BLOOMINGTON — Indiana football tight end James Bomba shivers a bit every time he hears a siren.
The sound conjures up images of an emergency vehicle for most people, but the noise transports Bomba to the practice fields outside Memorial Stadium.
Indiana coach Tom Allen punctuates periods of practice with a siren from his trusted Speco megaphone throughout the year.
It’s also the noise that signifies game day.
The megaphone travels with Allen to the team hotel and he kicks off the team meeting with a blast of the siren, sometimes as early as six in the morning.
“There’s never a dull moment with that thing,” Bomba said, with a laugh. “You will be standing looking one way and all of a sudden he will come behind you with that siren. It’s loud, man. I have nightmares about that siren.”
Allen’s megaphone has been a fixture for Indiana football since he was hired in 2016 as the team’s defensive coordinator.
He saw the large outdoor practice space — the Hoosiers have two fields lined up side-by-side outside Mellencamp Pavilion — and he needed something to help project his voice across such a vast space.
Allen stole a page from his mentor Dick Dullaghan.
“He ran the Bishop Dullaghan Football Camp for years,” Allen said. “At one point it was the largest skills camp in the country and he always ran the camp with a megaphone. There were a bunch of different fields and half the kids wouldn’t hear you if he yelled.”
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Dullaghan also relied on a megaphone at practice years later when he hired Allen as his defensive coordinator at Ben Davis High School.
While Indiana has tinkered with a wireless sound system in recent years, Allen is most comfortable on the practice field with his megaphone in hand.
Allen, who was named the American Football Coaches Association National Coach of the Year and Big Ten coach of the year in 2020, is entering his sixth year as head coach. He has a 30-40 career record and has taken the school to two bowl games.
“There’s nothing worse than when they can’t hear what you are trying to say,” Allen said. “I was just trying to bark out everything to the guys so they could hear me. I would always yell and yell and lose my voice. Now, I yell and yell and lose my voice with the megaphone.”
Something he notes, his wife Tracy teases him about throughout the fall since Allen’s megaphone has an effective range of up to 800 feet.
Student manager Jake Henderson is tasked with bringing the megaphone out to practice this season and handing it to Allen when he steps out of the tunnel that connects the North End Zone and practice field.
The equipment managers make sure the megaphone has a fresh set of batteries — the Speco takes 8 C size batteries — but still keep a backup on the field in case there’s a technical issue of any kind.
There’s a large stash of megaphones, still fresh in the box, in the equipment room as well.
Indiana’s equipment managers are responsible for packing up megaphones, plural, to bring with the team whenever it travels.
“That might be at the top of that checklist,” Indiana director of football operations Mike Doig said, while watching Allen at practice. “The carrying case they got is nicer than most of our luggage.”
The carrying case in question is a waterproof and crush proof Pelican Air that comes with foam inserts.
Doig’s relationship with Allen goes back to their time at Temple Heights High School in Florida 30 years ago. Allen was hired as Temple Heights defensive coordinator when Doig was a volunteer assistant for the school’s basketball and football teams.
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He’s been at Allen’s side throughout his entire tenure in Bloomington.
“He’s probably the only person that yells into a megaphone,” Doig said, with a chuckle. “That’s just his passion. He can’t help it. He cares about getting the details right.”
Allen’s messaging on the megaphone falls in line with his LEO (“Love each other”) mantra.
During portions of fall camp open to the media, he spent time watching each position group with a practice itinerary in one hand and megaphone in the other. He offered words of encouragement while mixing comments on technique.
“Every day during warmups, he tells us, ‘it’s not how you feeling, it’s how you thinking today,’” sixth-year linebacker Aaron Casey. “How you thinking today, he’s always saying that. He wants us to have that mindset, that one always sticks with me.”
He rarely lays into an individual player for a mistake, and reserves moments like that for someone who he says “shows poor judgment.”
Sixth-year safety Noah Pierre remembers a time when made such a misstep.
Pierre spent the early portion of his career mostly getting reps on special teams. He transitioned into a more prominent role on the defense in 2021 and was finally getting practice reps with the first-team defense when he got a little overeager.
“He flipped the script on me,” Pierre said. “You aren’t supposed to really tackle in practice once the season starts, and I was just getting into the groove. I laid a guy out and he ripped me, he got on me real good. ‘That’s not how we practice, learn how to practice.'”
Allen also uses megaphone to put a little pressure on his kickers during special teams periods by using the siren to harass them during field goal attempts.
“I’ll put it right in their ear, up to their helmet just to try and distract them,” Allen said.
Indiana’s kickers might not love having hearing the siren again at the team hotel, but the whole team knows when Allen hits that button this weekend in Bloomington that football is back.
“It gets everyone going, it’s just something we all have together,” Allen said. “It’s just a part of how he does it, I enjoy it.”
Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelniziolek and read all his coverage