The coach who led a stunningly successful move by James Madison to the highest level of college football has big goals for his new job at Indiana.
Curt Cignetti expects the Hoosiers to make a bold statement in the expanding Big Ten, and he says they can do that by eliminating complacency in the program.
One day after taking the biggest job of his career, the 62-year-old Cignetti promised Friday to bring the same approach he used to produce 12 straight winning seasons at three schools to Indiana, which hasn't played in a bowl game since 2020.
“Sometimes, you've got to make hard decisions in life,” Cignetti said at his introductory news conference. "This was a hard decision for me because you've got to be uncomfortable to grow and I'm too young to stop growing. So this is an exciting opportunity at a prestigious university in the top football conference in the country — and there is no reason we can't be successful.”
Sustaining success at Indiana, though, has proven difficult.
Tom Allen, Cignetti's predecessor, reached back-to-back bowl games in 2019 and 2020 and was named Big Ten coach of the year in 2020. But three straight losing seasons led to his firing Sunday.
Cignetti brings a different track record. This season's Sun Belt coach of the year won two straight division title while presiding over one of the most successful two-year transitions from FCS to FBS in NCAA history. He went 52-9 in five seasons with the Dukes (11-1), who are currently ranked No. 24 in the country and are heading to a bowl game even though NCAA rules make it very difficult for schools in their second year in FBS to play in the postseason.
Cignetti also worked with Philip Rivers at North Carolina State and played a key role in recruiting as part of Nick Saban's inaugural staff at Alabama.
Indiana poses a new challenge, one his late, Hall of Fame coaching father, Frank Cignetti Sr., would have embraced.
“You know when you're at a crossroads of you think a lot about what he would say?” Cignetti said. “But you're your own guy and you do your own thing.”
The Indianapolis Star reported that Cignetti will bring some longtime staff members with him from James Madison — offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan (no relation to the longtime NFL coach) and defensive coordinator Bryant Haines. Both served on Cignetti's staffs at James Madison, Elon and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Cignetti may also hire James Madison quarterbacks coach Tino Sunseri, who spent 2 1/2 seasons on Saban's staff, where he worked with Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
Cignetti acknowledged he intended to hire some of his previous assistants but wouldn't discuss names because they were still undergoing background checks. He also said he would interview the assistants on Allen's staff.
No matter who ends up joining him, Cignetti has one goal in mind — winning.
“When I asked him what is the secret sauce to having a winning record every place you go, he said ‘Waging a tenacious battle against complacency,’" Indiana President Pam Whitten said. “And when you look at what he's accomplished, I think those words actually ring true.”
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