Mark Hagen clearly is not averse to Hoosier homecomings.
Hagen, the former standout Indiana linebacker who came back to Bloomington in 2011 as part of new IU football coach Kevin Wilson’s staff, now rejoins that staff to mentor the defensive line after three seasons at Texas A&M.
Though clearly a happy man Wednesday when the move was announced, it wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Hagen that his first comment when contacted was about the man he’ll replace, former IU teammate Larry McDaniel.
“First, I want to say Larry McDaniel is a former IU player, too, a teammate of mine, and a good man,” Hagen said. “But one thing I’ve learned is that (coaching) is a business much more today than ever.”
But Hagen seemed fired up to rejoin an Indiana program he feels is heading in the right direction, and excited about coaching alongside new IU defensive coordinator Tom Allen.
“I think the world of Tom Allen,” Hagen said. “He’s the right guy. I told Kevin (Wilson) that a couple of weeks ago when Tom was hired.
“IU is a great place and there is no doubt that that the football program is heading in the right direction. We have to tighten some things up in some areas and I want to be able to come in and help make a difference.”
Hagen said he kept tabs on the Hoosiers while with A&M and liked the progress he saw.
“I kept a close eye on things from down here,” Hagen said from College Station. “Last year’s record (6-7) looks average, at best, but it was anything else. There were a lot of close losses against top teams.
“I guarantee that if you talk to (Ohio State’s) Urban Meyer, (Michigan’s) Jim Harbaugh, (Michigan State’s) Mark Dantonio, (Iowa’s) Kirk Ferentz, they would tell you they had all they could handle those afternoons they played Indiana. I think it’s pretty obvious Coach Wilson is doing the job.”
Wilson obviously believes Hagen will do the job, too, having first-hand knowledge of how Hagen coaches and recruits.
“Mark brings a wealth of experience coaching the defensive line,” Wilson said in the IU press release announcing Hagen’s return. “He has competed, coached and recruited at the highest levels in the Big Ten and the SEC.
“We are very excited he is back with us and we look forward to getting to work.”
Hagen, Carmel native, is anxious to work with Allen, New Castle native, back on Hoosier soil. While having coached for 20 years (16 in the Big Ten or SEC ranks) and in 10 bowl games, Hagen has primarily guided four-man defensive fronts even if he has never technically coached in the sort of 4-2-5 set Allen employs.
“With any defensive scheme, you’ve got to have people up front who make an impact,” Hagen said. “If you’re not getting it done up front, (opposing ball-carrier are) getting to the second level, creating seams and vertical creases in the defense for big gains.
“You have to get everybody up front playing aggressively and well and I’m looking forward to developing that sort of culture and level of play. I’ve coached four-man fronts most of my career, but I’m also anxious to learn about Tom’s 4-2-5. It’s great to come in during the winter time, and I’ll be in first of next week, to get things going heading toward spring practice.”
Expectations remain high for Indiana baseball.
Big Ten coaches picked the Hoosiers to finish third in the conference, the league office announced Wednesday, giving IU another jolt of enthusiasm entering the second season under coach Chris Lemonis.
Coming off its first NCAA Tournament trip since 2008, Michigan is this year’s favorite to win the conference. The Wolverines return 19 letterwinners and eight starters from last season’s 39-25 team, including preseason All-American infielder/outfielder/pitcher Carmen Benedetti.
Maryland, which advanced to the NCAA Super Regional for the second consecutive season in 2015, is picked to finish second. League coaches picked Iowa to finish fourth, defending conference champion Illinois to finish fifth and Michigan State of finish sixth.
The Big Ten also announced its Players to Watch list, including three players from each conference team. Senior left-hander Kyle Hart, junior outfielder Craig Dedelow and junior right-hander Jake Kelzer represent the Hoosiers.
The road to the Big Ten Tournament could develop quite favorably for Indiana this spring. The Hoosiers don’t have either Michigan or Maryland on their schedule, while Illinois and Iowa — each of which swept IU last season — are slotted for trips to Bloomington.
Meanwhile, another year of Hart and Kelzer on the mound is expected to bolster Indiana’s pitching staff. Kelzer, the former Bloomington South standout, decided to return to school after becoming IU’s highest selection in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Chicago Cubs picked Kelzer in the 14th round after he led IU with 73.0 innings pitched and held opposing batters to a .237 average.
Hart returned from Tommy John surgery and found his niche down the stretch as IU’s most consistent starting pitcher. He pitched to a 1.21 ERA and led the Hoosiers to an NCAA Tournament win over Radford after posting season highs with seven innings and six strikeouts in the Nashville Regional opener.
Dedelow was an All-Big Ten Third Team selection after leading the Hoosiers with a .325 average, 76 hits, 116 total bases, seven home runs and a .496 slugging percentage.
Indiana opens the season with a three-game series at Middle Tennessee beginning on Feb. 19. The Hoosiers will play their first 10 games away from home before opening their Bart Kaufman Field schedule on March 11 with the first of three games against Western Carolina.
By the numbers
1 Time this season Indiana has shot less than 40 percent from the field, that coming at Penn State last Saturday. Iowa holds opponents to 40.5 percent for the season.
4 Consecutive trips to Assembly Hall for the Hawkeyes, who last played IU in Iowa City on Dec. 31, 2012. Iowa hosts the Hoosiers later this season on March 1.
5 Times this season that both Indiana and Iowa have made at least 20 free throws in a game. The Hoosiers’ loss at Penn State was the first for either team this season when doing so.
Former Hoosier tracker
With a month remaining in the regular season, it’s time to check in on some former IU players’ progress during the 2015-16 season.
In this video, coach Mike Mayer uses the team’s new hitting facility to take a deeper look into sophomore golfer Christian Fairbanks’ swing.
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