Such was the decision made by Indiana University in 1996 with Bill Mallory.
At first glance, someone could make the argument that Indiana University had made the right decision. After all, Bill Mallory was in the middle of a losing season in 1996, eventually guiding Indiana to a 3-8 season. Yes, Indiana did almost upset Ohio State that season. Same for close losses at Illinois (46-43), as well as at Michigan that season (27-20). It was time to send Bill Mallory out to pasture.
The powers at Indiana University believed the 1987 season was an ancient memory. It was in 1987 that Indiana defeated both Ohio State and Michigan that season for the first time in Indiana's history. Ohio State's Earle Bruce was heard mentioning something about a "darkest day" after Ohio State was defeated in Ohio Stadium, 31-10. Showing its victory over Ohio State was no fluke, Bill Mallory and Indiana defeated Michigan and Bo Schembechler in Bloomington's Memorial Stadium two weeks later, 14-10.
Ohio State fans look at Indiana today as an easy victory. I recall how Coach John Cooper suffered "Darkest Day II" in his first season in 1988 as Ohio State's head coach, getting thumped by Indiana in Memorial Stadium, 41-7. Indiana came close to defeating Ohio State in 1989, losing 35-31. I also recall how Ohio State had to fight tooth and nail with Indiana to earn a tie (remember when college football used to have tie games?) in 1990 on ESPN, 27-27.
Since that tie game in 1990, Ohio State has not lost to Indiana. Throughout the early years of John Cooper's tenure at Ohio State, Indiana came very close on many occasions to defeating Ohio State. The 1996 defeat was the last of these close calls.
Bill Mallory was able to cultivate and develop NFL players during his career at Indiana. Running backs such as Anthony Thompson and Vaughn Dunbar. Trent Green played his college football for the Hoosiers before going onto a lengthy NFL career.
Indiana actually used to go to bowl games quite regularly during Bill Mallory's tenure. Trips to the Peach Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, and the Copper Bowl all took place between the 1987 through 1993 seasons. The last bowl game appearance of Bill Mallory's Indiana career took place on December 31, 1993, in the Independence Bowl.
The next time Indiana would play in a bowl game would take place fourteen seasons later, after the 2007 season. If the powers at Indiana University could look into a crystal ball in 1996 to foresee the plight of its football program, Bill Mallory would not have been fired.
After Bill Mallory was fired following the 1996 season, Indiana ran through a litany of coaches. Cam Cameron, from 1997 through 2001. Gerry DiNardo, from 2002 through 2004. Terry Hoeppner, who later succumbed to cancer before the 2007 season, coached from 2005 through 2006. Bill Lynch, who broke Indiana's bowl-less streak after the 2007 season, coached from 2007 until 2010. Now Kevin Wilson is at the helm, trying to rebuild Indiana into a respectable, competitive team.
Will Kevin Wilson be able to succeed, where his immediate predecessors failed? Only time will tell. If anything, the legacy of Bill Mallory and Indiana football is one that Kevin Wilson would be happy to achieve, and I am guessing Indiana University would be much more appreciative of this time around.