The resignation of former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson struck many of the players as suddenly as it did the fan base.
Even All-American, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Dan Feeney was blindsided.
"I was really surprised, honestly," Feeney said. "I didn’t see it coming. It’s just rough, especially for the older guys. He’s been our head coach for so long. He’s done so much for us; he’s given us so many opportunities and he’s pushed us to be the best players he can be."
For the most part, Feeney’s sentiments have echoed throughout the vast collection of current and former Hoosiers who played under Wilson, who resigned Dec. 1. During his six years at Indiana, he was tough. He was demanding. He was downright vulgar at times. Still, many former players said his approach helped them become not only better football players but also more assertive and confident people.
Other players, however, have painted a very different picture of Wilson.
Multiple former and current players, including South Side graduate Donovan Clark, have come forward and explained Wilson’s history of refusing to treat injuries or not taking injuries seriously.
Clark has dealt with a back injury during his time at Indiana after playing a considerable amount his freshman season. He has not played either of the past two years, and told WTHR in Indianapolis the treatment of injured players was "degrading" and injured players were alienated and separated from the team.
Clark didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this story, but former IU defensive lineman Nick Carovillano did.
Carovillano was at the middle of a 2015 internal investigation by IU into Wilson’s treatment of injured players. According to a report from the Indianapolis Star, an investigation began shortly after Carovillano left school in the spring. Carovillano left the program and the school after injuring his back at a practice early in the 2014 season and the ensuing treatment he received.
After his injury, he was repeatedly denied treatment, Carovillano said. For three weeks, he urged trainers to help him out or at least pull him out of practice. Time after time, his requests went unheeded. He went home to Cincinnati one weekend and had a doctor there look at his back, and the doctor almost immediately told him that he shouldn’t be playing football anymore.
He got an MRI, and there were damaged discs in his back. IU’s training staff finally took the situation seriously after his second opinion, and his rehab began.
"I know the atmosphere and the culture that Wilson created was; he told trainers to be hard on us and to not handle all the petty stuff," Carovillano said, "just tell us we’re being soft and to toughen up and kind of keep us away from the training room as much as possible."
When Wilson’s resignation occurred, Carovillano found out via a text message from a current player. He and his family gathered around the TV at 6 p.m. and watched the press conference on Big Ten Network, expecting to hear the specific reasons for Wilson’s exit.
Instead, they heard IU vice president and athletic director Fred Glass talk about "philosophical differences" and vague disagreements between him and Wilson. Carovillano’s father, Dean, was disappointed in the public statements made but was pleased that those in administration had made the correct decision.
"I do believe they’re concerned for the kids and the kids’ safety," Dean Carovillano said at the time. "I learned today that they were. I saw that that investigation was real."
Not all the details have surfaced on the reason for the timing of Wilson’s resignation, but the Indianapolis Star reported a second internal investigation by the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister Law Firm in Indianapolis was done during this football season. The findings of that investigation were apparently severe enough to force Wilson out, going along with the long-standing disagreements between Wilson and Glass.
For some players, such as Clark or Carovillano, the news of Wilson’s departure was a comforting one. For others, such as Feeney, Wilson’s resignation delivered a shock that still hasn’t quite worn off.
"He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever been around," Feeney said. "He definitely always treated me with positive respect, so I’ve got the utmost respect for him. I love him to death and really can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me."