Bill Mallory died today at 82 after a fall led to emergency brain surgery. Mallory coached for 13 seasons in Bloomington, and took Indiana to six bowl games (winning two) before being fired after the 1996 season. In the 21 years since, Indiana has been back to just three bowls, with an 0-3 record.
Coaching Indiana football is not a recipe for glory, but Mallory generally did a great job wherever he was; as ESPN’s Adam Rittenburg noted, Indiana wasn’t his only successful stop:
Bill Mallory went 168-129-4 in 27 seasons as a college head coach, guiding 10 teams to bowl appearances with four AP top-20 finishes. He led Miami (Ohio), his alma mater, to an 11-0 record in 1973 and a No. 15 finish in the final poll. Mallory later coached Colorado to the 1977 Orange Bowl and Northern Illinois to its first Mid-American Conference title in 1983.
Bill Mallory was inducted into the athletic halls of fame at Indiana, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio), as well as the MAC Hall of Fame in 2013.
I don’t remember a ton about the Bill Mallory era for Indiana football; his entire tenure in Bloomington fell within Bob Knight’s reign of successful terror, and the men’s basketball program dominated most everyone’s interest. (Also I was only 9 when he was fired.)
But I saw this video a few years ago and it’s always stuck with me. The setup: with a few weeks left in the 1987 season, #16 Indiana went to East Lansing to play #13 Michigan State. The Hoosiers had just one loss in conference, while the Spartans were unbeaten; a win for Michigan State meant they’d clinched the Rose Bowl, while a win for Indiana meant they’d have a chance to do the same by beating Purdue.
Let’s pause to note that Indiana just doesn’t go to the Rose Bowl. It’s only happened once, in 1968, and they lost to O.J. Simpson’s USC Trojans. Mallory had inherited a terrible team a few years prior, going 0-11 his first season, and 4-7 in his second. But in just his fourth year, Mallory had the Hoosiers ranked and poised to make a run at Pasadena with a win against Michigan State.
And they lost.
Badly, too, going down 27-3 on national television. But in the wake of that, Mallory made his way to the Michigan State locker room, walking in right as the team is in the middle of celebrating their impending trip to the Rose Bowl. (3:50 to 4:35 of the video here.)
It’s still hard to believe that happened. Try to imagine Nick Saban walking into Auburn’s locker room after the Kick Six to fire the Tigers up for the national championship game. That’s essentially what Mallory did here, except unlike Saban, Mallory hadn’t ever been close to anything like the Rose Bowl, and with the benefit of living in the future, we know he’d never get that close again.
And he still went in to fire up the Spartans.
It worked, too; Michigan State beat USC 20-17 on New Year’s Day, 1988.