Indiana finalizes deal to hire Curt Cignetti as head football coach, per source: What it means for the Hoosiers

Written by Nicole Auerbach, Scott Dochterman, and Chris Vannini

Indiana is finalizing a deal to hire Curt Cignetti as its head football coach, a source familiar with the hiring said Thursday.

The Hoosiers are searching for a new coach after firing Tom Allen on Sunday following a 3-9 season that ended with a 35-31 loss to Purdue.

Allen, 53, went 33-49 overall during his tenure and 18-43 in the Big Ten. His contract includes buying a guarantee worth $20.8 million before December 1, but the program said that the two sides agreed to a financial settlement in two installments worth $7.75 million.

Cignetti has coached at James Madison since 2018. The Dukes are 19-4 over the past two seasons and 13-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. The 62-year-old Cignetti is 52-9 in the James Madison era.

What this means for Indiana

Cignetti is a great choice for the Hoosiers, not only because of his success, but because of his pedigree. He has coached at all levels of the sport, from recruiting coordinator at Alabama to head coach at Division II Indiana (Pa.). The way Cignetti orchestrated James Madison’s smooth transition from an elite FCS team to a Group of Five championship program should give IU fans hope that he can do the same in Bloomington.

With the Big Ten shifting divisions, Cignetti will need to rebuild a Hoosiers defense capable of matching personnel. He showed the ability to do this at James Madison. Offensive strategy wasn’t Indiana’s main issue — development and retention were — but the Cignetti Dukes were just as strong on that side of the ball.

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Depending on who Cignetti signs in the portal, he has a chance to lift IU to a bowl game in his first season and possibly compete for the top spot in the Big Ten by his second season. —Scott Dochterman, college football staff writer

Why Indiana needs to change

Indiana has won the fewest games of any Big Ten program since 2000 and, once again, is starting from scratch. Allen was the perfect hire for the Hoosiers at the time after Kevin Wilson was fired and put together his best season in 2020 during the COVID-19 campaign.

Despite high expectations and talent in 2021, the Hoosiers imploded almost immediately and had a lot of departures. Many of their best players, including quarterback Michael Penix and tight end AJ Barner, left for CFP contenders and their replacements never matched the performance of their predecessors.

The Hoosiers played in college football’s toughest division at the top, but what cost Allen his job was inconsistent performances against the other teams Indiana played every year — Michigan State, Rutgers, Maryland and Purdue. No one expected IU to regularly compete for Big Ten titles, but it missed opportunities for regular spots. — Dochterman

What’s next for James Madison?

The Dukes will be fine. Their program has thrived for decades amid coaching changes and hasn’t had a losing season since 2002. When Everett Weathers rebuilt it into a contender and left, Mike Houston came in and won an FCS national title. When he left Houston, Cignetti came in and reached the championship game and continued to have success at the FBS level. This is a program that has a winning culture and infrastructure to keep it going. They have gone 19-4 since moving to the FBS and to the Sun Belt.

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Some potential names for the job could include Florida State offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons, Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney, Maryland offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, NC State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and Bryant From JMU. Haines (defensive coordinator), Mike Shanahan (offensive coordinator) and Tino Sunseri (quarterbacks coach). —Chris Vannini, college football staff writer

Required reading

(Photo: Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

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