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Fennelly: Brief detour back to Tampa for new IU coach Tom Allen

Tom Allen, wearing an Indiana hat after being hired to fill an unexpected Hoosiers head football coach opening last week, hugs son Thomas, a senior linebacker at Plant High, after Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal victory in Tampa. As he settles into his new job and prepares to coach the Hoosiers in their bowl game, Tom is making time to stay close to Thomas and Plant’s playoff run; he will attend the state final in Orlando.
Tom Allen, wearing an Indiana hat after being hired to fill an unexpected Hoosiers head football coach opening last week, hugs son Thomas, a senior linebacker at Plant High, after Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal victory in Tampa. As he settles into his new job and prepares to coach the Hoosiers in their bowl game, Tom is making time to stay close to Thomas and Plant’s playoff run; he will attend the state final in Orlando.
Published Dec. 6, 2016

TAMPA — A father and a son, hugging over the fence Friday night after a big football game.

A scene repeated in a lot of places, especially when you've won your way to the state championship game.

But there was a little extra emotion at work last Friday between Tom Allen, the new head football coach at Indiana University, and his son Thomas, star senior linebacker for Plant High, which this week will play for the Class 7A state title in Orlando.

"It's definitely emotional. It really has been nonstop," Tom Allen said in the grandstand during Plant's 27-19 win over Jacksonville Robert E. Lee in the state semifinals. He wore an IU hat and warmup suit. "It's a dream for me. I was born in Indiana. I'm a Hoosier."

Back home again …

Allen, 46, a truly nice man, didn't want it to happen this way. Kevin Wilson, the Indiana head coach who brought Allen to Bloomington as his defensive coordinator this season, hiring Allen away from USF, resigned Thursday amid allegations of mistreatment of players.

"You're excited, but you're sick to your stomach," Allen said. "Just knowing a guy that I respect and love is hurting. Coach Wilson gave me a chance to return home and coach."

But even in nightmares, dreams come true.

Funny, but I thought Allen, who in one year as USF defensive coordinator helped turn the Bulls around in 2015, and did the same with Indiana's defense, would be a serious candidate for the USF head coaching job if Willie Taggart left.

Allen isn't allowed to discuss the details of what happened at Indiana, but he described his whirlwind: He was called back to Indiana last Wednesday from a recruiting trip, informed Wilson was resigning, then introduced at a Thursday night news conference.

"I'm going to work at it like it depends on me," Allen told media. "I'm going to pray like it depends on God."

And he said he was going to go watch his son play in a state semifinal. He hadn't seen a Plant game all season. Allen and his wife, Tracy, daughter Brittney and Allen's parents flew to Tampa by private jet to see Plant win.

"My husband was praying big that they would make it far enough in the playoffs so that he could be there," Tracy said. "It meant the world to Thomas."

So does this: Thomas is going to play for his dad.

The 2017 IU commit was already looking forward to playing on his dad's defense. Now his father is head coach.

"When I found out Thursday, my jaw dropped," Thomas said. "I'm so proud of him. At the end of the day, it's God's journey for us. We're blessed."

Tom Allen's Indiana roots are real. He grew up in New Castle, Ind., where his father, Tom, was his high school football coach. The basketball coach was the father of perhaps the school's most famous graduate: Steve Alford, the Indiana basketball great. Alford was a few years ahead of Allen in high school.

But Allen goes way back with Tampa Bay. He and his wife met while students at Maranatha Baptist College in Wisconsin. Allen contemplated a business career, but chose coaching. They drove straight from college to his first coaching job, at Temple Heights Christian School in Tampa. Allen then served as defensive coordinator at Armwood High under coach Sean Callahan. That was 20 years ago.

"Long way from Armwood," Allen said. "It's amazing. Isn't it crazy?"

Thomas stayed behind in Tampa when his family moved to Bloomington. He decided to finish his senior season at Plant. The Allens had kept their home in South Tampa. Tracy's parents are living with Thomas, who'll graduate from Plant mid-year, then head to Indiana.

"Thomas Allen is one of the five finest human beings I've ever met," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "He's moral, devout, religious. That family is incredible."

Tom Allen has never been a college football head coach. His first chance will be Indiana's Dec. 28 Foster Farms Bowl game against Utah in Santa Clara, Calif. Allen is currently on the recruiting trail. He'll work Tampa on Friday, then head to Orlando for Plant's title game.

A nightmare. A whirlwind. A dream come true.

Can't beat that hug at the fence.