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Getting To Know Penn State Football Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen

Penn State football has its second new coordinator this offseason, folks.

After Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz moved to Miami, the Nittany Lions were left with their second coordinator vacancy in less than a month. Diaz’s loss was a blow to Penn State, which rode its defensive coordinator’s coattails to produce one of the best defensive units in the nation — No. 1 in total defense, No. 3 in scoring defense, and top in the country in several other statistics.

Still, Diaz’s departure wasn’t surprising. Now, Penn State turns to Tom Allen to put together a similar defensive unit.

Allen comes to Penn State after being fired from his last job at Indiana. Allen was the head coach of the Hoosiers for the past seven years and was the team’s defensive coordinator the year before that. He put together two winning seasons during that period in 2019 and 2020, though he finished his time as the head coach in Bloomington with an overall record of 33-52, including three losses in the postseason.

Despite Allen’s poor record, he wasn’t a terrible head coach. After a successful 2020 season, Allen was named the American Football Coaches Association’s coach of the year. That 2020 team went 6-2 with notable wins against No. 7 Penn State, No. 23 Michigan, and No. 16 Wisconsin. It also took No. 3 Ohio State to a 42-35 dogfight in Columbus before finishing the season at No. 11 in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

Allen’s rise to the top at Indiana was rapid. In his lone season as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Hoosiers went from the bottom of the country in every notable defensive statistic to the middle of the pack. The team’s passing defense improved by around 30 yards per game, total defense improved by more than 10 points per game, and between 2015 and 2017, the team’s third-down defense got off the field at an increased rate of 12.2%.

It’s not hard to see how Allen’s history at Indiana seems similar to Diaz’s with Miami. Both were successful defensive coordinators who took over a program at the first opportunity (albeit, Diaz was the head coach at Temple for 18 days in between). Both were fired from those head coaching positions and immediately came to Penn State. The difference between the two coaches was the caliber of players they attracted, but there isn’t much reason to think Allen can’t land top recruits at a program known for putting together strong defenses.

Before Indiana, Allen was an assistant coach at six different collegiate institutions. He was South Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2015, when the Bulls had the No. 35 scoring defense and No. 52 total defense in the country, though both of those numbers were improvements from the 2014 season.

Allen also spent time at Ole Miss (special teams coordinator/linebackers), Arkansas State (assistant head coach/linebackers, per his LinkedIn), Drake (defensive coordinator, linebackers), where his defense was one of the top in the FCS, Lambuth (assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, linebackers), and Wabash College (special teams coordinator, secondary).

The time Allen spent coaching linebackers will come in handy at Penn State, as he’s taken over the role of linebackers coach for the Nittany Lions in addition to his defensive coordinator responsibilities. It’s the same role that Diaz had while he was in Happy Valley.

Allen comes from a coaching family. His father, also Tom Allen, was his high school football coach in Indiana. After he played college football at Maranatha Baptist University, Allen started coaching high school football in 1992. He started as an assistant coach at Temple Heights High School in Tampa, Florida, before taking over the program the following year. Allen coached high school football for more than a decade with stops at several different schools along the way, including a few in his home state of Indiana.

Allen’s story is fairly consistent no matter where he goes. He enters a program, takes over a unit, improves it, and moves up in the ranks. His move from Indiana to Penn State is the first time Allen has taken a step back in his career.

The Penn State defensive coordinator job is a huge chance for Allen to bounce back, and he’ll have opportunities he’s never had before in college football. Thus far, Allen’s had to work with lower-level programs, and Indiana was the nicest defensive coordinator job he had until Penn State. Now, Allen will have access to top players, top recruits, top facilities, and more.

Allen turned mediocre defenses into solid units. They weren’t the best in the nation, but Allen’s golden touch made them better. At Penn State, he’ll take over a program that’s already at the top of the pile. If Allen can make teams respect Indiana’s defense, there isn’t much to doubt that he can at least hold the line in Beaver Stadium and across the Big Ten.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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