Hiring Sheridan as OC is a risk for Indiana but a risk it should take
Indiana will promote current tight ends coach Nick Sheridan to offensive coordinator, a source confirmed with TheHoosier.com on Wednesday, replacing one of the most successful offensive coordinators in program history, Kalen DeBoer.
Considering the momentum Indiana has within its program offensively after 2019, the move appears to be a risk, but it's a risk Indiana needed to take for long-term success under Tom Allen.
When former Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer was announced as the next head coach at Fresno State, the immediate focus turned toward where Indiana would trust the future of the new-found success it had discovered on the offensive side of the ball.
DeBoer had morphed the Indiana offense into an efficiency-first model that featured two quarterbacks passing at a rate of 68 percent, a retooled Stevie Scott in the backfield and breakout seasons for Whop Philyor and Peyton Hendershot. In six months, the new offensive coordinator had implemented a system that would become the second-best offense in the Big Ten after being No. 7 (2018) and No. 6 (2017) under former offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.
With those offensive strides wound deep within the fabric of Indiana’s historic success of 2019, the next offensive coordinator would need to maintain the template of the offensive system DeBoer set in place, Indiana head coach Tom Allen said Dec. 18. That led the Hoosier staff toward hiring former quarterbacks coach and current tight ends coach Nick Sheridan.
“I do want to keep the same system. I think that's very important,” Allen said. “I feel like I don't want to have a new system; it would be the third one in three years for our quarterbacks. I don't think that's in our best interest.”
What were perhaps the best accomplishments among DeBoer’s short tenure in Bloomington were the strides he made with Indiana’s quarterbacks, particularly Peyton Ramsey, who, for the most part, shed the habits of limitation created within the DeBord system in his first two years. Add the flashes of promise from redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Penix and individual performances from both quarterbacks at Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State, and DeBoer had one of the best Indiana quarterback coaching performances in recent memory, guiding both quarterbacks to combine for the most passing yards in the conference.
So when the conversation surrounding the vacant offensive coordinator position developed into an in-house, out-of-house debate, DeBoer’s immediate success coming from Fresno State, combined with the attachment of Sheridan, running backs coach Mike Hart and wide receivers coach Grant Heard to the DeBord Era led to a Hoosier fanbase desiring a hire like DeBoer.
Names like Ball State offensive coordinator Joey Lynch, the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Lynch, former Maryland interim head coach and former Indiana offensive coordinator Matt Canada and Utah State’s Mike Sanford Jr., Arkansas State’s Keith Heckendorf and Kentucky’s Darin Hinshaw were all out-of-house names tossed around in speculation.
Hart and Heard were also options.
For Allen and the staff he brought into the program with him, which is heading into its fourth year in Bloomington, an in-house hire was going to need to happen at some point or else the risk of losing position coaches would become reality as programs searched for their own coordinators.
Sheridan was regarded as a top coach under the age of 30 when Allen hired him on at 29 years old. He immediately recruited Penix to Indiana over Florida State, and he had already worked closely with former Tennessee quarterback and current Jacksonville Jaguar Josh Dobbs, who was one of the few bright spots among DeBord’s offense in Knoxville.
In his single year as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in 2012, at the age of 26, Sheridan improved Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes from 1,854 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on 55-percent passing to 2,488 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on 64-percent passing and the senior's first bowl appearance.
He was then the passing game coordinator for Willie Taggart's disastrous first season at South Florida in 2013 before jumping ship as a graduate assistant on Butch Jones' 2014 Tennessee team that won the TaxSlayer Bowl. During his three years at Tennessee, Sheridan worked closest with Dobbs.
Dobbs took off as a dual-threat quarterback, finding opportunity as a sophomore and guiding Tennessee to its bowl win. As a junior and senior, Dobbs excelled, totaling 5,237 yards and a 42-to-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio on 61.3-percent passing. He also rushed for 1,502 yards and 23 touchdowns during those two seasons.
He would eventually be named Second Team All-SEC after his senior season in 2016 and was named TaxSlayer Bowl MVP in Sheridan's first season on staff.
When speaking on continuity, Sheridan has coached Ramsey and Penix since they’ve been at Indiana, and even when he was moved to tight ends to allow DeBoer to handle quarterbacks in 2019, Sheridan was deeply involved in gameplanning and with what DeBoer was doing with the quarterbacks.
“I try to help any way that Coach Allen and Kalen ask me to help,” Sheridan told TheHoosier.com in October. “It’s not like those relationships with the players stopped.”
After the hire, though, Indiana now has the youngest coordinator duo among Power Five programs, as defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, 32, just finished his first year as Indiana’s coordinator. Between the two of them, there is one year of coordinating experience at the Power Five level.
With the current momentum of the program and the youth on the roster alone, being run by such young coordinators could be a cause for concern, as there will surely be growing pains, but Allen is set on establishing long-term success at Indiana. Part of creating long-term success is making investments in growing in-house talent.
Sheridan will enter his fourth year at Indiana in 2020, the longest he’s stayed with one program since he graduated from quarterbacking Michigan in 2008.
While it is a risk for Allen and the Hoosiers, Allen is entering a new seven-year deal, the current players have relationships with Sheridan and, eventually, another school was going to take the risk on one of the brightest young coaches in the country whose father has 13 years of coaching experience in the NFL. Why not Indiana and Tom Allen, who has a deep-seated relationship with Sheridan built through Willie Taggart at South Florida, Mike Hart at Michigan and Mike DeBord at Tennessee?
“The thing I enjoy most about coaching, and the thing I enjoyed most about playing, was being part of a team,” Sheridan said in October. “Everyone has different roles and responsibilities, and they’re all important. Certainly, Coach allen preaches that type of message, that putting the team first and not caring who gets the credit. That’s how I was raised, so that’s been an easy part of being a part of this program. I believe in those things.”