two of 12 followers charged with scouting out the Promised Land as a future home for the Israelites. Ten of the men reported back that obstacles were too stout, even though God has promised them the land. Caleb and Joshua dissented, believing the challenge could be conquered.

Allen has associated the story with his Hoosier players with a challenge attached: “Who’s going to be the two that’s going to help turn this program around. Who’s going to be the two to be the spiritual anchors to spread the gospel in this football team. Who’s going to be the two?” Then, Allen directed the challenge at the student-athletes in Sunday’s crowd. “Who’s going to be the two in your high school to stand alone and stand up for Jesus?” When he finished, a couple dozen students stood in unison.

Allen acknowledged his faith needs a reinforcement at times, which is why when he’s out on the recruiting trail, he travels with a 3-by-5 notecard crammed with a list of about 30 Bible verses he’s committed to memory. Within Allen’s recruiting pitch, he wants the faith-based message to resonate.

“We attract those (recruits) that care about that. Some people don’t,” said Allen, who’s given about five presentations similar to Sunday’s since he became head coach. “If you don’t care about that, then it won’t be important to you. But to me, I want young men that want to be pushed, they want to be in that kind of environment where there’s a lot of love and relationship-building.

“Like I always tell guys, it’s about your faith and your family. And so to me, I want to focus on those two things with our team beyond football. Obviously we have a responsibility to put a product on the field that’s a high level of Big Ten football, but at the same time, I want an atmosphere where these guys are getting more than that. If that’s all I’m giving them, there’s a lot of coaches that can do that. But I want to be able to create an environment where they grow as a young man and are able to make quality decisions over and over and over again, and that’s what matters to me.”

When Allen first arrived at IU, his first meetings with players included little talk about football. Instead, he stressed three things. First: his go-to acronym of “LEO,” which stands for “love each other.” And to piggyback on that idea, don’t care who gets the credit and adopt the thinking of “it’s not all about me.”

That ideal has sparked IU’s defense, and if Allen has his way, it’ll soon sweep through the whole program.

“We’ve been so close. All these games last couple seasons, especially this past season: five games, fourth quarter, game could go either way. And we fell short in all five of those,” Allen said. “For me, the focus has been on breaking down all those situations, and how can we correct and change the outcome by doing the little things? And so we focus on those actual situations, both in practice, in the weight room, trying to allow ourselves to break through when we get put in that situation again. That, to me, has been a huge focus to us in our program.”

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