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Indiana Football Notebook: What we learned from Curt Cignetti’s introductory press conference

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Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson, left, Indiana's newly announced head coach of football Curt Cignetti, middle, and Indiana Univeristy President Pamela Whitten pose together on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. Cignetti is the 30th football coach in the university's history. © Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Indiana football Coach Curt Cignetti was introduced as the team’s 30th head coach on Friday.

Coach Cignetti, Indiana University President Pamela Whitten and Indiana Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson spoke to the media during his introductory press conference.

After a disappointing end to the Tom Allen era, Indiana football is hoping Curt Cignetti is the guy that can take the program to a new level.

Here are some of the key talking points from Coach Cignetti’s introductory press conference.

Embracing the ‘challenge’

With perennial powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and the new additions from the PAC-12, winning in the Big Ten is not an easy task.

It is no question that leading the Indiana football program is a challenge and Curt Cignetti has fully embraced it.

“I thought it was a tremendous challenge in a great football conference,” Cignetti said about the difficulties of the Big Ten. “The type of challenge that I’ve already succeeded at once before.”

Cignetti took over a 2-9 Elon football team in 2017 and, in his first season with Elon, Cignetti led them to an eight-win season. Cignetti spent two seasons with Elon and said his 14-9 record with the school was not good enough.

Cignetti went 52-9 during his five seasons at James Madison after leaving Elon, including a 19-4 record after joining the Sun Belt Conference.

Cignetti spoke about growing as a person and coach when speaking about why he chose to leave James Madison for Indiana football.

“It’s a challenge that really got my juices flowing, and I left a great job that I could’ve retired in, with a contract through 2030, and won a lot of football games, but sometimes you’ve got to make hard decisions in life. This was a hard decision for me,” Cignetti said about his decision to leave James Madison. “You’ve got to be uncomfortable to grow, and I’m too young to stop growing.”

The 62-year-old head coach is embracing the challenge of leading Indiana football, and he believes he can turn the tide for the program.

“This is an exciting opportunity at a prestigious university in the top conference in the country,” Cignetti said about leading Indiana football. “There is no reason why we can’t be successful, pack the stadium and be a source of pride to the entire town of Bloomington and state of Indiana.”

More: ‘We’ll be playing in this (Big Ten championship) game next year’: Curt Cignetti joins BTN crew for first interview as Indiana football head coach

Coach Cignetti’s Recruiting Plan

Coach Cignetti has a ton of experience in recruiting, spanning all the way back to his time at Alabama with Nick Saban. His approach to recruiting is a little unique as he emphasizes ‘production’ over ‘potential’.

“From a physical standpoint, there’s a lot of good players out there. There’s position specific criteria. Some of them are common to all positions. I’m more into production than potential,” Cignetti said about his recruiting approach. “I’m a little old-fashioned. I’ll look at the high school transcript and see how many absences a guy has. We want good students who have strong habits because it’s all about choices and decisions.”

During his time at Alabama, Cignetti was a part of the recruitment of six first round draft picks and helped rebuild the program when Nick Saban took over the program. He also doesn’t pay attention to the traditional star method used to evaluate high school recruits.

“I’ve never really looked at stars ever, honestly. It’s kind of like I get so focused in on certain things, like in this particular case, evaluation. I guess these stars have been around for a long time. I have never, ever looked at a star,” Cignetti said about recruiting four and five-star recruits. “I mean, do you really think that some guy that puts stars on kids knows what he’s talking about? Compared to coaches who are watching hours and hours of tape on kids. No. If you want to get ratings and you want to go recruit the guys with the most stars, because there’s always going to be somebody who shouldn’t have four stars that’s going to be available, you go ahead and do that. That’s not how we operate.”

Indiana athletic collectives have generated a ton of NIL money to help rebuild the football program and Coach Cignetti has a clear idea of how he plans to use NIL.

“Use it as smart and efficiently as possible. It’s mathematics,” Cignetti said about his approach to NIL. Here’s what you’ve got. You rank your team. Here are our best players. Here’s what this guy should get and that guy should get. You lose a guy, okay, you’ve got a little more. You lose a guy, now you’ve got to go get a guy. It’s really not that hard.”

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Culture Change

Curt Cignetti wants to change the culture of Indiana football and that process is already on its way after his first meeting with the team.

“I introduced myself to the team, my background, my track record, what my expectation level was, how we do things. I told them I was excited and that we were going to change the brand, the culture, the mindset, the expectation level,” Cignetti said about his vision for the program. “It doesn’t happen in one day. We don’t need to be ready to do that until we go out for the first game.”

Cignetti didn’t set any tangible goals when asked about what a successful year one would look like. Instead, he shared his expectations for his team.

“So give me a team next year that listens, applies it, commits, plays it like we want them to play, process oriented, we’re going to do okay,” Cignetti said about what a successful season would look like.

He emphasized that this rebuild won’t happen overnight, and it is important for the Indiana football program to improve each day.

“We’re going to change the culture, the mindset, the expectation level, and improve the brand of Indiana Hoosier football. There will be no self-imposed limitations on what we can accomplish,” Cignetti said in his opening remarks. “It will be a day-by-day process that is hinged on being focused on the present moment and improving as much daily as possible to put yourself in the best position tomorrow.”

Quarterback Development

Indiana Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Dolson had a clear idea of what he wanted when he set out to hire the next coach for Indiana Football.

“We really wanted a high-level recruiter. We wanted someone who was a proven evaluator and developer of talent,” Scott Dolson said about the hiring process. “And we really wanted someone also who had worked with quarterbacks. Quarterbacks was really important to us.”

Quarterback is the most important position on the field and Indiana has struggled to find a productive signal caller after losing Michael Penix in 2021.

Indiana football has played 9 different quarterbacks over the last three seasons, and the lack of consistency at the position has been a real problem for the program.

Scott Dolson believes Curt Cignetti can develop quarterbacks and put them in the best possible position to win football games.

“It didn’t take much convincing. The proof’s in the pudding. We had four quarterbacks at JMU in five years. They all had their major skeptics going into the season, and all four of them were conference Player of the Year on offense,” Cignetti about his ability to coach quarterbacks. “You tweak the offense depending on the strengths of the team, what the quarterback can do, how’s the offensive line, what’s your receiving corps like, et cetera.”

The last three QBs to play for Cignetti at JMU combined for 10,816 yards, 119 touchdowns and just 18 interceptions.

Indiana football has needed more from its signal callers and the program hopes Coach Cignetti is the guy who can maximize the position to put the Hoosiers in position to win football games.

SEE ALSO: Coach Q&A: Curt Cignetti introduced as Indiana football head coach

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Drew Rosenberg is staff writer for HoosierIllustrated.com and hosts 'The Talkin' Bout the Hoosiers Podcast' covering Indiana University athletics. Drew is a senior, studying Sports Media and will graduate from the Indiana University Media School in the spring of 2024.

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